Regional Roundup for Week of 10.19.18

EXSE FOCUS

Army chief’s refusal to rule out another coup draws ire – Bangkok Post New army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong is the focus of attacks by key Pheu Thai Party members after his controversial statement that he could not rule out another coup after the promised general election. He said if the political situation warranted it, with renewed rioting and unrest, he could not rule out another military coup. Outspoken Pheu Thai member Watna Muangsook branded the army chief an “authoritarian” who sees himself as being above the law by virtue of his position.//18 and counting: Since Thailand adopted a constitutional monarchy in 1932 it has seen 18 coups by its armed forces. General Apirat is no stranger to coups himself. He played a key role in the 2014 coup that installed Prayuth in power, and he lead the suppression of the 2009 deadly street protests by the pro-Thaksin movement.

Is Hydropower the Answer for Southeast Asia? – American Security Project The Mekong is ingrained in the identity of the diverse groups of people who utilize it because of the food resources and economic stability it provides. In addition to its value for livelihoods, it has often been regarded as a potential resource for hydropower dams. Eleven dams already exist on the Mekong mainstream and over one hundred are on its tributaries. Proposed dams would generate about 8% of the area’s power demands for 2030, but neighboring communities downstream have already experienced negative externalities from existing ones. Plans for another dam, Sambor, which would be the largest dam on the Mekong, has raised new concerns.

Related: The road is clear for solar energy in Cambodia, says UNDP director – Southeast Asia Globe

Southeast Asian power plants fail to meet UN carbon targets designed to combat global warming – South China Morning Post Almost 84 per cent of Southeast Asia’s planned and existing fossil fuel power plants are incompatible with future scenarios that avoid catastrophic damage from climate change, according a new study from the University of Oxford. The report, which comes on the heels of a major United Nations-backed study of the impacts of global temperatures rising 1.5 degrees Celsius, is based on analysis of the amount of carbon expected to be emitted over the lifespan of the plants. Those estimates are then compared to how much carbon can be released without the planet reaching certain temperature-increase limits.

Is Hun Manet Cambodia’s next strongman? – East Asia Forum The perception that Hun Sen is establishing a family dynasty in Cambodia has been reinforced with the promotion of his eldest son Hun Manet to the second highest rank in the nation’s military last month. The move came after several of the military’s top leaders, including then commander in chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) General Pol Saroeun, resigned in order to stand for political office in the July general election.//Family ties: Hun Manet is not the only family member to climb the ranks of power under Hun Sen. His son-in-law Dy Vichea was appointed as deputy national police chief in January. Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak defended the move, saying that “there is no law that says we cannot appoint him” and compared the move to how Donald Trump made his daughter Ivanka Trump his informal advisor.

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

China and ASEAN to hold joint naval exercises – Asia Times China and Southeast Asian nations will hold their first joint maritime exercises next week in a move aimed at easing tensions in the region. Despite disagreements over Beijing’s territorial ambitions, China is trying to strike a more conciliatory tone in an effort to stop a new Cold War erupting in the region. As part of this, the navies of China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, are set to hold their first joint drills, which will take place in the South China Sea.

ASEAN Appoints Cambodian Official as Deputy Secretary-General – VOA Cambodia  The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has announced it is appointing a Cambodian official, Kung Phoak, as its deputy secretary-general. Based in the headquarters of the grouping, better known as ASEAN, in Jakarta, Phoak, 36, will be in charge of assisting the current secretary-general, Lim Jock Hoi. In a statement, ASEAN said Phoak was chosen for “providing leadership” and to oversee projects that focus on forging a common identity and building a caring and sharing society.”

Cambodia accuses Vietnam of complicity in illegal cross-border logging – Mongabay Cambodia has asked Interpol to investigate Vietnam after accusing its neighbor of knowingly accepting fraudulent permits for rare, illegally logged rosewood timber for transport across their shared border. Siamese rosewood (Dalbergia cochinchinensis) is one of the most valuable species of tree in the world to timber criminals. A single cubic meter can sell for as much as $5,000 in Cambodia, although that amount goes up significantly once it’s smuggled into Vietnam or China. The potential illegal profits are tantalizing: a single, ornately carved bedpost has been known to sell for as much as $1 million in Shanghai.

Vietnamese firm offers aid to Lao dam-collapse victims – Vietnam Plus Representatives from the branch of Indo Tran Logistics Corporation of Vietnam in Laos on October 17 handed over 12,300 USD to Laos’s Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare to support Lao people affected by the July dam collapse in Attapeu. Speaking at the handover ceremony, Director of the branch Nguyen Xuan Minh Tuan expressed his hope that the aid will contribute to helping Lao people stabilize their life.

