Regional Roundup for Week of 01.11.19

EXSE FOCUS

Chinese warships dock in Cambodia amid rumours Beijing is building a new naval base there – South China Morning Post Three hulking Chinese warships docked in Cambodia on Wednesday for a four-day visit, as Beijing parades its naval prowess alongside its staunch Southeast Asian ally. China is the largest investor in Cambodia and has pumped billions into the economy while asking few questions about its abysmal rights record. While doling out cash China has also sought high-profile military exchanges, fuelling speculation that it is building a naval base off the Cambodian coast, claims vehemently denied by Prime Minister Hun Sen.//Given China’s substantial economic investment and military engagement in Cambodia in recent years, it is easy to forget that Cambodia has interests of its own that are aided by drawing on Chinese support, including building up its own maritime capacities to secure offshore energy fields as well as to project strength toward Thailand in a possible border skirmish.

US-China Trade War Divides Southeast Asia, Belt and Road Fears Unite it: Survey – South China Morning Post Most Southeast Asian experts are upbeat about the direction of the region’s economy, but many are wary of global trade agreements and divided on the consequences of the US-China trade war, a new survey has found. A poll of more than 1,000 experts, analysts and business leaders found that more than 55 per cent believed Southeast Asia would experience moderate or strong growth in 2019. The first State of Southeast Asia: 2019 Report – by the Singapore-based Asean Studies Centre at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute – found only about 20 per cent of respondents anticipated an economic downturn, with the pessimism most pronounced in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.//BRI skepticism: Also in the survey were questions about how to deal with China’s BRI. To date, every ASEAN country but Singapore has a BRI project or is in negotiations for one, but only 8.4% of respondents said the benefits of the BRI outweigh the potential political and economic fallouts.

Election Committee: Feb 24 now impossible – The Bangkok Post Voters who still cherished the hope of casting their ballots on Feb 24 saw the likelihood fade as the Thursday deadline for publication of the royal decree on the general election slipped away. Thursday, Jan 10, was the last day the decree could be published if the election is to be held on Feb 24. As of 6.15pm, there was no sign of it.//A never-ending saga: Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu said that the current election date is no longer possible as the post-election process would collide with the royal coronation ceremony in April and May. He said that the elections will be held no later than March this year, but at this point, who knows anymore.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

US-China trade war is good for Indonesia: Indonesian V-P – The Straits Times The US-China trade war is beneficial to Indonesia as it could lead to a shift in production to other countries in the region, according to Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla. “Ongoing trade war is quite good,” Mr Kalla said at a discussion on economic outlook in Jakarta on Tuesday (Jan 8). His comments are in contrast to those from other Indonesian officials, who have warned of the negative spillover effects from higher US tariffs on China, including the possibility of China dumping cheap products, like steel, in neighbouring markets.

China promotes use of yuan among Southeast Asian nations – The Economic Times China published a five-year blueprint on Friday seeking economic and financial integration between southern Guangxi province and Southeast Asia, representing Beijing’s latest effort to promote international use of the yuan currency. China’s state council, or cabinet, has agreed to build Guangxi, which borders Vietnam, into a financial gateway between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China, the world’s second biggest economy, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said in a statement on its website. 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Vietnam faces challenges in ensuring water security – Vietnam.net Now is the time for the country to speed up studies on water security and environmental security to develop a legal framework and solutions to tackle the challenges, said director of the National Centre for Water Resources Planning and Investigation Trieu Duc Huy. According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE), Vietnam now has about 830-840 billion cubic metres of surface water, some 63 per cent of which originates in neighbouring countries upstream. This means Vietnam’s water security heavily depends on actions taken on international rivers like Hong (Red) River or Mekong River, said deputy minister of MONRE Le Cong Thanh.

Ministry insists iron mine should not be reopened – Vietnam News The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has raised concerns over the controversial Thạch Khê Iron Ore Mine in central Hà Tĩnh Province, saying the mine should not restart operations due to environmental risks. Hoàng Văn Thức, deputy head of the ministry’s Việt Nam Environment Administration said the ministry shared the concerns of the provincial authority. Last month, Hà Tĩnh Province proposed shutting down the mine to protect the environment instead of temporarily halting operations.

