Regional Round-up for Week of 1.3.2020


EXSE FOCUS

Thai Official Warns of Water Shortages Due to Weather, Dams – Voice of America Thailand should brace for serious water shortages when the hot season begins in March after a year with unusually little rainfall, one of the country’s top water management officials said Monday. // Along with drought conditions, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) has announced that water levels will fall even further due to dam equipment testing upstream in China. This puts a greater strain on the already low water supply and water management for agricultural will be crucial as drought conditions continue and worsen.

China Quietly Pushing Myanmar to Back Its Development Plan for Irrawaddy River – The Irrawaddy  China—Chinese think tanks based in Yunnan have been traveling back and forth between Yangon and the Chinese province’s capital, Kunming, since early 2018. But at times their itinerary has taken them beyond Myanmar’s economic hub.

Laos’ Luang Prabang Dam Could Begin Construction in 2020, Ahead of ScheduleRadio Free Asia A hydropower project that was to be the last of five planned large-scale Mekong river dams in Laos may begin construction ahead of schedule, according to the Lao government. // Many worry that pushing the schedule up for the Luang Prabang dam will result in a less thorough and rushed consultation process. This dam is in a critical location and a comprehensive and inclusive consultation process is necessary to fully evaluate the consequences that it could have on the Mekong River and the communities around it. 

Southeast Asia’s Water Troubles Underscore Climate ThreatRadio Free Asia Over the past year, growing environmental threats in Asia have had much to do with water—most importantly rising seas driven by global warming. Southeast Asia is proving to be particularly vulnerable. // Good overview of the impact of climate change in Southeast Asia with a focus on water both on the coasts and in the Mekong River that will heavily affect one of the world’s most vulnerable areas. 

26 Dead, Thousands Caught in Flooding in Indonesia’s CapitalVoice of America Tens of thousands of people were evacuated in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta on Thursday after flash floods and landslides killed up to 26 people amid some of the heaviest rain in more than 20 years, with more deluges forecast, authorities said.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Japan, China and South Korea step up banking cooperation with ASEAN for infrastructure projectsThe Japan Times Government-backed development banks of Japan, China and South Korea have signed an agreement with public and private financial institutions in Southeast Asia to meet increasing demand for infrastructure projects in the fast-growing region.

Vietnam’s Southeast Asia Leadership Post in 2020 to Challenge China – Voice of America Vietnam’s turn this year as chair of Southeast Asian nations’ bloc gives it a new outlet to resist China in a festering maritime sovereignty dispute that involves three other member countries as well. Hanoi will take over as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian nations January 1 and hold that position for a year before rotating it to another of the bloc’s 10 members. 

Indonesia protests ‘violation of sovereignty’ by Chinese coastguard vessel – South China Morning Post The boat trespassed into Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone off the coast of the northern islands of Natuna, the foreign ministry said. It added that China’s ambassador in Jakarta was summoned in response to the incident and a ‘strong protest’ was conveyed. 

Iran seizes ship, arrests 16 Malaysians – Channel News Asia Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have seized a ship suspected of fuel-smuggling and arrested 16 Malaysian crew members, state media reported on Monday (Dec 30). The website of IRIB state television said the Guards confiscated 1.3 million litres of “smuggled fuel” from the unnamed vessel 15 nautical miles from Abu Musa island.

What RCEP means for the Indo-Pacific The Diplomat  With the world beset by trade and economic conflict, falling gross domestic product (GDP) and trade growth rates, as well as rising protectionism and populism, the conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations is all the more a landmark achievement for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Indonesia boosts patrols after Chinese boat ‘trespasses’ in its waters Channel News Asia Indonesia has increased patrols around islands near the disputed South China Sea after a Chinese coast guard vessel “trespassed” into Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone, authorities said on Friday (Jan 3).

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

A Turning Point for Development Aid – Project Syndicate China’s development lending to already-indebted countries has provoked accusations that it is engaging in “debt-trap diplomacy.” This reflects a narrow understanding of development assistance that has hampered progress in low-income countries for far too long.

