Posts tagged ‘China’

June 28, 2014

Effects of Laos dam project to be revealed


Laos takes ‘courteous’ approach to next Mekong dam project, agrees to consult before work starts


June 28, 2014

Updated 2 hours 31 minutes ago

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Fishing at rapids in the Siphandone area of the Mekong River in Laos

Fishing at rapids in Siphandone area, site of proposed Don Sahong hydro-electric dam.  Photo: International Rivers

Laos has agreed to consult its neighbours before starting construction of a second controversial dam on the Mekong River.

It’s already going ahead with the much bigger Xayaburi dam to supply power to China, despite opposition from Vietnam and Cambodia.

Agreement to allow environmental assessments and for a formal consultation process on the proposed Don Sahong dam was reached at a meeting of the Mekong River Commission in Bangkok.

The commission comprises Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.

Laos accepted environmental and other studies for the Xayaburi dam after pressure from its neighbours, but went ahead with construction even while they were being conducted.

But this time Vientiane has given an assurance work will not start during the six-month consultation process, describing the move as a “courtesy”.

The Don Sahong project is the second of 11 hydroelectric dams planned for the Mekong mainstream, which has raised concerns about the impact on the environment and livelihoods of millions of people.

It will generate 260 megawatts of electricity, mainly for export to Thailand and Cambodia compared with Xayaburi’s 1,260 megawatts, around 95 percent of which will go to Thailand.

The environmental group International Rivers is among those to have welcomed the decision.

But it says further action is needed “to ensure that the rapid progress of dam building on the Mekong … does not go unchecked”.

Officials say recommendations resulting from the studies of the Don Sahong project would not be binding on Laos.


Effects of Laos dam project to be revealed

Posted on 27 June 2014

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Two Mekong Irrawaddy dolphins spotted at Tbong Kla deep pool
© WWF- Cambodia/ Gerad Ryan

WWF welcomes the Lao Government’s decision to have the Don Sahong hydropower project undergo a formal consultation process, a decision likely to delay construction of the project.

The consultation process requires Laos to hold inter-governmental consultations before proceeding with the dam, and conduct and share studies on the project’s environmental and the social impacts. The process will take at least six months to complete.

“Laos is now promising to do what they already signed up to under the Mekong agreement, and should have done months ago” said Marc Goichot, WWF-Greater Mekong’s lead on sustainable hydropower. “Their decision to consult on the Don Sahong project, and share critical details about the project’s impacts, comes after intense pressure from neighbouring countries. It is critical that pressure is maintained to ensure Laos delivers on their promise.”

In September last year, Laos announced its decision to proceed with the Don Sahong dam, bypassing the Mekong River Commision’s (MRC) consultation process.

The much-criticised project was discussed at the June 26-27 meeting of the MRC – an inter-governmental agency made up of representatives from the four Lower Mekong nations — Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

The Don Sahong dam threatens the Mekong’s critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins and will block the only channel available for dry-season fish migration, putting the world’s largest inland fishery at risk. Close to 200,000 people have signed WWF’s petition calling on the dam builder, Mega First, to pull out of the project.

“We thank people around the world who signed the WWF’s petition to stop the Don Sahong dam,” added Goichot. “Mega First would do well to listen to the growing voices of opposition to this disastrous project and reconsider their engagement.”

The Don Sahong dam is the second dam on the Lower Mekong mainstem, following the controversial Xayaburi dam that Laos has begun constructing despite opposition from neighbouring Cambodia and Vietnam.

“The Mekong River Commission’s joint decision-making process was effectively broken in 2012 when Laos decided unilaterally to proceed with Xayaburi dam, against the express wishes of Vietnam and Cambodia,” added Goichot.

“There is currently little faith in the MRC’s process to ensure joint decisions are made for the benefit of all Mekong nations. If Laos fails to be held to account, the MRC will soon lose its legitimacy and 60 million people living in the Mekong basin will suffer.”

Crowd of children with Pra or River catfish (Pangasianodon hypophthalmus). River catfish are closely related to the Mekong giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas), a critically endangered Mekong endemic specieis. The Mekong giant catfish migrates from the Tonle Sap Lake to the Mekong River at the end of the rainy season each year and a dam like Don Sahong would block their migration.
© Zeb Hogan / WWF-Canon



May 28, 2014

เวียดนามส่งออกข้าวกว่า 2 ล้านตัน จีนยังครองแชมป์นำเข้าข้าวรายใหญ่ – Vietnam exports over 2 mln tons of rice, over 40 pct to China

เวียดนามส่งออกข้าวกว่า 2 ล้านตัน จีนยังครองแชมป์นำเข้าข้าวรายใหญ่

โดย ASTVผู้จัดการออนไลน์ 28 พฤษภาคม 2557 14:52 น.

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ภาพแฟ้มเอเอฟพีวันที่ 18 ก.ย.2556 ชาวนาพ่นยาฆ่าแมลงลงในนาข้าวชานกรุงฮานอย รายงานของสมาคมอาหารเวียดนามระบุว่า ตั้งแต่ต้นปี 2557 จนถึงวันที่ 22 พ.ค. เวียดนามส่งออกข้าวไปแล้วทั้งสิ้น 2 ล้านตัน โดยจีนครองแชมป์นำเข้าข้าวรายใหญ่ที่สุดของประเทศ ที่ 40% ของการส่งออกทั้งหมด.– Agence France-Presse/Hoang Dinh Nam.