Waste-to-electricity projects in big cities appeal to investors – Vietnam.net In November 2018, the HCM City Department of Natural Resources and the Environment joined forces with Tasco JSC to start construction of Tasco Cu Chi, a 500 ton per day solid recycling plant. In Hanoi, the municipal authorities approved the Soc Son waste-to-electricity (WTE) plant project with capacity of 4,000 tons per day. With huge volume of domestic waste of up to 9,300 tons per day, HCM City has released a set of criteria for investments in waste-to-electricity projects. The city will accept projects with the daily capacity of 1,000 tons and treatment costs of no more than $21 per ton.  The technology in the projects need to be capable of treating unclassified waste, and all the equipment must be new.

Government designates Lumkod lake as protected – The Khmer Times The government has decided to set up a protected area of more than 100 hectares in Ratanakkiri province to protect the environment, biodiversity and sustainable use of natural resources. A sub-decree, dated December 25 and published by the Environment Ministry yesterday, said the government decided to designate Lumkod lake as a landscape protected area covering 110.91 hectares in Lumphat district’s Seda commune.

Smart city development on Lao government agenda for 2019 – The Phnom Penh Post The government has added smart city development to its agenda for this year as landlocked Laos seeks ways to strengthen its economic competitiveness in the coming years. The government told the National Assembly last month it is hopeful that work towards this initiative will start this year. The smart city initiative is one of the mega development projects the government plans to undertake this year, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Somdy Duangdy told the Assembly last month.

Turning Temple Town green through ‘upcycling’ – Southeast Asia Globe Siem Reap is Cambodia’s tourism cash cow. Over a million visitors fly directly to the city every year, and the city and nearby temples attracted more than 5.6 million people in 2017, a number that has been rising over the past 20 years. Such an influx of tourists presents environmental challenges. Cambodia already has a variety of environmental issues like illegal logging and a lack of recycling facilities, let alone the waste of millions of tourists. Tim Waterfield wants to help as the founder of Naga Earth, a social enterprise that’s trying to make tourism greener in Siem Reap. Cooking oils are often emptied down drains by street food vendors, which can lead to environmental issues down the line. Naga Earth collects used cooking oil and turns it into biodiesel fuel.

CHINA

Air quality worsens in China’s Henan province, improves elsewhere – Channel News Asia Air pollution in China’s heavy-industrial province of Henan worsened in December even as other regions improved, official data showed, with its cities hit by unfavourable weather and a struggle to find cleaner sources of economic growth. China is restricting industrial output, traffic and coal consumption in the smog-prone north for a second year in a bid to cut pollution during the winter heating period, when thousands of mainly coal-burning boilers are switched on.

The costs of containing China – East Asia Forum Washington’s policymakers at last understand that China is a serious strategic rival. For the first time since the Soviet collapse, they recognise that a major country is trying to expand its power and influence at the expense of US global leadership. Now they must decide what, if anything, to do about it. Vice President Mike Pence spoke for many in October 2018 when he struck a defiant tone, committing the United States to resist China’s ambitions and contain its challenge. Inevitably people started to talk of a new Cold War with China. But containing China is not going to be easy, and no one has yet explained how this new Cold War is going to be prosecuted, what it will cost and why the United States must do it.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Internet Companies Hit By Vietnam’s New Cybersecurity Law – InvestVine A law requiring Internet companies in Vietnam to remove content the country’s authorities deem to be against the state came into effect January 1, in a move critics called “a totalitarian model of information control,” AFP reported. The law requires Internet companies to remove content the government regards as “toxic”. Tech giants such as Facebook and Google will also have to hand over user data if asked by the government, and open representative offices in Vietnam.

Vietnamese authorities forcibly bulldoze Catholic homes – Asia Times Government officials in southern Vietnam have reportedly demolished more than 100 homes in a predominantly Catholic area. According to UCA News, the people of Loc Hu’ng in Tay Ninh province are mostly Catholic and were given minimal warnings about the demolitions. Apart from houses, a church-run home for disabled war veterans was also destroyed.