How to Scale Up Sustainable Infrastructure – Project Syndicate The global transition to a low-carbon economy is facing significant headwinds, and bolder action is urgently needed to avoid unacceptable global warming risks. Addressing current bottlenecks in the development and financing of sustainable infrastructure can help to transform a critical sector and step up the fight against climate change.

Economic development must go with environmental protection: PM – Vietnam News Economic development must go together with environmental protection and social development to ensure sustainable growth and prosperity, said Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc.

Thailand kicks off 2020 with plastic bag ban – Channel News Asia Thailand began the year with a ban on single-use plastic bags at major stores, continuing a campaign launched by the government and retailers towards a complete ban in 2021 to reduce waste and debris in the sea.

CHINA

Report: China’s Liu He to Sign Phase 1 Trade Deal – Voice of America  Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will visit Washington this week to sign a “Phase 1” trade deal with the United States, the South China Morning Post reported on Monday.

Huawei gets India nod to participate in 5G trials – Channel News Asia  The Indian government has allowed Chinese telecom company Huawei Technologies to participate in trials for 5G networks, a company spokesman said on Monday (Dec 20). India’s nod to Huawei comes at a time when the global rollout of 5G technology has been complicated by US sanctions against the company. 

Myanmar Villagers Protest Over Compensation For Land Lost to China-backed Copper Mine – Radio Free Asia Nearly 200 villagers in the copper mining area of northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region staged a protest on Monday against a Chinese-backed company that they claim has not paid them reasonable compensation after seizing their farmland for a mining project, locals said.

China calls for calm after top Iranian military leader killed in US air strike South China Morning Post Beijing ‘highly concerned’ about escalating tensions in the Middle East and urges all sides, especially the US, to exercise restraint. As conflict between Tehran and Washington worsens, observers expect Iran to move closer to China and Russia. 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Observers: Cambodian Government Tightened Grip on Power in 2019 – Voice of America  This past year, Cambodia’s prime minister, Hun Sen, consolidated his power, observers say, pointing to intimidation of the opposition and a minimal improvement of human rights following the European Union’s threat to withdraw the trade agreement Everything But Arms. The deal grants free access to the EU single market for all products, with the exception of arms and armaments.

SET one of Asia’s weakest markets in 2019 – Bangkok Post Local bourse finishes the year up just 1% from end of 2018. The Stock Exchange of Thailand recorded a small gain in thin pre-holiday trade on Monday, ending a year in which it was one of the weakest performers in Asia.

Singapore aims to be Asia LNG hub as demand soarsNikkei Asia Review As demand for clean energy grows in China, India and Southeast Asia, Singapore has ramped up efforts to become a regional hub for liquefied natural gas trading, capitalizing on its location as an established center of finance and trade.

Vietnam to punish firms for fake labels on China products – The Straits Times Vietnam will punish four companies for fraudulent labels on products from China that the firms claimed were made locally, as the authorities expand their crackdown on Chinese manufacturers trying to bypass US tariffs.

Court Rejects Bid by Myanmar’s Kayah State Govt to Increase Activists’ Jail TermsThe Irrawaddy The Loikaw District Court in Kayah State on Dec. 27 rejected an appeal by the state government seeking harsher sentences for six ethnic Karenni youths jailed for calling senior state officials political criminals and traitors to the Karenni.

Electricity tariff to rise 3.5% in January-March to hit 5-year highChannel News Asia Household electricity tariffs will increase by an average of 3.5 per cent for January to March 2020, said utility SP Group on Monday (Dec 30), to hit a five year high. The rise of 0.81 cent per kWh – bringing the tariff to 24.24 cents from 23.43 cents per kWh in the previous quarter – is due to higher cost of energy, added SP Group.

Thai political rivals set in motion plans to mobilise thousandsChannel News Asia More than 10,000 people have registered for a “Run Against Dictatorship” in Bangkok next month while supporters of the Thai government plan to stage a rival walk on the same day, organisers said on Monday (Dec 30).

At Least Two Killed in Cambodia Building CollapseVoice of America At least two people were killed and more than a dozen injured when a seven-story building under construction collapsed in southern Cambodia on Friday trapping workers under the rubble, police told AFP.

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