ซินหวา – เวียดนามทำรายได้มากถึง 899 ล้านดอลลาร์จากการขายข้าวทั้งหมด 2.061 ล้านตัน ไปยังตลาดโลกนับจนถึงวันที่ 22 พ.ค.2557 โดยมากกว่า 40% เป็นข้าวที่ขายให้แก่จีน ตามการเปิดเผยของสมาคมอาหารเวียดนาม (VFA)

ในช่วง 3 สัปดาห์แรกของเดือน พ.ค. เวียดนามส่งออกข้าวทั้งสิ้น 309,000 ตัน คิดเป็นมูลค่า 133 ล้านดอลลาร์ ตามรายงานของศูนย์ข้อมูลอุตสาหกรรมและการค้าเวียดนาม ภายใต้การดูแลของกระทรวงอุตสาหกรรมและการค้าเวียดนาม ระบุ

ส่วนรายงานของกระทรวงเกษตรและพัฒนาชนบทเวียดนาม เผยว่า การส่งออกข้าวของเวียดนามในเดือน พ.ค. คาดว่าปริมาณจะลดลง 10.2% และมูลค่าลดลง 7.3% เมื่อเทียบต่อปี

อย่างไรก็ตาม ยังมีสัญญาณบวกสำหรับข้าวเวียดนาม เนื่องจากราคาส่งออกโดยเฉลี่ยในช่วง 4 เดือนแรกของปีนี้อยู่ที่ 456.19 ดอลลาร์ต่อตัน ขยับเพิ่มขึ้น 4.4% เมื่อเทียบต่อปี

ในช่วงเดือน ม.ค.-เม.ย. ตลาดฟิลิปปินส์ เติบโตขึ้นอย่างมาก ขยับขึ้นมาเป็นผู้นำเข้าข้าวรายใหญ่อันดับ 2 ของเวียดนาม โดยครองส่วนแบ่งตลาดที่ 18.66% รองจากจีน ที่ยังคงรั้งตำแหน่งผู้นำเข้าข้าวรายใหญ่ที่สุดของเวียดนาม ด้วยสัดส่วน 41.75%.

ข่าวล่าสุด ในหมวด


Vietnam exports over 2 mln tons of rice, over 40 pct to China

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Vietnam has earned some 899 million U. S. dollars from selling 2.061 million tons of rice to world market as of May 22 in 2014, with over 40 percent sold to China, said Vietnam Food Association (VFA) on Tuesday.

In the first three weeks of May, Vietnam has exported 309,000 tons of rice, worth 133 million U.S. dollars, Vietnam Industry and Trade Information Center under the Ministry of Industry and Trade quoted VFA as saying.

According to a recent report by the Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), Vietnam’s rice exports in May are expected to dip 10.2 percent in volume and 7.3 percent in value year-on-year.

However, the country’s rice enjoyed a positive signal as the average export price of the product in the first four months of 2014 stood at 456.19 U.S. dollars per ton, up 4.4 percent year-on- year, said MARD.

The Philippines was the market that saw remarkable growth in January-April period with an increase of 5.26 times in volume and 5.79 times in value year-on-year.

The report said the Philippines ranked the second among Vietnam’ s large rice importers in four-month period with 18.66 percent of market shares while China maintained Vietnam’s biggest rice importer, accounting for 41.75 percent of the market shares.


FAO Estimates Vietnam Rice Exports Will Increase to 7.2 Million Tons in 2014, Up 8% from Previous Year

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May 14, 2014

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated Vietnam’s milled rice exports to increase to about 7.2 million tons in 2014, up about 8% from about 6.7 million tons in 2013 due to higher production and increased export demand from Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, China and the Philippines backed by low prices. In 2012, Vietnam exported about 7.6 million tons.

However, in the last week the Vietnam Food Association (VFA) lowered its 2014 rice export target to 6.2 million tons from the earlier target of 6.5 – 7 million tons due to heavy competition from India and Thailand. USDA estimates Vietnam to export 6.5 million tons of rice in 2014.

Vietnam exported 1.82 million tons of rice in January 1 – May 8, 2014 period, according to the VFA, down about 35% from about 2.8 million tons exported during the same period in 2013.

In its country brief on Vietnam, the FAO has estimated Vietnam’s total paddy rice production at about 44.2 million tons (around 27.6 million tons of milled rice) in 2014, marginally higher than about 44 million tons (around 27.5 million tons of milled rice) produced in 2013. The UN agency however, forecasts Vietnam’s paddy rice production from 2014 winter/spring crop at 20.3 million tons, similar to last year’s production, despite shifting part of the rice area to other crops, due to higher yields, favorable weather conditions, and adequate water supplies.

Domestic wholesale prices of rice continued to decline in April due to increased supplies from the 2013-14 main season winter-spring (January – July) harvest and lower cross-border exports to China, according to the FAO. The one million ton government procurement program, which began in mid-March, limited the decline in prices to some extent, but are generally low, says the FAO.

The VFA has expressed concern about the dependency of Vietnam rice exports on the Chinese market, both official and unofficial exports. Local sources note that some Chinese buyers have  also defaulted on payments, another risk.


May 12, 2014

Laos: Crony scheme in control of press and civil society

Laos: Crony scheme in control of press and civil society

By Helen Clark / 12 May, 2014

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The Laotian president, Choummaly Sayasone, made a five day official visit to France in October 2013 — the first such visit in 60 years. (Photo: Serge Mouraret / Demotix)

When travellers and writers talk about Laos, they mention how peaceful it is, and how Buddhist. The people, says Lonely Planet, are some of the most chilled out in the world.  People forget, as they rarely do with Vietnam or China, that it is still a communist state.

The Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) has absolute control over the press and civil society. Professor Martin Stuart-Fox, a Laos expert with the University of Queensland, has written widely on the country’s history and government and has said that the party is little more than a crony scheme, with many of those in power now descended from the old Lao aristocracy. It is necessary to have a powerful patron, almost always in the party or closely connected to it, for success. Information is difficult to get hold of and even local journalists, who often have close ties to the government, complain publicly, if respectfully, about the impenetrability of government departments.

Freedom House writes: “Press freedom in Laos remains highly restricted. Despite advances in telecommunications infrastructure, government control of all print and broadcast news prevents the development of a vibrant, independent press.”

These media restrictions are part of a wider pattern of suppression of information, lack of transparency in business dealings, prevention of protests and cultural and religious oversight by the government and party.

However the most noticeable event of the past 18 months has been the disappearance of Sombath Somphone. At the end of 2012 the Lao development expert went missing and many of his colleagues quietly believe the government may be responsible. Little but the bare facts have been written in the local, state-owned press.

Somphone was, according to reports, well respected by both the local and international communities and hardly an anti-government firebrand. He did, however, jointly give a presentation in late 2012 to the ASEAN-Europe People‘s Forum held in Vientiane  with the United Nations Development Program. A western aid source told Index on Censorship: “In my opinion — one shared by many others as well –Somphone’s statement at the AEPF was the last straw for the government. He was particularly concerned with forced resettlement, directly linked to government land grabs to provide natural resources to Chinese companies [that are] full of bribes.” The source says since Somphone disappeared any attempts at criticism of government policy, either by the press or organisations “have taken a quantum leap backwards and are currently frozen”.

The World Trade Organisation accession of last year appears not to have much of an effect in promoting a freer or transparent climate. Though the global trade body did make the right noises little concrete action was taken.

This is in contrast to Vietnam’s 2007 WTO accession. In the lead up, the Vietnamese government made public attempts at allowing more freedom of press and speech and open criticism of government policies. Once it became the 150th member crackdowns began again. A small measure of transparency in regards to the business climate has been seemingly taken in Laos.

The LPRP has been in power since 1975. Agricultural reforms began in 1978 and economic reform in 1986, known as the New Economic Mechanism, which began its transition to a more market-based economy. Vietnam instituted its own doi moi, or renovation, policy the same year.

Laos has, in the past 15 years, pursued a policy of economic growth and regional and global integration with an eye toward world affairs. Joining ASEAN in 1997 was a step forward for the small nation, though the spillover Asian financial crisis engendered a certain skepticism among leaders of the manifold benefits of globalisation.

Many smaller nations racing towards development, especially those with sometimes problematic political systems, usually host an event that is as something of a “coming out party”. Vientiane’s hosting of the 2009 Southeast Asia Games was Laos’. Longtime Asia journalist Bertil Lintner pointed out in the Yale Global Review, that though the SEA Games may not have been compelling for much of the globe they are an important regional sporting competition. Chinese and Vietnamese donors and investment built much of the needed infrastructure, such as stadiums.

Despite the rapid development and a “strong” growth outlook for 2013 – 2014, according to Euromonitor, the country still struggles under Least Developed Nation status and poverty rates are high outside the cities while access to services remains low, as do literacy rates.

Unemployment is officially at 2.6 percent of the population, but it is widely believed to be far higher and according to market research and intelligence firm Euromonitor there will be twice as many job entrants as positions for them to fill. Labour export is favoured by the government to partially solve the issue and earn currency. The poverty rate has dropped in recent years and the government’s plan has been to halve it by 2015.

Freedom of the press?

“The Ministry of Information and Culture controls all media in Laos. There is no freedom of the press and no legal protection for Lao journalists who fail to reflect the party line. Most Lao journalists are actually party members attached to the MI,” Stuart-Fox wrote for Freedom House in 2012.

“Laos is the region’s black hole for news…. Because there is no functioning independent media, there are few overt press freedom violations,” Shawn Crispin of the Committee to Protect Journalists told Index. “No local reporting is allowed whatsoever on government corruption, official abuses or factional divisions inside the ruling communist Lao Revolutionary People’s Party. These are all pervasive in Laos, but you’d never know it reading local papers on watching local TV.”

Laos enshrines freedom of speech in its constitution, written in 1991, while ensuring harsh penalties in its penal code that can easily be applied to journalists, or bloggers — though bloggers are few and generally timid. Slandering the state, distorting party and state policies, inciting disorder or propagating information or opinions that weaken the state can all be prosecuted. The vague wording means many things can, if deemed necessary, fall under this ambit.

The English language Vientiane Times largely functions as a platform for photographs of handshakes, ribbon cuttings and deeply earnest affirmations of the great friendship between Laos and whichever national delegation dropped off in the capital on its Southeast Asia tour. It is essentially a showcase organ for what the government wishes foreigners to see, and understand, about modern Laos however its often rather old-fashioned, orthodox rhetoric and complete dearth of anything interesting do not ensure an avid readership.

“The Vietnamese media is much more open, skilled, and sophisticated than the Lao media. And the Lao media are dominated by self-censorship,” a senior Lao source from Radio Free Asia said in an email to Index. “Within limits some publications in Vietnam do try to do investigative journalism. You simply won’t find that in Laos.” The source pointed out that a query on the large scale illegal logging with logs going to Vietnam might not yield much past government authority saying that the government tries to protect the environment.

