At the coalface
The competition is intensifying for Mongolia’s mineral riches, and if Ulan Bator has its way, China may be on the outside looking in. Six companies have been shortlisted for the rights to develop part of the Tavan Tolgoi mine, one of the largest undeveloped coal deposits in the world. As Mongolia’s largest trading partner, China should figure to have an advantage over the other bidders – including Luxembourg’s ArcelorMittal and Brazil’s Vale – but only one Chinese company made the cut.
Mongolia has tried to build ties with countries outside the region through its “Third Neighbour” policy. But dependence on China has grown – along with anti-Chinese sentiment – leading the Mongolian government to revise its laws to assert more control over mining and opt to build a 5,600km Russian-gauge railway to send its coal to Russian seaports.
“Although such changes on the surface are not specifically directed against China, in fact they are attempts to limit Chinese control and further investment,” says Alicia Campi, president of the US-Mongolia Advisory Group. Undeterred, premier Wen Jiabao has visited Ulan Bator to push for more Chinese investment and Beijing recently approved a $300m (€213m) loan to Mongolia to develop a border-free trade zone. But Mongolia is proceeding cautiously. “A trade monopoly is not deemed healthy for Mongolia’s economy,” Campi says. “It is a situation that is of great concern to Mongolia.”
Bollywood take note: China has announced a plan to more than double the size of its movie and television industries over the next five years, with the goal of using its Ming-era costume dramas and martial arts films to extend its cultural reach globally. Building will begin this year on a $152m (€108m) cultural complex in Shanghai that will house East Asia’s largest indoor film and TV studio. But for China to be taken seriously it may need to open up and screen more foreign films than its current allowance of 20 each year.
There could be a metro on the roof of the world, should Kathmandu city planners get their wish. The Nepalese government is calling for expressions of interest from international firms to conduct a feasibility study into a metro for the ancient Himalayan city.
“The population is increasing, roads are congested and we’re not able to widen existing roads, so a metro is needed,” says Tulasi Sitaula, a joint secretary at the Ministry of Physical Planning and Works, who is overseeing the project. He says the government will partner with a private firm to build it. Nepal is also looking into building an electric railway line to link the eastern and western parts of the country.
Sri Lanka [TRANSPORT]
Now that the civil war in Sri Lanka has ended, ferry services between India and Sri Lanka are to resume. Flemingo International, a Dubai-based firm, has won the contract to operate a twice-weekly ferry between Tuticorin in India and Colombo in Sri Lanka. This could be a boon for travellers, trade relations and the repatriation of Sri Lankan refugees in India.
Hanoi has been gripped by a battle to save a giant soft-shell turtle that lives in the city’s Hoan Kiem lake. Pollution and debris have taken their toll on the creature, one of only four Rafetus swinhoei turtles left in the world. In March the turtle evaded capture by soldiers trying to move it for medical treatment. They are set to try again with a stronger fishing net, brought in from Japan.
No brides here
The Cambodian government has banned foreign males over the age of 50 from marrying local women – officially in an effort to reduce human trafficking. Suspicions remain that there are other motivations, however. A government spokesman let slip that it was not “fitting” to see an older foreign man with a young Cambodian woman.
Widening the network
Channel NewsAsia is one of Asia’s largest news channels, providing television to 30 million households in 24 countries. Over the past year, the channel has sealed new partnerships in Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, South Korea and Mongolia. In February it agreed its latest tie-up with the Accor Hotel Group, which will bring the channel to hotel guests in a further 12 countries.
Correction: In our Taiwan Travel Guide, March issue, the map on page 06 contained errors. The towns of Zhongli and Taoyuan were transposed, and Pingtung was shown as being to the north rather than the east of Kaohsiung. Finally the spelling of Banciao should have been Banqiao.