Author Archives: Michael De Martino Jensen

Regional Roundup for week of 9.21.18

EXSE FOCUS

Vietnam President Tran Dai Quang dies aged 61 – BBC

Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang has died in a military hospital at the age of 61, state media report. Reports say he had been suffering from a serious illness for several months and had received medical treatment abroad and in Vietnam. He was sworn into office in the communist country in 2016, following a stint as public security minister. The role of president in Vietnam is largely ceremonial. But it is one of the top four posts in the country, along with the prime minister, National Assembly chairman and communist party head. Vice-President Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh will take over as acting president until a new president is chosen by the communist party’s Central Committee and voted on by the National Assembly.

Related: Who is Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh? Vietnam’s first female president takes over after Tran Dai Quang dies at 61 – Newsweek

 

Cambodia’s PM Hun Sen Denies Claims Foreign Pressure Led to Bail For Opposition Chief Kem Sokha – Radio Free Asia

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday lashed out at critics who claimed opposition chief Kem Sokha was released on bail as a result of international pressure on his regime, saying the head of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was freed due to concerns about his health. Kem Sokha was arrested in September last year on treason charges widely seen as politically motivated and the Supreme Court dissolved his CNRP two months later for its part in an alleged plot to topple the government, banning its candidates from taking part in a July 29 general election that Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) steamrolled without any viable opponent.

Related: What’s Behind the Release of Cambodia’s Opposition Leader? – The Diplomat

 

Democratic Transition in Myanmar ‘at Standstill’: UN Rights Panel – The Irrawaddy

Myanmar’s democratic transition has ground to a standstill as authorities seek to silence critics while allowing hate speech, particularly against Muslim Rohingya, the head of the UN human rights mission said on Tuesday. Marzuki Darusman, chair of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, denounced what he called “the extreme brutality of the military” known as the Tatmadaw as he presented a report that Myanmar’s envoy dismissed as one-sided. The panel was presenting its full 440-page report to the UN Human Rights Council after a summary issued on Aug. 27. That said Myanmar’s military carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya with “genocidal intent” and called for commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing and five generals to be prosecuted for the gravest crimes under international law. //While some blame the military, Aung San Suu Kyi, or the clergy for Myanmar’s enduring authoritarianism, a 2015 Asia Barometer Survey yielded some striking findings that reveal why open democracy is having a difficult time gaining a foothold in Myanmar: Nearly two-thirds of its  citizens opposed checks on the executive branch; Over 80% said that religious authorities should have say in lawmaking and that citizenship should be tied to religion.

 

Electricity sector a hotbed for investment – The ASEAN Post

Southeast Asia is a growing region with countries here averaging growth rates of 5.1 percent. This situation has rightly prompted a rise in energy demand within the region. Between 2000 and 2016, economic growth in the region spurred a 70 percent increase in primary energy demand. To that end, governments in Southeast Asia have implemented a host of policies to ensure energy demand is met. The expansion of the regional electricity grid cannot be undertaken without foreign investment, thus presenting a lucrative win-win opportunity for foreign investors. Numbers by the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicate that the region would require US$1.2 trillion in investments between now and 2040 in order to modernise and expand its electricity grids. //ASEAN member states are still saddled with inefficient regulations and permit procedures for renewable energy (RE), as well as outdated understandings of RE technologies, both of which need to be addressed for RE projects to feature prominently in ASEAN’s future energy mix.

 

Laos Accused of Copy-Pasting Dam Impact Survey – Voice of America

An official impact assessment for a controversial new Lao dam on the Mekong river has been directly copied and pasted in parts from a previous project, a coalition of groups fighting to protect the river has alleged.   The allegation came as Mekong River Commission (MRC) member countries met Thursday in Laos’s capital, Vientiane, to discuss the study in question, the Pak Lay Transboundary Environmental and Social Impact Assessment and Cumulative Impact Assessment.   Save the Mekong alleged in statement that large sections of that study “are simply copied directly from the Pak Beng [report]” – a 2015 assessment for a different project that an MRC review found was inaccurate.

 

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

USEA, USAID Release Roadmap For Electricity Trade Between South And Southeast Asia – USEA

Regional coordination on energy policy, legal and regulatory frameworks, and resource management would improve energy security, and accelerate economic growth of South and Southeast Asia, according to an analysis released recently by the U.S. Energy Association (USEA) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Linking South Asia with Burma & Southeast Asia to Advance Cross Border Electricity Trade: A Political Economy Study was funded through USAID’s South Asia Regional Initiative for Energy Integration (SARI/EI) program and serves as a roadmap to improve electricity trade between South and Southeast Asia.