The 2008 media law is theoretically more friendly to the media and transparency — journalists are guaranteed the right to seek and publish information and to access to public records — there is in practice not much more freedom. The government allows a small measure of criticism of bureaucracy or government actions but reporters have not fully tried to push barriers until they push back. Self censorship is endemic and might be one reason why reporters do not languish in prison as they do in Vietnam or China. Stories on culture and social ills are permitted to a degree, but rigorous investigation of, for example, detainment in rehabilitation centres for all drug users might be going too far.

There is also the tricky situation that government bodies rarely respond to media requests and little information is provided to reporters, though a couple of departments do apparently have a communications department. The information that is provided is expected to be used to further the government’s message and aims.

“There is an endemic culture within our society where people are wary of the news media, and adequate protection is not granted to those willing to speak out on sensitive topics. As such, accessing information is not easy, which makes presenting it even harder”, said a Vientiane Times report quoted by a Southeast Asia Press Association report from 2012.

News on HMong returning refugees, hydro plants, land clearance and illegal logging — some of the most contentious issues in the country — do not make it into the news often. Many of the issues of concern to Lao people can thus remain localised either with those directly affected or educated urban dwellers able to afford access to foreign news sources. It does not appear activist groups have mass organised online yet. Those with access to Thai media may be able to learn more — the government does not block the Thai channels whose broadcasts make it into border areas.

There have been some moves towards private media ownership, although some sources have remarked the industry is too small and rewards too low at this point for anything but a nascent media industry. “There have been a few attempts to launch more trendy, lifestyle magazines, but most have been short lived, I suspect because the relatively small market size for this does not make it economically viable,” said one anonymous source.

There are really no permanent foreign news bureaus in Laos. Though Voice of Vietnam opened a bureau in 2010 and both Radio France International and China Radio International have broadcast from Laos. It should be noted that the 2008 media law does allow foreign news but Stuart-Fox argues that the hoops foreign papers must jump through are too difficult for it to be worth their while.

Problems of censorship go beyond no free press: even if a savvy reporter could persuade an editor to run stories on corruption finding any hard data would be difficult. Party members do not have to disclose their holdings or assets meaning their ownership of firms in Laos is hard to track down. A lack of data cannot be blamed simply on wilful or mendacious opacity; there is not always the capacity for nation-wide gathering and management of statistics.

It is also worth noting, as Stuart-Fox has, that Laos historically has a lower level of literacy and literary traditions than Vietnam. Policy documents often remain unread (many laws have been drafted with foreign help but few ranking civil servants remain au fait with them) and the fierce, bookish debate of intellectuals can be less prevalent in Laos than its Confucian neighbours. On the upside, Lao officials are sometimes, he says, more amenable to friendly informal chats over a Beer Lao or two.

Laos has some two dozen newspapers and almost twice as many radio stations–useful when one considers how remote some communities are. There has been investment into telecommunications infrastructure which better connects Laos to the ASEAN region.

The Southeast Asia Press Alliance wrote in 2012: “The launching of the country’s stock market towards the end of 2010 should be seen as a welcome step towards greater access to information inside this secluded communist regime as foreign investors need a more transparent government and greater access to its policies on social and economic development.” The World Bank ranked Laos at 159 out of 189 nations for ease of doing business, up from 163 the previous year.

Not all censorship is political. Authorities and the older generation worry about the cultural shifts brought about by rapid modernisation and integration with the wider world. A decade ago young people believed Western influences were “bad” according to a survey published in a 2000 book — Laos at the Crossroads —  by authors Vatthana Pholsena and Ruth Banomyong. Today, there are still moves by the government toward modesty and a “Lao” way of being that encompasses tradition and religion. Women still largely wear sins – an embroidered sarong, more or less —  and until not so long ago long hair on young men was frowned upon or outright illegal — along with earrings or “eccentric clothes”. The same Vientiane Post article quoted also noted that while Western music was technically illegal in nightclubs it could be permissible provided it made up no more than 20 per cent of the music content of the venue, which had to be well-lit to prevent “indecent acts”. However Vientiane’s nightclubs seem to play largely western music or at least the bland, synth-heavy electronica found across the world.

Religious freedom

Laos is Buddhist, which the government recognizes and publicly embraces. In fact, it even went so far as to argue, on more than one occasion, that Marxism and Buddhism are not so much mutually exclusive as eminently compatible. The Sangha, the Buddhist clergy, was asked as early as 1975 to study Marxism and be a kind of emissary or teacher of the doctrine especially to those in the countryside. Regimes in Southeast Asia reasserting legitimacy by linking themselves with the nation’s dominant religion is not new and serves a useful dual purpose: They are linked to something deeply esteemed by the people but also more able to control what could otherwise be a powerful dissenting force.

Christians face more persecution on the whole. Hmong Protestant Christians — as opposed to Catholic groups — possibly the more so. The Hmong were co-opted by US forces during the Secret War when the United States undertook a covert bombing of the nation to disrupt the supply chains operating through the Ho Chi Minh Trail that assisted Vietnamese forces.

It is important also to understand that though many Hmong face difficulties in the nation and are discriminated against, it is largely the Christian Hmong who face the worst persecution, similar to Central Highlands Protestants in Vietnam, who are loosely grouped under the umbrella term Degar. Both of these cases stem from involvement with and support of US forces during wartime. Lao Hmong in the United States make up a reasonable sized diaspora and the older generation not only rails against the communist government but enjoys support from US veteran’s advocate group the CPPP — which erroneously reported the murder of 72 Hmong by Vietnamese-trained Lao forces in 2011. Former leader, the late Vang Pao, went so far to plan a coup from his home in California. Many Hmong who fled to Thailand during the war years and remained in limbo were forcibly repatriated a few years ago.

