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Phuket Gazette World News: Mega-projects underscoring China’s growing economic clout – Insight

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Phuket Gazette World News: Mega-projects underscoring China’s growing economic clout – Insight | Thaiger
PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Insight – Cambodia’s $11-billion mystery
Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: The remote district of Rovieng was once a battleground between Cambodian government troops and Pol Pot’s genocidal Khmer Rouge. Unexploded bombs still lurk in its fields and forests.

So does something more desirable – iron ore – and supposedly in such huge quantities two Chinese companies have an US$11billion (7 billion pounds) plan to extract it.

Their proposal – a steel plant and seaport linked by a 404km (251 mile) railroad – has alarmed environmentalists, mystified mining and transport experts, and bolstered Cambodia’s reputation as an agent for Chinese expansionism in a region where the United States is increasingly competing for influence.

It is the latest in a series of mega-projects underscoring China’s growing economic clout in mainland Southeast Asia, while improving China’s access to supplies of raw material and ports in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea.

Work will soon begin on a US$7bn railway through Laos to link China’s Yunnan province with northeast Thailand. And in Myanmar work is almost finished on a US$3bn twin pipeline project to carry oil and gas to Yunnan from Myanmar’s Bay of Bengal coast.

The railway, port and steel project will be Cambodia’s largest, with a price tag not far off the value of the country’s US$12.9 bn economy. The steel plant in Rovieng, in northern Cambodia, will be its first. The seaport on a Cambodian island in the Gulf of Thailand will be connected to the mainland by a 3km (1.9 mile) bridge. The railroad will almost span Cambodia, although its exact route hasn’t been revealed.

“This is 65-per cent iron,” says Sun Qi Cai, 58, caressing a heavy, gleaming lump of Rovieng rock. “Not many places have such high-quality ore.” That includes China, the world’s largest steel maker, where most ore has an iron content of less than 40 percent.

Sun is a Chinese site manager for Cambodia Iron and Steel Mining Industry Group, which on December 31 signed a deal to build the three-part project with China Major Bridge Engineering Co, a subsidiary of state-owned behemoth China Railways Group.

The iron ore is destined for the steel plant – by law, ore cannot be exported from Cambodia. Mining experts could not hazard a guess as to how much ore is recoverable in Rovieng and there was no indication of how much steel it would produce and where the products would go.

Those are just some of the unanswered questions about the project.

China’s clout
Speaking at the signing ceremony, Cambodia Iron and Steel general manager Zhang Chuan You said work would begin in July and be finished within four years. But Cambodia’s transport minister Tram Iv Tek, who also attended the ceremony, professed to know almost nothing about it. The conspicuous absence of authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen also left many wondering whether China’s mystery train was going anywhere.

“There are a lot of real things happening here with Chinese money,” says Daniel Mitchell, a long-time American resident who runs a Phnom Penh investment firm called SRP International. “I don’t think this railroad is one of them.”

Mining experts question whether northern Cambodia has enough mineral wealth to justify the project’s costs. Transport experts wonder why the Chinese railroad will not connect with Cambodia’s existing train system, which is already being refurbished at a cost of at least US$141.6 mn, or either of its ports.

The ambitious project could be as much strategic as economic. Chinese investment pledged in Cambodia has totalled US$9.1 bn since 1994, including almost US$1.2 bn in 2011 – eight times more than the United States, according to the Cambodia Investment Board. China is also Cambodia’s largest aid donor.

That money carries political clout. Last year, Cambodia used its powers as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to stymie discussion on the South China Sea, where China’s territorial claims overlap those of five other countries. Cambodia emerged as a staunch China ally willing to put the interests of its giant neighbor over those of its ASEAN members.

The lesson for Washington was clear.

“For U.S. strategists, if you neglect certain ASEAN countries you hurt U.S. interests,” says American scholar Carlyle Thayer, an Asia Pacific security expert at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra. “There’s a price to pay … because China’s economic dominance carries political influence, the U.S. has to compete across the board.”

Amateurish facade
Cambodia Iron and Steel doesn’t look like a billion-dollar company or, as Chinese media reports describe it, a Cambodian one.

It is registered to three Chinese nationals who, says Rovieng site manager Sun, are brothers. The only Cambodian found working at its Phnom Penh headquarters, a five-story building flanked by a paint shop and a Korean restaurant, was the cleaner.

Despite its amateurish facade, other evidence suggests that Cambodia Iron and Steel is moving ahead with its project, and Cambodian officials know more than they publicly state.

On July 15 last year, telecoms and electricity officials were summoned to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport to explain to a Chinese representative from Cambodia Iron and Steel where the country’s fibre optic and electrical cables were buried.

“He wanted to know so that the train track didn’t cut through them,” said a Cambodian who attended the meeting.

