Regional Round-up for Week of 12.06.19

EXSE FOCUS

Mekong region’s East-West Corridor takes shape Nikkei Asian Review Highway link between Vietnam and Myanmar pushes regional integration forward. The opening of a new bridge between Thailand and Myanmar a few weeks ago marks another step in the integration of supply chains in Southeast Asia, linking four countries in the Indochinese Peninsula to the Indian Ocean.

The Mekong is turning blue. That’s not good The Thaiger Water levels in the Mekong River are now reaching a critical point. The river’s normally brown waters have turned aquamarine, like sea water, and sandbars are emerging, some of them several kilometres long. // Still at the beginning of the dry season, the low water levels of the Mekong signify a harsh drought ahead and this is worrying to farmers that depend on the Mekong for their crops, especially rice. Low crop production has other consequences and many governments are pushing farmers to plant low water intensive crops instead to save water. 

ASEAN fights to stay neutral in the US–China contest East Asia Forum Rising US–China tensions go beyond trade and involve a broad range of issues including strategy, security and values. It’s pertinent to also look at the choices that ASEAN and others are facing in the context of this great power contest, including decisions on economic development and technology.

In Cambodia, solar power surges China Dialogue One hour west of Cambodia’s capital an array of iridescent panels stretches between palm trees, glistening through dust clouds from a neighbouring highway. A year ago it was a barren expanse of chalky soil. Now it’s Cambodia’s largest solar farm. // Cambodia’s interest in solar power has increased especially as an alternative to controversial hydropower projects. As the price for solar decreases, solar energy has become more competitive and solar plants can be built much faster making solar a more flexible energy source that can match Cambodia’s booming energy demands. Read more about feasibility studies done comparing the potential of new hydropower and floating solar power here

REGIONAL RELATIONS

ADB’s First Satellite Financing to Expand Internet Access in Asia and Pacific Asian Development Bank The Asian Development Bank (ADB) signed a $50 million agreement with Kacific Broadband Satellites International Limited (Kacific) to provide affordable satellite-based, high-speed broadband internet connections to countries in Asia and the Pacific, especially in remote areas of small island nations in the Pacific and larger island nations like Indonesia and the Philippines. This is ADB’s first satellite financing.

Mekong countries agree to strengthen tourism cooperation Khmer Times Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) countries have agreed to boost tourism cooperation, including improving infrastructure and marketing techniques and developing human resources.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Indonesian fires burnt 1.6 million hectares of land this year: Researchers Channel News Asia

Fires in Indonesia that spread a smoky haze over Southeast Asia this year burned at least 1.6 million hectares of mostly degraded land and carbon-rich peatlands, data from a respected research group showed on Monday (Dec 2). Southeast Asia has suffered for years from smoke caused by fires in Indonesia, raising health and environmental concerns, but this year’s were the worst since 2015 when 2.6 million hectares were burned.

Indonesia ‘must stop building new coal plants by 2020’ to meet climate goals Mongabay Indonesia must stop building coal-fired power plants by next year if it’s to keep up its commitments to the Paris climate agreement, according to a new analysis. The country would also have to stop burning coal by 2048 in order to contribute to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels and achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That scenario looks highly unlikely, though, with 39 coal plants under construction and 68 announced, and installed coal-fired capacity set to double over the next decade. Analysts say a major obstacle to breaking Indonesia’s coal addiction is the lack of policies encouraging investment in renewable energy sources.

Thousands Evacuated as Typhoon Kammuri Nears the Philippines New York Times Kammuri has begun dumping torrential rains across the eastern provinces of the archipelago and could disrupt the Southeast Asian Games.

Singaporeans in Philippines urged to take precautions as Typhoon Kammuri nears  The Straits Times Singaporeans in the Philippines have been warned to take precautionary measures and stay indoors as Typhoon Kammuri heads towards the country, with thousands already evacuated, flights cancelled and schools shut.

Heavy rain in Malaysia forces over 2,600 people to evacuate The Straits Times The number of Malaysians who fled to flood evacuation centres doubled to 2,611 people on Saturday evening, as heavy rain continued to fall in Terengganu and Kelantan states, Bernama news agency reported yesterday.

Sagaing works to conserve Tha Phan Seik Dam water Myanmar Times The Sagaing Regional government has set up conservation measures due to the low water level in Tha Phan Seik Dam, the biggest in Southeast Asia, to irrigate farms during the dry season, a senior regional agricultural official said Sunday.

Consultation workshop on Mekong Delta agricultural transformation Vietnam Plus The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) and the Embassy of the Netherlands in Vietnam held a consultation workshop in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho on December 2 to discuss the Mekong Delta Agricultural Transformation Programme.

CHINA

China plans new coal plants, trims support for clean energy Associated Press As world leaders gather in Spain to discuss how to slow the warming of the planet, a spotlight falls on China — the top emitter of greenhouse gases.