According to Stuart-Fox, Hmong who have maintained their traditional animist beliefs or became party-friendly communists do not suffer the same discrimination or persecution. One woman even made it into the Politburo.

Laos’ multitudinous ethnic minorities also follow many religions and the government officially allows this and officially advocates religious freedom. However this only goes so far as preserving or allowing “good” practices. Religious ceremonies considered backward have been suppressed where possible — like slaughter of animals in rituals. “Superstition” is not kindly looked upon.

Digital freedom

Internet access is far lower than any of Laos’ neighbours with only 9 percent using it in 2011. More recent data suggests an expansion: In 2012 there were 400,000 Facebook users in Laos; up from 60,000 in 2011 in a population of over 6.5 million.

Internet use is growing in Laos but still remains confined to larger cities and towns. A report from academic Warren Mayes guesstimated there were some 50-60 internet cafes in Vientiane in 2006. He noted then online life was growing fast for young people and their interactions with the wider Lao diaspora.

Laos may yet crackdown on Facebook. Last year the communications ministry was to introduce internet regulations to allow official monitoring of the internet — though sources suggest it is already very much unofficially monitored. The director general mentioned to the Vientiane Times information on Facebook circulating regarding a crashed Lao Airlines plane was not “helpful”.

The state controls all internet service providers, and there are some reports that the government sporadically blocks web activity. “The government’s technical ability to monitor the internet is limited, though concerns remain that Laos is looking to adopt the censorship policies and technologies of its neighbors, Vietnam and China,” says Freedom House.

Much of Vietnam’s surveillance ability is already sourced from western companies such as Finn Fisher, Verint and Silver Bullet, rather than homegrown. Sources have previously told Index that Chinese private companies are more likely to assist in surveillance than the government proper; however many including the CPJ strongly suspect Chinese government involvement.

One problem for Laos is that Lao language and alphabet programs have been slow to catch up, though young people do use a phonetic, romanised script known as pasa karaoke.

Deputy Minister of Post and Telecommunications, Thansamay Kommasith, told the Vientiane Times that an “official” Lao script program was being developed, saying: “This is for unity and prosperity, using the official Lao language in those technologies for the future development of IT in Laos as well as to develop the country through them.” There are already unofficial ones being used. Vietnamese military-owned telco Viettel is to assist in the development, according to local news stories. The telco was previously linked to malware attacks within Vietnam.

Laos has plans to launch its own communications satellite. Minister of Post and Telecommunication, Hiem Phommachanh, said at a “groundbreaking ceremony” the satellite would contribute to the nation’s socio-economic development. The $250 million (£147 million)  satellite will be funded by China, though Laos will hold a 30 per cent share.

Formerly message boards like Laoupdate and Laosmiles have been popular with both the younger diaspora and native Lao. The former site shut down, some suggest thanks to government pressure. The latter censored posts, explaining earnestly to the outraged users that it was to avoid trouble.

The Electronic Freedom Frontier has reported that Laos is on the Global Online Freedom Act’s blacklist, which was passed by a US House sub-committee, meaning US companies are prohibited from selling surveillance gear to repressive regimes. The EFF called it “an important step toward protecting human rights and free expression online”. US companies have sold such technology in the past to Vietnam.

Just as Laos has laws which can govern the press or activists, it has also specified similar acts in its internet laws. Article 15 (points 6 and 7) states people must “Not to use communication to defeat national stability, peace, socio-economic or cultural development of the country”; “7. Not to use the telecommunication system to defame persons or organizations.”

Staying friendly with the neighbours

Laos, neighbour to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, China and Burma, has long been called land-locked for its lack of access to any sea. With so many roads being built, Chinese railway funding and Laos’ own ambition to turn itself into a goods transport corridor it’s now more often called “land-linked”. But Laos has been balancing its neighbours and acting as either a buffer or corridor for a long time.

Historically beset from three sides by China, Vietnam and Thailand the nation has learned how to balance its neighbours’ needs and demands while paying expected tribute and playing them off against one another. Laos shares religion, a measure of culture and language with Thailand, as well as strong cross-border trade and cultural products like television shows and popular music. China and Vietnam have more invested both politically and economically. China’s projects and influence are seen more in the north of the nation; Vietnam in the south.

While China cooperates with the party and offers no criticism, Vietnam has more invested in the party. Both Professor Carl Thayer of the Australian Defence Force Academy and Stuart-Fox say that Vietnam has a greater interest in the political status quo in Laos being maintained. A change in regime could have repercussions for Hanoi. Vietnam has traditionally offered more political guidance and military assistance. The two nations also have a shared wartime history. But it has been Chinese involvement in Laos that has prompted some of the few public demonstrations, though protests over land reclamation often related to dams are also growing.

For example, the New City Development would have involved 50,000 Chinese workers to build the stadium for the 2009 SEA Games.  It was met with public opposition and even members of the largely party-member legislative National Assembly disapproved. There are also many towns, especially in the north, with large Chinese populations, Chinese markets and even signage in Chinese. Some in Laos have publicly wondered why, for example, Chinese workers must be imported for Chinese building projects when Laos has its own workers available.

China exerts political influence by virtue of not trying to. Unlike western aid, packages from China are not conditional upon human rights. China has a policy of non-intervention, though this is true for all nations it aids and invests in; there has been criticism of its similar policies in Africa. The two nations raised their bilateral relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2009. Chinese development aid from 1997 to 2007 was estimated at $280 million and the nation provided another $330 million from 1998 – 2001, according to Thayer.