 

ASEAN, ROK forge closer cooperation on sustainable infrastructure – ASEAN

ASEAN and the Republic of Korea (ROK) agreed to strengthen cooperation on sustainable infrastructure and regional connectivity at the 1st ASEAN-ROK Infrastructure Ministers Meeting in Seoul on 17 September. The ministers discussed the priorities and development plans of each ASEAN Member State on sustainable infrastructure and smart cities. They recognised the importance of developing smart infrastructure technologies related to transport and water resources. As an initial step for pragmatic and substantive cooperation on sustainable infrastructure, the ministers identified 20 ‘Key Cooperation Areas’ and encouraged regular exchanges between ASEAN Member States and ROK at different levels of government and across sectors, including through existing platforms, to promote cooperation in the field of infrastructure.

 

With a Submarine, Japan Sends a Message in the South China Sea – NYT

A Japanese submarine participated in war games in the South China Sea last week and is now visiting Vietnam, signaling a more assertive pushback by Japan against China’s territorial claims in the region. Japan took the unusual step on Monday of announcing that it had carried out the drills, which also involved two destroyers and a helicopter carrier. The Ministry of Defense said the exercises were not targeting a particular nation, but analysts said they were an unequivocal message to China.

Related: Why Japan’s First Submarine Visit to Vietnam Matters – The Diplomat

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

ADB Sells $750 Million 10-Year Global Green Bond to Support Climate Change Mitigation, Adaptation in Asia and Pacific – Asian Development Bank

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has raised $750 million to help finance climate change mitigation and adaptation projects with an issue of a 10-year green bond. Proceeds of the green bonds will support low-carbon and climate-resilient projects funded through ADB’s ordinary capital resources and used in its non-concessional operations.

 

Host nations must drive China’s Belt and Road towards sustainability. Here’s how – Eco-Business

The biggest infrastructure project of the 21st century promises economic prosperity, but only if host nations ensure that development does not destroy the natural environment or uproot communities. What can be done?

 

Water stress giving renewables a bad name – The ASEAN Post

The renewable energy sector in Southeast Asia has progressed by leaps and bounds. From the harnessing of biomass to the use of water in generating electricity, there is room for tremendous economic growth as well as the obvious positive of caring for an ailing environment. However, one question remains; are mechanisms put in place for the harnessing of these resources truly safe for the environment?

 

Climate Risk Informed Crop Calendar developed for the 13 provinces in the Mekong River Delta, Vietnam – CCAFS.

In a recent conference, Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development presented strategies for crop production improvement in the Mekong River Delta, including Climate-Smart Maps and Adaptation Plans for rice, to key stakeholders. Dubbed the ‘rice basket’ of Vietnam, the Mekong River Delta (MRD) contributes 56% of the total domestic rice production and more than 90% of the country’s rice export.

 

Groundbreaking ceremony held for first solar energy plant in Bình Thuận – Vietnam News

The groundbreaking ceremony for the first solar energy project in the coastal province of Bình Thuận was held [on Wednesday]. The Power Plus Việt Nam Company pledged to invest VNĐ1 trillion (US$44.4 million) in the Tuy Phong Solar Energy Project, which will be built on 50ha in Tuy Phong District. The plant will use machinery and technology provided by top international providers such as Jinko Solar, Power Electronic and Daihen. It is expected to produce a maximum of 63 million kWh a year for Bình Thuận Province.

 

After Laos dam collapse, Korea funds off-grid prototype town – Global Construction Review

A South Korean energy consultant will try and develop an energy self-sufficient town in Laos after the fatal collapse of a dam being built by a Korean firm. The $3.3m project will be funded by the Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy to help the country recover from the collapse in July that left 36 people dead, 98 missing and 6,600 displaced. Following an alternative model of decentralised, local energy generation, the new town will provide all its own power from solar and small hydro schemes.

 

Workshop held for Lao hydropower plant – Vietnam News

The Mekong River Commission organised a consultation workshop in HCM City yesterday for the Pak Lay hydropower project proposed on the Mekong’s mainstream in Xayaburi Province in north-western Laos. “The prior consultation process has distinct value in that it is the only basin-wide water diplomacy platform for publicly evaluating hydropower projects proposed for the Mekong mainstream with potential adverse trans-boundary impacts,” Lê Đức Trung, head of the commission office in Việt Nam, said. The proposed project sits downstream of the currently under-construction Xayaburi hydropower station and is 241km upstream of Vientiane, the country’s capital. The run-of-river dam will operate year-round and produce 770MW of electricity.

