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A view of the Mekong between Don Det and Don Khon, Si Phan Don, Laos, May 2019. (Wikimedia)

American researcher: China's upstream dams threaten economy and security of Mekong region

China’s 11 hydropower dams built on the upper Mekong River held back massive quantities of water over the last two years, causing crop failure and depleting fish catches, and threatening the livelihoods of the 60 million people living downstream. Besides, China has financed half of Laos’ 60 dams on Mekong tributaries and two more on the mainstream, pushing Laos' debt levels to about US$17 billion in 2019, nearly equivalent to the country’s annual GDP. Furthermore, other projects in Thailand have been cancelled out of concern that it would give Beijing too much strategic and economic influence deep into mainland Southeast Asia. American researcher Murray Hiebert explains the situation.
This file picture taken on 5 September 2018 shows flags from the Pacific Islands countries being displayed in Yaren on the last day of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). (Mike Leyral/AFP)

Power struggles and Chinese influence in the Pacific Island region

The Pacific Island Forum (PIF) has undergone some intense internal power struggle recently, and the region is also subjected to rising global geopolitical competition and tension. In fact, the "Taiwan-China conflict is virulent in this region", says former German diplomat Dr Anne-Marie Schleich.
People walk in a public park under blue skies in Beijing on 16 March 2021. (Wang Zhao/AFP)

When even blue skies are political in China

Chinese academic Ma Liang says it may be more worth it for the Chinese government to focus on long-term improvement of China’s air quality, rather than spending money and effort on clearing its skies only when there are major events. The government seems to be hoisting in this rationale, judging by the naturally grey skies during the Two Sessions this year. Can blue skies every day be a reality for Beijing in the near future?
A view of the Mekong river bordering Thailand and Laos is seen from the Thai side in Nong Khai, Thailand, 29 October 2019. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

Role of Vietnam in Mekong: A middle power in another US-China geopolitical battleground

Hanoi is applying its South China Sea playbook to the Mekong. It is putting effort into enmeshing all stakeholders while carefully balancing relationships with major powers interested in the Mekong. What does this mean for Southeast Asia and the region's relationship with China and the US? RSIS graduate research assistant Phan Xuan Dung examines how Vietnam can make a difference.
A road along Qidaoliang village located in a deep valley in Hebei province, China, 2014. (SPH)

Chinese villages' failed toilet revolution, clogged ponds and dangerous roads

Professor Zhang Rui takes stock of the government’s high-priority rural revitalisation project in villages, warning of cases of resource misallocation and misplaced priorities. He says while much manpower and resources have been mobilised to build new infrastructure, Chinese villages continue to be afflicted by poor sanitary facilities, lousy roads and a lack of clean water. The problem cannot be solved by simply building more of the same. 
Chiang Hsun's father riding a horse. (Photo provided by Chiang Hsun)

Taiwanese art historian: What my father taught me

Born in Fujian province in the Republic of China era in the early 20th century, Chiang Hsun’s father was strict and upright to a fault. He left home to join the army at only 14, then meandered across towns and cities, before landing up in Taiwan via the Matsu Islands. Self-disciplined as he was, he let his mind roam free in the books he devoured and in traipsing across the land. As a child, Chiang felt distanced from his austere father. Now, retracing his father’s steps of adventure, he feels close to him at last.
In this file photo taken on 24 January 2020, climate activists including Greta Thunberg (centre) march in a street of Davos on the sideline of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

Post-pandemic 'Great Reset': Can the world pull it off with Big Tech and China in tow?

At last year’s WEF, Prince Charles and other leaders proposed the “Great Reset” — a global effort to rebuild the global economic structure. However, as appealing as this may sound, Hong Kong commentator Chip Tsao points out that the current slate of world leaders and international organisations are probably unable to rein in private juggernauts and get a handle on the Chinese wild card.
A pu-erh cake and cups of pu-erh tea. (iStock)

Pu-erh: The raw, the ripe and the Qing dynasty 'tribute tea' from Yunnan

Cheng Pei-kai recalls the mellow, earthy appeal of aged pu-erh, where tea leaves are compressed into cakes and left to ferment for decades to develop a complex flavour. Recently, he also got the chance to taste a young pu-erh — made with tea leaves from a tree that Qing dynasty soldiers used to guard and which was sent to the emperor as “tribute tea”, no less.
A worker leaves a construction site in Beijing on 28 October 2020. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP)

Net-zero CO2 emissions before 2060: Is China's climate goal too ambitious?

President Xi Jinping announced at the 75th session of the UNGA last year that China aims to have its CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. How will its efforts affect China and the world? Ultimately, will taking a bitter pill now help China to leapfrog its constraints and build a sustainable economy?