The problems already present in Laos such as lack of transparency, corruption and environmental degradation have been raised as issues in regard to Chinese investment also by western aid agencies and NGOs and concerned Lao. At the same time there are worries about Chinese goods pushing out locally-made goods.

The ongoing non-investigation

Writing in the Asia Times in February, more than a year after Somphone went missing, his wife Shui Meng Ng pointed out that his disappearance has barely been mentioned in the local press and certainly no words of distemper from the foreign press have made it into local news. Questions on his whereabouts have been met with official blandness: “We have found nothing yet, but the relevant authorities are still doing their best to investigate the case.”

The European Parliament expressed grave concern, and many foreign aid groups and private NGOs have also tried to put pressure to bear on the government to explain or transparently investigate the man’s disappearance. The government, it seems, does not care. “Tough words,” from these groups she writes “have not been followed by equally tough actions.” She described questions by resident or visiting dignitaries as an “irritation” to local officials but nothing more.“Within Lao officialdom, no one wants to hear his name, no one wants to be reminded of his disappearance, and no one dares to talk openly about him.”

Given few in Laos read much aside from the official papers it is easy enough to whitewash his disappearance. Another source speaking to Index suggested a certain laissez-faire attitude even among some local, educated aid workers, characterised with: “Well, he should have known what might happen to him for speaking up so much.”

Ng makes a useful point: The nation’s steadfast drive to greater international and regional roles is, seemingly, belied by its refusal to even acknowledge what has gone wrong, or why.

Human rights and freedom of speech are not, despite what we would often like to believe, essential for a well respected global role. But for small, hitherto forgotten and least developed nations, a respect for international norms helps ease notions of “backwardness”.

This article was published on May 12, 2014 at

April 23, 2014

Search for MH370 reveals military vulnerability for China – ปฏิบัติการร่วมค้นหา MH370 ชี้ชัดทัพเรือจีนห่างชั้นสหรัฐฯ



Search for MH370 reveals military vulnerability for China

ปฏิบัติการร่วมค้นหา MH370 ชี้ชัดทัพเรือจีนห่างชั้นสหรัฐฯ

HONG KONG/BEIJING Tue Apr 22, 2014 5:08pm EDT

Chinese patrol ship Haixun 01 is pictured during a search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, in the south Indian Ocean April 5, 2014, in this photo courtesy of China News Service.

Credit: Reuters/CNSphoto

(Reuters) – When Chinese naval supply vessel Qiandaohu entered Australia’s Albany Port this month to replenish Chinese warships helping search for a missing Malaysian airliner, it highlighted a strategic headache for Beijing – its lack of offshore bases and friendly ports to call on.

China’s deployment for the search – 18 warships, smaller coastguard vessels, a civilian cargo ship and an Antarctic icebreaker – has stretched the supply lines and logistics of its rapidly expanding navy, Chinese analysts and regional military attaches say.

China’s naval planners know they will have to fill this strategic gap to meet Beijing’s desire for a fully operational blue-water navy by 2050 – especially if access around Southeast Asia or beyond is needed in times of tension.

China is determined to eventually challenge Washington’s traditional naval dominance across the Asia Pacific and is keen to be able to protect its own strategic interests across the Indian Ocean and Middle East.

“As China’s military presence and projection increases, it will want to have these kind of (port) arrangements in place, just as the U.S. does,” said Ian Storey, a regional security expert at Singapore’s Institute of South East Asian Studies.

“I am a bit surprised that there is no sign that they even started discussions about long-term access. If visits happen now they happen on an ad-hoc commercial basis. It is a glaring hole.”

The United States, by contrast, has built up an extensive network of full bases – Japan, Guam and Diego Garcia – buttressed by formal security alliances and access and repair agreements with friendly countries, including strategic ports in Singapore and Malaysia.

While China is building up its fortified holdings on islands and reefs in the disputed South China Sea, its most significant southernmost base remains on Hainan Island, still some 3,000 nautical miles away from where Chinese warships have been searching for missing Malaysia airlines flight MH370.

Military attaches say foreign port access is relatively easy to arrange during peace-time humanitarian efforts – such as the search for MH370 or during anti-piracy patrols off the Horn of Africa – but moments of tension or conflict are another matter.

“If there was real tension and the risk of conflict between China and a U.S. ally in East Asia, then it is hard to imagine Chinese warships being allowed to enter Australian ports for re-supply,” said one Beijing-based analyst who watches China’s naval build-up.

“The Chinese know this lack of guaranteed port access is something they are going to have to broach at some point down the track,” he said. “As the navy grows, this is going to be a potential strategic dilemma.”

Zha Daojiong, an international relations professor at Beijing’s Peking University, said the Indian Ocean search was an “exceptional” circumstance and that Chinese strategists knew they could not automatically rely on getting into the ports of U.S. allies if strategic tensions soared.

China’s navy had significantly expanded friendship visits to ports from Asia and the Pacific to the Middle East and Mediterranean in recent years, but discussions over longer-term strategic access were still some way off, he said.

“At some point, we will have to create a kind of road-map to create these kind of agreements, that is for sure, but that will be for the future,” Zha said.

“We are pragmatic and we know there are sensitivities surrounding these kinds of discussions, or even historic suspicions in some places, so the time is probably not right just yet,” he said.

“I expect to see more friendship visits, and on-going access on a request basis. Then there is the issue of making sure the facilities can meet our needs.”

Operationally, long-range deployments such as the anti-piracy patrols and the search for wreckage of MH370 have proved important logistical learning curves, he added.

Potential blue-water deployments of future air-craft carrier strike groups further complicates China’s logistical outlook.