 

Renewable Energy Law in the Works to speed up Development – Myanmar Times

The Ministry of Electricity and Energy (MOEE) is drafting a renewable energy law to develop the sector, said U Maung Maung Kyaw, Chief Engineer from the Department of Renewable Energy and Hydropower Plants under the MOEE. The ministry is aiming to generate 8 percent of the country’s electricity through renewable sources of energy by 2021. By 2025, the target is for 12pc of all electricity generated in Myanmar to be renewable. “We have plenty of natural resources such as solar and wind power. What’s lacking is legislation to govern the development of renewable energy. Without the law, investors are not protected and we do not have a system for providing incentives,” said U Maung Maung Kyaw.

 

CHINA

China ‘protects environment’ in its Belt and Road initiative – The Nation

China has been ensuring high environment protection standards in all its projects under the Belt and Road Initiative in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, the leader of a Chinese government environmental agency said. Shi Feng, deputy division director of the China-Asean Environmental Cooperation Centre, told a UN Environment Sustainable Development Forum in Bangkok yesterday that the Chinese government worked in close collaboration with other countries. Under the Belt and Road Initiative, every Chinese investment project – both regional and bilateral – follows best business practices and ensures proper environmental protection, Shi insisted.

 

A Chinese Company Reshaping the World Leaves a Troubled Trail – Bloomberg

CCCC, Belt and Road’s biggest builder, is besieged by allegations of fraud, corruption, and environmental damage. State-owned CCCC, one of the world’s largest companies with annual revenue greater than Procter & Gamble Co. or FedEx Corp., says its portfolio of 700 projects in more than 100 countries outside China has a value of more than $100 billion. That makes it the largest Belt and Road contractor, according to RWR Advisory Group in Washington, which tracks Chinese investments abroad for government and corporate clients. It is also one of the most vexed. //Blacklisted by the World Bank, and having its construction projects blocked on suspicion of corruption in Malaysia and Bangladesh, CCCC is no stranger to controversy. It has also been linked to the construction of Chinese military bases in the disputed territories of the South China Sea.

 

Energising China’s renewable power tariffs – East Asia Forum

Widespread use of renewable energy is a real solution for China’s energy supply problems. Increasing the share of renewable energy in the total energy supply not only enhances energy security but is also good for the environment and health. China has set targets for alternative energy sources to meet 15 per cent of its energy requirements by 2020 and for the share of non-fossil fuel use to be 20 per cent by 2030. The Chinese government initially supported solar energy through ‘golden sun’ investment subsidies. After years of simply taking advantage of overseas orders to drive down the cost of manufacturing solar panels, feed-in tariffs for solar power were enacted in July 2011 to create China’s own solar power market.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Chinese Initiatives Threaten Mekong River – Mekong Eye

China’s Belt and Road Initiative promises to improve regional trade routes including the expansion of the Mekong, using explosives to blast the rocks and sandbars along a 1.6 kilometer stretch to make way for large 500-ton Chinese riverboats. Environmental protests put the plan on hold last year, but despite evidence of impending harm to fish breeding grounds and farmland, many of the activists fear the expansion will proceed. But China is adamant the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

 

Following Tragic Dam Collapse, Mekong Nations Talk Hydropower at Forum – VOA Cambodia

Leaders of the Mekong nations have raised concerns over the development of hydropower along the river system following the collapse of a major dam in Laos in July. The leaders met on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum on Asean to discuss their vision for the region’s development, which was live streamed. The Lower Mekong Basin is home to some 60 million people and has a gross domestic product of about $800 billion, according to official figures. About 40 percent of the population lives within a 15-kilometer-wide corridor along the river banks and depend on the river to support four-fifths of their food and other livelihood needs, according to the Mekong River Commission.

 

Thailand sees shortcut to Belt and Road with Sri Lanka trade deal – Nikkei Asian Review

Thailand sees a planned trade deal with Sri Lanka as an opportunity to tap into China’s signature Belt and Road Initiative while hedging against fallout from the escalating global trade war. Representatives of the Sri Lankan government are in Bangkok on Thursday for two days of talks regarding the pact with their Thai counterparts. This follows Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s state visit to Colombo in July, when the two countries agreed to seek ways to triple bilateral trade to $1.5 billion by the end of 2020.

Related: Beijing insists its generosity over Belt and Road is genuine – Nikkei Asian Review

 

Thai cabinet gives nod to over 60 mega projects to facilitate EEC – Thai PBS

The Cabinet on Tuesday approved more than 60 large-scale investment projects in the lower North and upper Northeast designed to facilitate and to connect with the government’s flagship Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) scheme. These projects are grouped into six areas of development including a project to connect Thailand’s economic corridor with Luang Phrabang in Laos, Indo-China, and Mawlamyine in Myanmar, said government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd.

