Regional Round-Up for Week of 8.2.2019

EXSE FOCUS

Worrying days for the Mekong – The ASEAN Post Water levels at Southeast Asia’s largest river may be at its lowest levels in a century. Low rainfall, high temperatures and poor dam regulations are contributing to a historic low at the Mekong, affecting the region’s agriculture and fishing industries and leading to rapidly drying taps. // While weather conditions are difficult to control (other than a root cause = climate change), dam regulations can be controlled by human, especially policymakers in the Mekong region. They should examine the current situation carefully, plan wisely and implement immediately.

Pompeo reverts to China criticism after meeting top diplomat, hits out over Mekong dams, South China Sea – The Straits Times US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reverted on Thursday (Aug 1) to criticism of China’s actions in Asia, speaking out at a regional forum against Chinese “coercion” in disputes over the South China Sea and dam-building on the Mekong River. // U.S. understanding and warning on the current drought is the first step to move forward. The next step is U.S. involvement to take actions with the Mekong region and other partners to improve the situation.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Trump’s incomplete Asia strategy – East Asia Forum It took some time, but the United States has officially embraced a new approach toward Asia — the ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ (FOIP) strategy. First named during US President Donald Trump’s speech at APEC in late 2017, the strategy remained little more than an idea for nearly 18 months.

Working with China on humanitarian aid in the Pacific – East Asia Forum China’s fast-growing foreign aid programs have led to grave concerns from traditional donors. Development cooperation is becoming a new area of strategic competition as traditional donors, such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand, have pledged to increase aid spending in the Pacific region in response to China’s growing presence. Despite competition in areas such as infrastructure development, there is potential for cooperation in humanitarian aid between China and traditional donors.

Cambodia to increase arms purchases from China – The Straits Times Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Monday (July 29) that an additional US$40 million (S$55 million) would be spent on weapons from China to modernise the South-east Asian country’s military.

Cambodia’s electric Chinese aid and investment affair – East Asia Forum The debate about China’s rapidly growing global investment and development financing footprint has focused on deciphering Chinese intentions — whether China aims to revise or maintain the US-led ‘liberal international order’.

Rising South China Sea tensions, US-China trade talks cast shadow over Asean summit – The Straits Times Rising tensions in the South China Sea and the fallout from US-China trade war are set to dominate talks this week as top diplomats converge in Bangkok for a key Southeast Asia summit.

Negotiating an effective China–ASEAN South China Sea Code of Conduct – East Asia Forum In August 2018 a single draft negotiating text for a South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC) was first put forward with an agreement reached by China and ASEAN to finalise the COC within three years, starting from 2019.

Related: South China Sea negotiations between Asean and China cross key milestone – The Straits Times

Thailand seeks deeper cooperation as Asean ministers meet – Bangkok Post Southeast Asian foreign ministers opened their annual meeting Wednesday with a call from host Thailand for deeper integration to expand trade and bolster prosperity in the region amid rising global challenges.

Vietnamese Fishermen Call for Action on Chinese Intrusions in the South China Sea – Radio Free Asia A Vietnamese fishermen’s group blasted China this week for what it called Beijing’s intrusion into Vietnamese waters in the South China Sea, urging Hanoi at the same time to take a stronger line to defend Vietnam’s interests.

South China Sea talks between Asean, China reach milestone – The Straits Times Attempts to reduce tension in the contested South China Sea reached a milestone yesterday when Beijing revealed that Asean and China had completed the first reading of the single draft negotiating text for a code of conduct (COC).

Related: Talks on a South China Sea code of conduct will resume in October – The Straits Times

Pompeo says US doesn’t ask South-east Asian nations to take sides – The Straits Times US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told South-east Asian counterparts at a meeting in Bangkok on Thursday (Aug 1) that the United States never asked Indo-Pacific nations to take sides.

Australia pledges US$55 million to fight human trafficking in South-east Asia – The Straits Times Australia pledged US$55 million (S$75.6 million) to fight human trafficking in South-east Asia on Thursday (Aug 1), vowing to tackle “modern slavery” ensnaring vulnerable populations across the region, from low-paid workers to underage brides and Rohingya refugees.

Australia’s middle power role in the Asia Pacific – East Asia Forum China has successfully established itself as a power that has to be taken seriously in the Asia Pacific. Meanwhile, serious doubts are mounting about US willingness and capacity to remain the dominant power in the region. These are matters of serious concern for Australia’s security and foreign policymakers.

SUSTAINABILITY & RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Shanghai’s waste scheme may spark recycling revolution – The Straits Times Trash sorting initiative, if successful, would point way for rest of China after past failures.

Pray and Protect: Faith Saves Forests of Cambodia – The Irrawaddy As a Buddhist monk, Khoeum Saray’s day is governed by a ritual of prayer, meditation, alms and temple chores, with one big exception: he also patrols a sprawling Cambodian forest and shows villagers how to protect it.

Global weather chaos is also shrivelling Asia crop production – The Straits Times In a year when record heat is scorching Europe and the heaviest rain in decades has inundated parts of the US Midwest, the Asia Pacific region is suffering from its own maelstrom of extreme weather.

Plastic junk spawns desert island disaster in Pacific – The Straits Times Floating plastic garbage has swamped a remote Pacific island once regarded as an environmental jewel and scientists say little can be done to save it while a throwaway culture persists.

Extreme weather hurting crop output in Asia-Pacific – The Straits Times In a year when record heat is scorching Europe and the heaviest rain in decades has inundated parts of the American Midwest, the Asia-Pacific region is suffering from its own maelstrom of extreme weather.

CHINA

Can China electrify all new passenger cars by 2030? – China Dialogue China’s electric vehicle industry is entering a new phase of accelerating development, President Xi Jinping wrote in a congratulatory message to participants of a new energy vehicle conference in early July.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Severe Drought in Mekong Region Reduces Rice Planting in Laos – Radio Free Asia Lao farmers have planted rice on less than half the country’s cultivable land this year because of a persistent drought in the Mekong River region that has seen severely reduced water levels and the delay of seasonal monsoon rains which have yet to begin.

Xayaburi Dam in clear, says operator – Bangkok Post The unseasonal drought currently affecting the lower Mekong Region has alerted both the public and the authorities to the activities of a series of dams further upstream on the international river.

Myanmar Tourism Arrivals Recovering – Investvine Tourist arrivals in Myanmar are on the rise again despite international condemnation over the systematic campaign of violence of the country’s military against the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Unsafe roads hurt GDP – Bangkok Post One way to improve Thailand’s staggering economy might be to have motorists to drive more slowly, claims a new report.

First Mekong Bridge Of China-Laos High Speed Rail Completed – Investvine The main section of the first huge Mekong river bridge for the China-Laos high speed railway connection has been completed on July 28, seven months ahead of schedule despite challenging conditions, Xinhua reported.

Chinese Tourism in Myanmar Growing, While Industry Still Adapts – The Irrawaddy Chinese arrivals in Myanmar have increased by nearly 200,000 over the last year thanks to Myanmar’s relaxed visa stipulations, according to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.

Economy poised to grow at slower clip than BoT’s forecast – Bangkok Post The economy is likely to expand at a slower pace than the Bank of Thailand’s 3.3% forecast for the year because of subdued exports and domestic consumption, adding to signs of a further projection rollback.

This week’s news digest was curated by Hiroshi Yasui.

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