China’s first carrier, the Liaoning, a Soviet-era ship bought from Ukraine in 1998 and re-built in a Chinese shipyard, is being used for training and is not yet fully operational.

Regional military attaches and analysts said it could be decades before China was able to compete with U.S. carriers, if at all.

Tai Ming Cheung, director of the U.C. Institute of Global Conflict and Co-operation at the University of California, described the MH370 search as a “major learning moment” for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and could lead to a push from its top brass to develop global power-projection capabilities.

The PLA covers all arms of the military, including the navy.

Chinese officials and analysts have bristled at suggestions by Western and Indian counterparts that Beijing is attempting to create a so-called “string of pearls” by funding port developments across the Indian Ocean, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Chinese analysts say the ports will never develop into Chinese bases and even long-term access deals would be highly questionable, given the political uncertainties and the immense strategic trust this would require.

Storey, of Singapore’s Institute of South East Asian Studies, said the “string of pearls” theory was increasingly seen as discredited among strategic analysts.

So far this decade, Chinese naval ships have visited Gulf ports and other strategic points across the Middle East, including Oman, Israel, Qatar and Kuwait, after completing piracy patrols.

But despite its rapid naval build-up, many experts believe China is a decade or more away from being able to secure key offshore shipping lanes and was still reliant on the United States to secure oil choke-points such as the Straits of Hormuz that leads to the Gulf.

Closer to home, the disputed South China Sea offers few solutions. China’s eight fortified holdings on reefs and islets across the contested Spratly archipelago are not considered big enough for a significant offshore base, according to Richard Bitzinger, a regional military analyst at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Nor is the base at Woody Island in the Paracels further north, where China is expanding a runway and harbor.

“Beyond the PLA’s significant naval bases on Hainan Island, I just can’t see where the Chinese will be able to get the port access they will need in Southeast Asia over the longer term,” Bitzinger said. “The intensifying disputes with the likes of the Philippines and Vietnam have hardly helped.”

The Philippines and Vietnam, along with Malaysia and Brunei, dispute China’s claim to much of the South China Sea, one of the world’s most important trade routes. Taiwan’s claim mirrors that of Beijing.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan all maintain military bases across the Spratlys, which sit above a seabed rich in oil and gas potential.

“The U.S. Navy has been at this for 100 years or so,” and constantly works at maintaining and nurturing its strategic network, Bitzinger said. “China’s being doing it for about 15 … China’s not going to be able to catch up overnight.”

(Additional reporting by Grace Li in Hong Kong and Matt Siegel in Sydney. Editing by Dean Yates and Mark Bendeich)


ปฏิบัติการร่วมค้นหา MH370 ชี้ชัดทัพเรือจีนห่างชั้นสหรัฐฯ

โดย ASTVผู้จัดการออนไลน์ 23 เมษายน 2557 21:07 น.

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รอยเตอร์ – การส่งเรือรบ เรือยามฝั่ง เรือขนสินค้า กระทั่งเรือตัดน้ำแข็งรวมกว่า 20 ลำเข้าร่วมปฏิบัติการค้นหา MH370 เผยให้เห็นจุดอ่อนของกองทัพแดนมังกรอย่างชัดเจนจากการขาดฐานปฏิบัติการนอก ชายฝั่งและท่าเรือพันธมิตร นักวิเคราะห์จำนวนมากยังชี้ว่า กองทัพเรือแดนมังกรต้องใช้เวลาอีกนับสิบปีกว่าจะสามารถเทียบชั้นสหรัฐฯ ในด้านต่างๆ รวมทั้งในภูมิภาคอื่นๆ ทั่วโลก ไม่เฉพาะเพียงเอเชียที่แดนอินทรีสร้างเครือข่ายพันธมิตรโยงใยกว้างขวาง

เอียน สตอรีย์ ผู้เชี่ยวชาญด้านความมั่นคงในเอเชียของสถาบันเอเชียตะวันออกเฉียงใต้ศึกษาใน สิงคโปร์ระบุว่า จีนรู้ดีว่าต้องเติมเต็มช่องว่างด้านยุทธศาสตร์นี้เพื่อตอบสนองความต้องการ สำหรับปฏิบัติการทะเลลึกเต็มรูปแบบในปี 2050 แต่ที่น่าแปลกใจคือ ยังไม่มีแม้กระทั่งการหารือเกี่ยวกับการเข้าถึงท่าเรือของประเทศต่างๆ ทั้งที่ปักกิ่งตัดสินใจเด็ดขาดในการท้าทายความเป็นผู้นำด้านกองทัพเรือของ สหรัฐฯ ในเอเชีย-แปซิฟิก รวมทั้งต้องการปกป้องผลประโยชน์เชิงยุทธศาสตร์ของตนเองในมหาสมุทรอินเดียและ ตะวันออกกลาง

ในทางกลับกัน สหรัฐฯ สร้างเครือข่ายฐานปฏิบัติการเต็มรูปแบบอย่างครอบคลุม โดยมีฐานทัพเรือในญี่ปุ่น กวม และดิเอโกการ์เซีย ซึ่งได้รับการค้ำประกันจากการเป็นพันธมิตรด้านความมั่นคงและข้อตกลงเข้าถึง และซ่อมแซมกับชาติพันธมิตร ซึ่งรวมถึงท่าเรือเชิงยุทธศาสตร์ในสิงคโปร์และมาเลเซีย

ริชาร์ด บิตซิงเกอร์ นักยุทธศาสตร์การทหารในเอเชียของสถาบันการระหว่างประเทศศึกษา เอส ราชารัตนัมในสิงคโปร์ เสริมว่า แม้จีนมีป้อมปราการในหมู่เกาะและแนวปะการังหลายแห่งในทะเลจีนใต้ แต่ไม่ใหญ่พอใช้เป็นฐานทัพนอกชายฝั่ง และแม้การจัดการเพื่อเข้าถึงท่าเรือของประเทศอื่นทำได้ง่ายมากระหว่าง ปฏิบัติการด้านมนุษยธรรมในยามปลอดสงคราม เช่น การค้นหา MH370 แต่การที่จีนมีกรณีพิพาทกับฟิลิปปินส์ เวียดนาม มาเลเซีย และบรูไน ก็ทำให้โอกาสในการเข้าถึงท่าเรือในเอเชียตะวันออกเฉียงใต้ระยะยาวมีน้อยมาก.