Vietnam among top ten hot destinations for US tourists – Vietnam.net In an article titled ‘Where will US travelers explore in 2019? Top trends, destinations and anniversaries’ published on USA Today, USTOA mentioned Italy as the most popular destination for travelers in 2019. “The top 10 hot destinations for the coming year also included Iceland, which ranked second. It was followed by Japan, Vietnam, Australia, France, Spain, Colombia, Cambodia and Portugal,” it said. The ranking was based on a recent survey conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers of tour operator members of the USTOA.

Two Cambodia Opposition Officials Barred From Politics to Seek ‘Pardon’ After Amendment Approval – Radio Free Asia  At least two senior officials from Cambodia’s opposition who were barred from politics said they will seek a “pardon” to have their rights reinstated after King Norodom Sihamoni approved an amendment to the country’s law on political parties on Tuesday. Kong Koam, the former president of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), and his son Kong Bora, a former senior official with the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), said they will ask for individual “pardons” on Wednesday to resume political activities, according to a condition Prime Minister Hun Sen has said must be met before they can take advantage of the new amendment to overturn their ban.

Cambodia Becomes Gambling Heaven, Adds 52 New Casino Licenses In 2018 – InvestVine Cambodia granted 52 licenses for new casinos in 2018; pushing the number of gambling facilities up by 53 per cent over the previous year, the Ministry of Economy and Finance reported. Overall, about 150 casinos are now in operation in the country, up from 98 in 2017, with the largest one being NagaWorld in Phnom Penh. In the resort town of Sihanoukville alone, there are now 88 casinos, said Ros Phirun, deputy director-general of the ministry’s General Department of Financial Industry – the gambling business regulator in the country.

Cambodia Spokesman Denies Country Gave Passport to Exiled Former Thai PM Yingluck – Radio Free Asia A spokesman for the Hun Sen government on Thursday denied reports that fugitive former Thai premier Yingluck Shinawatra had been given a Cambodian passport, but a critic of the Cambodian strongman said it couldn’t be ruled out in view of his ties to Yingluck’s billionaire brother. Media in Hong Kong, citing business records, have reported that Yingluck had used a Cambodian passport to register a company in the former British colony, now an autonomous Chinese city. The AFP news agency said the document lent weight to reports that Yingluck, deposed in a coup in 2014, went through Cambodia when she fled Thailand in August, 2017, after a graft conviction of running a rice subsidy scheme that cost Thailand billions of dollars.

Shipments delayed as exporters wait for EU tariff decision – The Irrawaddy In less than a week, the European Union will decide on whether or not to impose tariffs on rice from Cambodia and Myanmar, with local exporters saying the uncertainty is already costing them business. On Jan 15 the European Commission will make a decision on the activation of a safeguard clause that will tax Cambodian rice exports $199.5 per ton during the first year. In March, the EC launched an investigation to see if imports of semi-milled and milled Indica rice from Cambodia and Myanmar resulted in serious difficulties to EU producers of similar or competing products.

Report: Illegal Logging Still Rampant in Cambodia’s Prey Lang Forest – Radio Free Asia Deforestation in Prey Lang forest in the central plains of Cambodia continues to be a major problem that threatens the local economy, food security and biodiversity, and has the potential to accelerate climate change, according to a recent report by the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN). The local grassroots movement to preserve the forest found that the major culprit in deforestation is illegal logging, which has increased in recent years. The group’s 7th Monitoring Report, published Monday, also says that the government is making the situation worse by requiring permits to patrol the forest. In addition, roads are causing habitat loss within the forest.

Chinese Railway Project in Laos Leaves Farmers in the Lurch –  Radio Free Asia The railway project that would link landlocked Laos with China has been touted as a benefit to the Lao economy because it will lower the cost of exports and consumer goods while boosting socioeconomic development in the impoverished nation of nearly 7 million people. But the railway project, expected to be completed in 2021, has displaced more than 4,400 families from their land. Under Lao Decree 84 issued in April 2016, Lao citizens losing land to development projects must be compensated for lost income, property, crops, and plants. However, many of these families have still not been compensated.