Myanmar Watchdog Criticizes ‘So-Called’ Public Consultation Process for China’s BRI Project The Irrawaddy The Heartland Foundation was formed in Lashio, northern Shan State in 2012 and has become a leading environmental conservation organization. Recently, it formed a watchdog team to monitor China-backed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects, together with nearly 20 local civil society organizations. In particular, their efforts will focus on transparency issues, and the environmental and social impacts of the projects. The team is preparing to raise awareness among locals of China-backed projects that are soon to be implemented across northern Shan State. The Irrawaddy spoke with U Aung Myo Htun, project officer of the Heartland Foundation in Lashio, about locals’ major concerns regarding the China-backed Muse-Mandalay railway project and its potential environmental and social impacts, and growing Chinese influence in northern Shan State. 

China says some regions ‘seriously below water quality targets’ amid push to clean up major rivers South China Morning Post Yangtze and Yellow rivers require action to cut pollution, ministry finds. But 75 per cent of China’s water is now judged safe for human use, while only 3 per cent is rated unfit even for industrial use. 

Cambodian Villagers Block Digging Work by Chinese Company Radio Free Asia More than 100 villagers in eastern Cambodia’s Tbong Khmum province on Monday blocked Chinese earthmovers digging a canal and destroying crops on disputed land, temporarily halting the work, local sources said. 

Crossing the Mekong: Lives and Livelihoods Along the New Laos-China Railway International Water Management Institute The Laos-China railway system, stretching 427 kilometers from Laos’ southern capital past thickets of forests and lush mountaintops to its northern border with China, will transform Laos. By 2021, the train service will connect the two neighboring nations, facilitating faster transport and changing economic opportunity in Laos.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

How Can Brexit Affect Vietnam? Let Us Count the Ways Voice of America What does Brexit have to do with Vietnam? It seems a strange question, but there are several ways that Britain’s planned divorce from the European Union would be likely to affect the Southeast Asian nation. 

Defence ‘off-budget’ spend too opaque: FFP Bangkok Post Future Forward Party (FFP) leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit on Sunday called on the Defence Ministry to disclose details about its off-budget spending for transparency and accountability.

Malaysia’s $2b plan to buy out toll operations faces setback The Straits Times A contentious multi-billion-dollar plan by Malaysia’s Finance Ministry to wrest control of a clutch of highway toll operations that has been ranked as the country’s largest corporate deal for this year is coming unstuck.

Lao Villagers, Facing Eviction for Dam, Are Leery of Government Promises Voice of America On a remote bend of the Mekong River in northern Laos, where its muddy waters make a hard right turn through steep verdant hills, the 330-odd residents of Houaygno village are bracing for an imminent exodus.

Did Vietnam Just Doom the Mekong? The Diplomat The recent decision by a Vietnamese oil company, Petrovietnam, to invest in a huge dam close to the much-loved World Heritage Site in Luang Prabang, Laos, has caused confusion and dismay for many Mekong experts, civil society groups, and some government officials in Hanoi.

Dutch bank FMO weighs $40m in funding for Vietnam’s HDBank Nikkei Asian Review Dutch development bank FMO is considering committing a total of $40 million in trade financing to Vietnamese commercial lender HDBank.

Indonesia issues new rules to make foreign Internet companies pay taxes Channel News Asia Indonesia has said that overseas companies that have a significant presence in its booming Internet economy must appoint a representative in the country and pay all applicable taxes, according to a new regulation made public on Wednesday (Dec 4).

Indonesian officials charged in $1.6m bribes-for-permits scheme Mongabay Two land agency officials have been charged with taking $1.6 million in bribes in exchange for granting oil palm plantation concessions spanning an area of 200 hectares (500 acres) in Indonesian Borneo.

Singapore VC firm launches US$106 million fund to address Asia’s ocean plastic crisis Channel News Asia Singapore-based venture capital firm Circulate Capital launched a US$106 million (S$144 million) fund dedicated to preventing plastic pollution in Southeast and South Asian oceans on Wednesday (Dec 4). 

Hong Kong, Thailand to roll out two-tier tokens in digital currency prototype to speed up cross-border trade financing South China Morning Press Under a two-tier issuing system, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority will work with banks as the issuer and distributor of its digital currency. Hong Kong and Thai central banks are exploring blockchain-backed digital currencies to facilitate quicker payment in bilateral trade, at US$19.6 billion in 2018 

Shan State IDPs Ask Myanmar Govt to Stop Development Projects on Their Land The Irrawaddy  Thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Shan State have asked the Myanmar government to stop planning investment projects on their land, according to a group statement.

This week’s weekly round-up was curated by Jean Joo and Alessandro Lee, Program Interns

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