Ensuring stability of Mekong nations – Phnom Penh Post Japan and five countries in the Mekong River Basin, including Thailand and Vietnam, have held a summit in Tokyo and adopted a joint statement titled “Tokyo Strategy 2018”, which outlines a three-year cooperation plan. The strategy gives priority to strengthening connections within the region, cultivation of human resources and environmental conservation. Sandwiched by China and India and located close to the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, the Mekong Basin is a strategic zone for land and maritime transportation.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Asia’s climate arsenal: are biofuels back? – Eco-business Bioenergy made up half of all renewables consumption in 2017 – four times solar PV and wind combined – and has a huge untapped potential, says the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its new annual report on renewables. Bioenergy from liquid biofuels and biogas will continue to lead growth in renewable energy consumption to 2023, due to its rising use in the heating, shipping and aviation. “Modern bioenergy is the overlooked giant of the renewable energy field,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director.

Can agriculture be profitable and sustainable? – The Third Pole Hunger and poverty are global issues and two UN Sustainable Development Goals – no poverty and zero hunger – remind us of the huge task ahead. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, around 815 million people in the world are deprived of food that is required to lead a healthy life. Asia has the largest number of hungry people, roughly two-thirds of the population. 35% of children below five years of age in South Asia are stunted due to malnutrition and poor sanitation.

Renewable energy high priority for Mekong region: scientists – Vietnam News Cambodia, Laos and Việt Nam must work closer together to make the shift to using more renewable energy. VASS’s scientists and researchers gathered with their peers from the Royal Academy of Cambodia (RAC), the Lao Academy of Social Sciences (LASS) and the Korea Environment Institute at a conference themed “Green movement for energy and water security for the Mekong region” in Quảng Ninh, Việt Nam. RAC President Eap Ponna said while a number of reserves built on the Mekong River were bringing certain benefits, the consequences on nature and communities might be unpredictable as the management of such reserves was still a new area of expertise to the region, which would require time to carefully study.

Vietnam strives to ease energy pressure – Vietnam Net Statistics show Vietnam uses a great deal of energy, with the industrial sector consuming the most at 47.3 percent of the total. The southern region faces a severe shortage of electricity as it uses up to 85 billion kWh each year compared with its production capacity of only 70 billion kWh. Nguyen Phuoc Duc, Deputy General Director of the Southern Power Corporation, said the region is expected to lack about 1.2-1.6 billion kWh each year during 2021-2022, warning the figure may climb higher. Against this backdrop, experts suggested restructuring power resources in each region and setting up a transmission connectivity system.

Calls for removal of energy obstructions – Vietnam Investment Review Last Wednesday, Hanoi hosted an event of high significance: the launch of the “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius” by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report was approved only a few days prior, and Vietnam was selected as the first country to share this important research. According to the IPCC, the event was important for Vietnam, as the country is one of the countries in the world to be hit hardest by climate change. It also remains at a slow pace in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enabling private investors to invest heavily into renewable energy (RE) projects. It is acknowledged the country can attract more of this type of investment if it removes obstructions against investors.//While Vietnam does show a commitment to renewable energy in some areas, it lags severely behind in others. The report states that Vietnam has the largest fleet of fossil fuel-fired assets in the Southeast Asian region, and almost 87% of its 314 current and planned plants are incompatible with the 1.5 degree scenario.

Related: Việt Nam committed to global green growth – Vietnam News

 

CHINA

Caution, Cancellations, Protests as Concerns Grow on China’s Belt and Road – VOA Cambodia Concerns about debt diplomacy on China’s expansive infrastructure megaproject — the Belt and Road — have become an increasing source of debate from Asia to Africa and the Middle East. In recent weeks, more than $30 billion in projects have been scrapped and other loans and investments are under review. Public opposition is also testing the resolve of ruling authorities from Hanoi to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, as concerns about Chinese investment build.

Related: China’s Belt and Road Hits Bumps in Laos – Foreign Policy in Focus  

China says it will ‘take care of’ debt issues of BRI projects – The Straits Times China’s vice-finance minister Zou Jiayi on Saturday (Oct 13) acknowledged debt issues with some of its Belt and Road projects, saying the government will strengthen macro supervision on the debt sustainability aspect of its overseas investments. “The debt sustainability issue of Belt and Road (projects) is a complicated issue, but we will take care of it,” Zou told a panel on the sidelines of annual International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings in the Indonesian island of Bali.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

EU-Vietnam Trade Agreement To Eliminate 99% Of All Tariffs – Investvine The European Commission on October 17 adopted the long-planned trade and investment agreements between the European Union (EU) and Vietnam, paving the way for their signature and conclusion “as soon as possible.” The trade agreement will eliminate virtually all tariffs on goods traded between the two sides over certain time periods. Almost all machinery and appliances will be fully tariff-free at entry into force, and the rest after five years.

