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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 | The Thaiger
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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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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Covid-19 deaths surpass 1 million whilst more reports emerge about former patients’ “brain fog”

The Thaiger

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Covid-19 deaths surpass 1 million whilst more reports emerge about former patients’ “brain fog” | The Thaiger

The world’s Covid-19-related deaths has passed the 1 million mark overnight as the the cycle of the world’s lockdowns and re-openings are getting mixed results. As of this morning, Thai time, the number of total deaths has reached 1,002,389, with 4,000-6,000 deaths still being recorded, globally, every day. And rising. On a more positive note, the number of daily deaths continues to level off, even dropping some weeks, as treatments continue to improve and the virus is better understood. At this stage, officially, only 0.42% of the world’s population has so far been infected, according to worldometers.info.

The milestone comes in a week where another report from the UK catalogues the “brain fog” experienced by former Covid-19 sufferers.

Covid-19 deaths surpass 1 million whilst more reports emerge about former patients'
The current hotspots for the virus, now 9 months in circulation, of new daily cases is led by India. Yesterday, India added 82,000+ cases to the world total whilst the US is showing a resurgence in new cases after dropping the average down during August. There is also a resurgence in new cases in parts of Europe, including the UK, which is now recording more new cases than it was at its peak in the first wave in April and May this year. The following graphs records the top 10 countries for new Covid-19 cases recorded yesterday…

Covid-19 deaths surpass 1 million whilst more reports emerge about former patients'

SOURCE: worldometers.info

Both South America and India are showing the highest rates of new cases, in pure numbers, whilst US health authorities are concerned about the latest surge in new cases as the country starts to head into its autumn and cooler weather.

Meanwhile, more former Covid-19 patients, even those who only suffered mild symptoms, continue to report about long-term effects from the coronavirus.

In Canada, some 130,000 Canadians have recovered but some patients report that they’re experiencing “debilitating side effects” months after their infection. Canadian scientists report that they are finding some of the long-term effects of Covid-19 include heart damage as well as neurological issues like “brain fog” and “difficulty thinking”. Other patients are reporting hair loss, fatigue and even painful lesions called “Covid toes,” many weeks or even months after infection.

One study based out of Italy reports that nearly 90% of patients who have recovered from Covid-19 reported at least one persistent symptom two months later.

39 doctors wrote about these “long-haulers” and their battle with Covid-19 and their persistent symptoms in a manifesto published in the British Medical Journal. Following the report, the doctors called on politicians, scientists and public health officials to conduct more research into chronic Covid-19 symptoms and to create additional clinical services.

“Failure to understand the underlying biological mechanisms causing these persisting symptoms risks missing opportunities to identify risk factors, prevent chronicity, and find treatment approaches for people affected now and in the future.”

The reports also defined the affected patients as not in the current list of “at risk” Covid-19 patients – usually elderly with underlying conditions – but instead representing a much wider demographic of younger and healthy patients who were experiencing the post-Covid symptoms.

SOURCE: BBC | CTV News

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

IATA proposes Covid testing before travelling to replace quarantine on arrival

The Thaiger & The Nation

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IATA proposes Covid testing before travelling to replace quarantine on arrival | The Thaiger

The International Air Transport Association is proposing travellers to take a Covid test prior to departure to replace worldwide mandatory quarantines on arrival. The push comes after it announces that international travel is down by 92% this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As many countries are imposing mandatory quarantines that can be not only expensive but up to 14 days long, the IATA is calling for all countries to work together to create a pre-flight testing requirement in all airports.

Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO says that Covid testing is getting faster, cheaper and more accurate, which is why it is urgent to help kick-start the world economy by doing away with mandatory quarantines.

“The key to restoring the freedom of mobility across borders is systematic Covid-19 testing of all travelers before departure. This will give governments the confidence to open their borders without complicated risk models that see constant changes in the rules imposed on travel. Testing all passengers will give people back their freedom to travel with confidence. And that will put millions of people back to work.”

He says the removal of such quarantine requirements for nations like Canada and UK would also help those nationals to leave their countries confidently by knowing that accurate testing would be in place. IATA has also asked for feedback and says of those travellers polled, 65% agree that if a person tests negative for Covid-19, then they should not have to undergo a quarantine on arrival. 84% also agree that, instead, travellers should be required to get tested with 88% even agreeing that they would submit to testing as part of the travel process.

Over 5000 travel businesses have reportedly backed the IATA’s proposal after submitting an open letter to the president of the European Commission, demanding the EU to take action. However, testing and later vaccinating 7.8 billion people could prove to be a monumental task, one that may take months to devise a streamlined plan to carry out.

SOURCE: Travel Off Path

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Economy

Vietnam’s booming manufacturing sector reduced to a trickle as world pandemic kills demand

The Thaiger

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Vietnam’s booming manufacturing sector reduced to a trickle as world pandemic kills demand | The Thaiger

Vietnamese finance officials are downgrading expectations for a recovery of the south east Asian nation’s economy in 2021. The normally fast-growing gross domestic product in 2020 has stalled due to a huge drop in local and global demand, and the absence of international tourism. The booming economy, growing at an average of 6% per year since 2012, will struggle to reach a growth rate of 2% this year.

Fuelled by manufactured exports, the Vietnam economy has dropped back to a trickle. The Asian Development Bank estimates that this year’s GDP growth could be as low as 1.8%. The Vietnamese factories, that usually crank out shoes, garments, furniture and cheap electronics, are seeing dropping demand as the world’s consumer confidence drops dramatically.

Stay-at-home rules in Europe and America are keeping are keeping people away from retail stores. And despite the acceleration of online retail, many of the consumers are emerging from the Covid Spring and Summer with vastly reduced spending power.

The headaches of 2020 are also challenging Vietnam to maintain its reputation as south east Asia’s manufacturing hotspot. Rising costs and xenophobic foreign policy have put China ‘on the nose’ with some governments, complicating factory work in China, whilst other south east Asian countries lack infrastructure and are incurring higher wage costs.

One Vietnamese factory operated by Taiwan-based Pou Chen Group, which produces footwear for top international brands, has laid off 150 workers earlier this year. There are hundreds more examples of the impact of falling demand in the bustling Vietnamese manufacturing economy.

Vietnam’s border closure is also preventing investors from making trips, setting up meetings and pushing projects forward. Those projects in turn create jobs, fostering Vietnam’s growing middle class. Tourism has also been badly affected by the restrictions on travel. “International tourism is dead,” says Jack Nguyen, a partner at Mazars in Ho Chi Minh City.

“Inbound tourism usually makes up 6% of the economy.”

“Things will only pick up only when the borders are open and there’s no quarantine requirements. Who knows when that’s going to be.”

A mid-year COVID-19 outbreak in the coastal resort city Danang followed by the start of the school year has reduced domestic travel, analysts say. Some of the country’s hotels are up for sale as a result.

“Recovery could take 4 years.”

The Vietnamese Ministry of Planning and Investment is now warning that global post-pandemic recovery could take as long as 4 years, perhaps more.

Not that foreign investors in the country are pulling out. Indeed, many are tainge a long-term view that Vietnam’s underlying strengths will outlive Covid-19. Vietnam reports just 1,069 coronavirus cases overall.

SOURCE: VOA News

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