Court Rejects Appeal by Jailed Reuters Reporters – The Irrawaddy The Yangon High Court on Friday rejected the appeal of two Reuters reporters sentenced to seven years in jail on charges of breaking the Official Secrets Act, saying the defense had not provided sufficient evidence to show they were innocent. Ko Wa Lone, 32, and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were convicted by a lower court in September in a landmark case that has raised questions about Myanmar’s progress toward democracy and sparked an outcry from diplomats and human rights advocates. “It was a suitable punishment,” said Judge Aung Naing, referring to the seven-year prison term meted out by the lower court.

What Does China’s Belt And Road Have To Do With Myanmar’s Meth Problem? – South China Morning Post If Myanmar is to break an addiction to methamphetamine production that has seen it become one of the world’s largest suppliers there is one country above all others that must act: China. That’s according to a report released on Tuesday that highlighted how complexities in the relationship between the two countries are being exploited by armed separatists who are producing thousands of tons of the drug in the “Golden Triangle” of Myanmar’s Shan state, an area that is already the world’s second-largest heroin-producing region.

How tech can help Southeast Asia keep up with surging tourist arrivals – Tech in Asia In 2017, the Asia-Pacific region logged a 6 percent increase in inbound tourism, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. Southeast Asia saw tremendous growth, welcoming over 120 million international visitors and US$130.7 billion worth of tourism receipts. That uptick continued in 2018, with tourist numbers in the region going up by 10 percent in the first quarter, exceeding the international average of 6 percent. Hotels are turning to technology to deal with struggles like managing the influx of guests. One player in hotel tech is Japan-based TradFit. Using artificial intelligence, internet of things, and voice recognition, TradFit supplies hotels with screen-equipped smart speakers and a chatbot that acts as a digital concierge.

New Malaysia King can assume duties immediately after swearing-in on Jan 31 – The Straits Times The new King will take his oath of office on Jan 31, allowing him to carry out the duties of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong soon after, says the Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal. Tan Sri Syed Danial Syed Ahmad said on Tuesday (Jan 8) taking the oath of office would mean that the 16th Yang di-Pertuan Agong would be able to take on his responsibilities immediately, even before being installed as King ceremonially. Though a constitutional monarch, the King, or Yang di-Pertuan Agong, is seen as a symbol of Malay power and protector of Islam, the state religion.

Indonesia to double disaster relief budget in 2019 after year of tragedies – Reuters Indonesia will more than double its disaster response budget to 15 trillion rupiah (S$1.41 billion) in 2019, officials said on Tuesday (Jan 8), after a series of major natural disasters devastated three regions of the vast archipelago last year. The South-east Asian country suffered its deadliest year in over a decade in 2018, when over 3,000 people died in tsunamis and earthquakes in Sulawesi, Lombok, and West Java and Sumatra islands.

REVIEWS

Book release: Urban Climate Resilience in Southeast Asia – United Nations University Springer just launched a new book on Urban Climate Resilience in Southeast Asia that was co-edited by Dr. Amrita Daniere (University of Toronto) and UNU-EHS expert Dr. Matthias Garschagen. It explores how the impacts of climate change interact with poverty and vulnerability in Southeast Asian cities and thereby increase risks for their residents. The book features both academic literature and action research from experts that are involved with the research project Building Urban Climate Change Resilience in Southeast Asian Cities (UCRSEA).

An ASEAN Giant Mulls the Region’s Future – The Diplomat Indonesia’s former foreign minister Marty Natalegawa’s new book on the regional grouping’s relevance grapples with its manifold challenges. In his previous roles including as foreign minister, Natalegawa dealt with a number of formidable challenges that the grouping faced, from border clashes between Thailand and Cambodia to the management of the South China Sea disputes. Even after ending his tenure as foreign minister, he has continued to remain active in speaking and writing about regional developments, being candid about the issues ASEAN faces but also still hopeful that the region will be able to address them if the right steps are taken. Natalegawa has now captured the essence of those years in his book Does ASEAN Matter?

 

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