บิตซิงเกอร์สำทับว่า กองทัพเรืออเมริกันเข้ามาทำกิจกรรมในภูมิภาคนี้นานถึงร้อยปี และยังคงบำรุงรักษาเครือข่ายเชิงยุทธศาสตร์นี้อย่างต่อเนื่อง ขณะที่จีนเพิ่งเข้ามาเพียง 15 ปี จึงไม่สามารถตามทันสหรัฐฯ ได้ในชั่วข้ามคืน

จา เต้าเจียง ศาสตราจารย์ด้านความสัมพันธ์ระหว่างประเทศของมหาวิทยาลัยปักกิ่ง เห็นด้วยว่า แม้การค้นหาในมหาสมุทรอินเดียขณะนี้เป็นสถานการณ์ “ยกเว้น” แต่นักกลยุทธ์จีนก็รู้ว่า ไม่สามารถพึ่งพิงการเข้าถึงท่าเรือของชาติพันธมิตรของสหรัฐฯ ได้โดยอัตโนมัติ หากเกิดสถานการณ์ตึงเครียดเชิงกลยุทธ์

ด้วยเหตุนี้ เรือของกองทัพจีนจึงขยายการแวะเยือนท่าเรือประเทศต่างๆ จากเอเชีย-แปซิฟิก ตะวันออกกลาง และเมดิเตอร์เรเนียน ทว่า ยังไม่มีการหารือการเข้าถึงเชิงยุทธศาสตร์ระยะยาวอย่างจริงจังแต่อย่างใด

นอกจากนี้ปักกิ่งยังไม่พอใจคำวิจารณ์ของตะวันตกและอินเดียที่ว่า จีนกำลังพยายามสร้าง “สายประคำไข่มุก” ด้วยการให้ทุนสนับสนุนการพัฒนาท่าเรือในมหาสมุทรอินเดีย ซึ่งรวมถึงปากีสถาน ศรีลังกา บังกลาเทศ และพม่า

ขณะที่นักวิเคราะห์จีนมองว่า ท่าเรือเหล่านั้นไม่มีทางพัฒนาเป็นฐานทัพเรือจีนหรือนำไปสู่ข้อตกลงเข้าถึง ระยะยาว เนื่องจากความไม่แน่นอนทางการเมือง อีกทั้งยังต้องการความไว้วางใจเชิงกลยุทธ์อย่างมากด้วย

นักวิเคราะห์หลายคนยังเชื่อว่า แม้สร้างสมแสนยานุภาพกองทัพเรืออย่างรวดเร็ว รวมทั้งส่งเรือแวะเยี่ยมท่าเรือมากมายในอ่าวเปอร์เซีย และจุดยุทธศาสตร์อื่นๆ ในตะวันออกกลางหลังเสร็จสิ้นการลาดตระเวนเพื่อป้องกันโจรสลัด ทว่า จีนยังต้องใช้เวลาอีกอย่างน้อยหนึ่งทศวรรษจึงจะสามารถปกป้องเส้นทางขนส่งนอก ชายฝั่ง และระหว่างนี้จึงยังต้องพึ่งพิงสหรัฐฯ ในการปกป้องเส้นทางลำเลียงน้ำมันสำคัญ เช่น ในช่องแคบฮอร์มุซที่นำไปสู่อ่าวเปอร์เซีย


April 20, 2014

Laos exports up 6% last year

Laos exports up 6% last year

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VIENTIANE – Laos’ exports reached US$2.4 billion (78 billion baht) in 2013, up 6% year-on-year with minerals accounting for the lion’s share, media reports said Friday.

“Some 41% of the exports were mining products, becoming the largest foreign exchange earner in the country,” the Vientiane Times reported.

But the state-run newspaper said mineral exports were expected to decline this year after the closure of gold mining operations in Sepon, southern Laos, by Lane Xang Minerals Limited (LXML).

LXML is 10% owned by the Lao government and 90% by MMG – a subsidiary of the state-owned China Minmetals Group.

“MMG ceased gold operations in December 2013 due to depleting ore reserves and lower margins,” the LXML’s website said. “The gold plant has been placed on care and maintenance while the Sepon operation focuses on copper production.”

After minerals, chiefly gold and copper, Laos’ second-largest foreign exchange earner last year was hydro-electricity, which accounted for 21% of the country’s total exports.

Hydro-electricity is expected to be the economy’s main engine of growth in the future, with a series of dams planned that will have a total capacity to generate 28,000 megawatts, compared with the country’s current capacity of 3,000 MW, most of which is exported to neighbouring Thailand.

The garment industry was the third largest foreign exchange earner, contributing 8 per cent, followed by tourism earnings, the Vientiane Times said.

Laos’ total imports in 2013 reached $2.5 billion, leaving the communist country with a $224 trade deficit.

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Writer: dpa
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