 

Vietnam’s clean energy in need of a just transition – Vietnam News

In two years time, Việt Nam could stop building new coal plants, while maintaining a safe, affordable and secure energy system. This is a result of a draft report themed “Ensuring justice in the energy transition in Việt Nam” composed by the Việt Nam Sustainable Energy Alliance (VSEA). The report was published on Tuesday in cooperation with Green Innovation and Development Centre (GreenID) under the framework of the International Conference: Fostering Cooperation to Ensure a Just Energy Transition hosted by GreenID and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Vietnam (FES Vietnam) and Union of Science and Technology Associations (VUSTA).

 

Can Vietnam weather Trump’s trade storm? – East Asia Forum

Vietnam has become one of the most open economies in the world. Any development resulting in a shrinkage in world trade and growth such as the US–China trade war will inevitably affect its economy. The current trade tensions are restricted to US–China bilateral trade. In the short term, this could lead to more foreign direct investment (FDI) flowing to Vietnam as multi-national companies diversify their supply chains away from China. Instead of producing parts and components of electronic goods in Southeast Asian countries and doing the final assembly in China, multi-national companies may move their entire operations to neighbouring countries like Vietnam.

 

The Cambodian Port City on China’s 21st Century Silk Road That’s Becoming the New Macau – Inter Press Service

The new Macau. That’s what the Cambodian coastal city Sihanoukville is called nowadays. Chinese investors are building casinos there on a massive scale. The southern port city lies on the new Silk Road (the so called ‘One Belt, One Road’) and is therefore interesting for China. The Cambodian government is happy to accept the money. And Beijing never asks difficult questions.

 

ADB to Improve Environmental Services in Two GMS Corridor Towns in Lao PDR – Asian Development Bank

The Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Board of Directors has approved a $48 million grant to help improve urban environmental services and enhance economic connectivity in Paksan and Thakhek, two of the least developed towns along the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Central Corridor in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). Along with the Mekong River, the 1,600-kilometer (km) GMS Central Corridor—which includes 13 towns in the Lao PDR and Cambodia with about 20 million residents and serves as the backbone of the Lao PDR—has the potential to generate more than $20 billion in regional economic output.

 

Agreement signed to build China-Myanmar Economic Corridor – Investvine

Myanmar and China signed a memorandum of understanding to set up the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, according to a statement from the China National Development and Reform Commission. The estimated 1,700-kilometer-long corridor will connect Kunming, the capital of China’s Yunnan Province, to Myanmar’s major economic checkpoints—first to Mandalay in central Myanmar, and then west to the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone. //Hoping to avoid the mistakes by Sri Lanka who could not afford the loan repayments to China for the Hambantota port, Myanmar is looking to scale down the size of the BRI funded Kyaukpyu port project from $7.3 billion to $1.3 billion.

 

Timber deal undermines Myanmar’s forestry reform: EIA – Mekong Eye

A UK-based non-profit has warned that a timber trade deal in Kayah State represents “a significant step backwards” for the government’s commitment to forestry reform and urged the authorities to revoke the agreement. Local media in Kayah State recently reported on an unclear agreement to allow the trade of 5,000 tons of valuable hardwoods, including 3,000 tons of teak, from logging operations in the conflict-torn state. London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) yesterday said that if the deal proceeds it will further undermine Nay Pyi Taw’s stated policy of improving forest governance after decades of mismanagement which resulted in Myanmar suffering from one of the highest rates of forest loss in the world.

Related: Analysis: ‘Debt Trap’ Alert Rises in Myanmar as More Belt and Road Projects Scrapped – The Irrawaddy

 

Parliament Approves $300M ADB Loan to Upgrade Power Grid – The Irrawaddy

Minister of Electricity and Energy U Tun Naing told lawmakers that the loan would be used to improve the national grid in Yangon, Irrawaddy, Bago and Tanintharyi regions and in Mon, Karen and Rakhine states. Work is scheduled to begin in 2019 and finish in 2025. The project is expected to increase electricity distribution to 84,850 households in Irrawaddy Region, 151,667 households in Bago Region, 42,747 households in Mon State, 27,820 households in Karen State and 27,820 households in Rakhine State.

 

Arroyo’s return: what the former president’s comeback means for the Philippines – Southeast Asia Globe Magazine

Former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has survived corruption accusations, a four-year detention and a serious illness to become house speaker of the parliament. But can she bring her power to bear to fulfil President Rodrigo Duterte’s dream of a new Philippines?

 

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