What Does Mattis’ Visit Reveal About US-Vietnam Defense Ties Under Trump? – The Diplomat This week, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis embarked on a visit to Vietnam. Though the headlines focused on the development itself, its significance should be understood in the broader context of U.S.-Vietnam defense ties, which have continued to deepen during the Trump administration despite lingering concerns.

Legislature to elect State President at beginning of sixth session – Vietnam Net The National Assembly (NA) will elect the State President at the beginning of the sixth session, said NA General Secretary and Chairman of the NA Office Nguyen Hanh Phuc at the NA Standing Committee’s 28th meeting on October 16. Besides the election of the State President, the scheduled agenda includes ratification of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and related documents, a resolution on extending the pilot issuance of e-visas for foreigners entering Vietnam, and vote of confidence on Government members.

Is Cambodia ready for the post-EBA era? – Khmer Times On October 5, the EU notified Cambodia that it was initiating the temporary withdrawal procedure of its trade preferences under the Everything but Arms (EBA) scheme. For the temporary withdrawal to take effect, it requires a six-month period of monitoring followed by another six months of report-making before the European Commission makes its decision to withdraw the tariff preferences – which will require another six months to take effect once the decision is adopted. To simply put it, the EU will require at least 18 months to effectively withdraw EBA “temporarily” from Cambodia.

Related: Cambodia’s Hun Sen Aims to Dodge Trade Sanctions in Brussels Talks – Radio Free Asia

Multimillion-dollar assistance for dam collapse victims – Vientiane Times Developers of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Hydropower project have extended a multimillion dollar aid to the victims of the dam collapse for relief and recovery operations in Sanamxay, Deputy Prime Minister said this week.
The flash floods in Southern Attapeu province were caused by the collapse of an auxiliary dam of the project on July 23. The dam is being constructed by four investors – two companies from South Korea, one each from Thailand and Laos.

Country’s first solar power plant to start operations in Magwe – Myanmar Times The country’s first solar power plant will start operating in November, U Maung Maung Kyaw, chief engineer of the Electric Supply Enterprise, said.The power plant, in Minbu township, Magwe Region, is expected to produce 40 megawatts initially but will produce 170MW once fully operational, according to U Maung Maung Kyaw. “Because this is our first project, we have to carefully monitor the system for weaknesses, correct these, and then we will produce more than 40MW,” he said. The Electricity and Energy Ministry signed a public-private partnership agreement with the companies to set up plants that produce at least 150MW each in Mandalay’s Wundwin and Myingyan townships.

Statement categorically opposes dam construction in Thanlwin River – Eleven Myanmar A statement has been issued over the press conference on a documentary video titled “Let’s save the Thanlwin River for future greening held at Orchid Hotel in Yangon on Tuesday. According to the statement, China Datang Investment, Three Gorge Corporation, Sinohydro, Authority of Thailand (EGAT), local Shwe Taung Company and other local and foreign companies will invest in building dams in the river in those townships to general 16,493 megawatts of electricity. But locals and experts strongly oppose to the dam construction as it could jeopardize the lifestyles of local residents. National races living in Myanmar consider the Ayeyawady River and Thanlwin River to be their lifeblood.

Related: Photo story: A journey down Myanmar’s Chindwin River – The Third Pole

Duterte’s bloody war on drugs ‘vindicated’ by UN human rights win – Asian Correspondent The United Nations Human Rights Council will be monitoring the Philippines’ commitment to rights closely after the country won a new term on the council despite human rights groups accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of overseeing a “killing spree” as part of his war on drugs. The Southeast Asian nation won the three-year term with 165 out of 193 votes at the UN General Assembly on Friday. Rights groups were quick to criticise the move, calling it “unconscionable” given Duterte’s flagrant abuse of human rights, which Human Rights Watch believe amount to crimes against humanity.

Southeast Asia swapping opium with coffee – Geographical The infamous ‘golden triangle’, once the capital of Southeast Asia’s illegal opium trade, is in the middle of a transition. Hundreds of farmers in Myanmar and Laos are, with the help of the UN, switching from growing opium to growing coffee beans. It is hoped the new crop will be a route out of poverty for local farmers, as well as provide more stable livelihoods in the face of new, synthetic opiates.

 

 

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