An official at the company’s Shanghai-based partner, China Major Bridge Engineering, said it would begin construction this year but gave no specific date.

Catalysts for protest
In Myanmar, where a quasi-civilian government replaced a military dictatorship in March 2011, Chinese mega-projects have been catalysts for protest. China armed and supported Myanmar’s hated military during decades of Western sanctions, and is still resented by many people.

China’s ambassador to Myanmar, Li Junhua, has promised greater transparency from Chinese companies doing business in the country. In Cambodia, however, Chinese companies remain tight-lipped and closely allied with an authoritarian government that last year jailed record numbers of land-rights activists.

In one token of their close collaboration with the government, Chinese projects in Cambodia are often guarded by soldiers or military police. Chinese workers often dress in military fatigues.

No sign marks the entrance to Cambodia Iron and Steel’s vast site near Rovieng village, only a ramshackle house occupied by armed Cambodian soldiers who stopped Reuters from entering.

“I’m scared the Chinese will get angry,” one soldier said.

Som Soeun, 64, a community leader, was among hundreds of villagers who attended a 2011 ceremony in Rovieng to announce the building of a steel plant. Also present was Suy Sem, Cambodia’s Minister of Mines and Energy, who told villagers not to protest against a plant “needed for the country’s development,” Som Soeun recalled.

With the help of local people, Reuters reporters entered the same area and found no sign of construction. Trucks and other heavy machinery lay idle. Lumps of iron ore littered the deserted access roads.

The Cambodia Iron and Steel’s depot in Rovieng village already occupies what used to be community ground: the local soccer field. The depot also lay dormant. A villager who had befriended its few Chinese workers said they complained of being broke, bored an

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Buckingham Palace announces the death of Prince Philip

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Buckingham Palace announces the death of Prince Philip | Thaiger

Prince Philip, the husband and consort to Queen Elizabeth II, has died at the age of 99. The Duke of Edinburgh was the longest-serving consort in the history of the United Kingdom, retiring in 2017 after more than 20,000 public engagements. Born on the Greek island of Corfu, Philip had 4 children, 8 grandchildren, and 9 great-grandchildren with the Queen. Buckingham Palace released a statement mourning the loss.

Prince Philip was born on June 10, 1921 on the island of Corfu, Greece. He married Princess Elizabeth on November 20, 1947.

“It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen announces the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle. Further announcements will be made in due course. The Royal Family join with people around the world in mourning his loss.”

Buckingham Palace announces the death of Prince Philip | News by Thaiger

Buckingham Palace announces the death of Prince Philip | News by Thaiger

 

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Prince Philip dies at the age of 99 – Buckingham Palace

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Prince Philip dies at the age of 99 – Buckingham Palace | Thaiger

The husband of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, has died at the age of 99. Buckingham Palace announced his death in the last hour.

Princess Elizabeth married Prince Philip in 1947, 5 years before she became Queen. He was the longest-serving royal consort in British history.

The couple had 4 children, 8 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

SOURCE: BBC

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Thai fishing industry officials protest controversial ‘Seaspiracy’ documentary

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Thai fishing industry officials protest controversial ‘Seaspiracy’ documentary | Thaiger
Stock photo via Flickr

Thai fishing industry officials are protesting the controversial ‘Seaspiracy’ documentary as they say its information, regarding human trafficking, is outdated. The Thai Maritime Enforcement Command Centre spokesman Pokkhrong Monthatphalin, says the government had been cleaning up the fishing industry for years after its illegal practises were highlighted in 2015. He says Thai authorities have been trying to invited the documentary’s producers to come inspect the nation’s fishing practises themselves.

The documentary, Seaspiracy, focused on the extreme consequences of commercial fishing on local ecology. It also spotlighted Thailand’s fishing industry by interviewing former fishing boat workers who said they were trafficked to work on the boats as migrants. The workers said they were living in hell and were modern-day slaves.

In response to the damning allegations by former workers, Pokkhrong says Thailand’s commitment to ending such illegal practices had been recognised by the international community. He says the EU had taken the country off of its yellow-card status in 2019, citing Thailand’s alignment of its legal systems with international obligations to fight IUU fishing.

He says that year Thailand was taken off the yellow-card status, the nation had also set basic decent standards for those working in the fishing industry-a first for Asia. The US’s Trafficking in Persons Report also recognised Thailand for making headway in tackling human trafficking in the past few years.

But the Seafood Working Group has backed up the documentary by proposing the US State Department to downgrade Thailand to the Tier 2 Watchlist again, after the group claimed the recognition of workers’ rights was even more shoddy due to the Covid pandemic.

But Pokkhrong insisted that Thai authorities remained dedicated to promoting sustainable fishing and ending human trafficking in the seafood industry. The documentary, however, pointed to high-level corruption in the police department, with such officials allegedly playing a part in the trafficking of migrant workers.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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