Regional Roundup for Week of 10.26.18

EXSE FOCUS

New Vietnam President Nguyen Phu Trong sworn in after 99.8% vote – Straits Times Vietnam lawmakers on Tuesday (Oct 23) elected as president, Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, the only candidate on the ballot, making him the most powerful man in the country where consensus leadership has traditionally kept strongman rule in check. Trong was ushered into his new role as head of state with 99.8 per cent of the vote from Vietnam’s Parliament members a month after former president Tran Dai Quang died at age 61after a prolonged illness. Though the president’s role is seen as largely ceremonial, 74-year-old Trong will maintain his position as party head – the first person to hold both roles since revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh in the late 1960s.//Internationally, the role as President carries greater weight than at home as it will give Trong increased access to heads of state, and allow him to shape Vietnam’s economic and foreign policy. His appointment has drawn comparisons to Xi Jinping’s growing power in China, which is not entirely without warrant, especially considering Trong’s power move in 2016 when he ousted former PM Nguyen Tan Dung from politics.

Singapore Launches Agency to Broker Asian Infrastructure Deals – Jakarta Globe Singapore has launched a government agency on Tuesday to support infrastructure projects across Asia, which need billions of dollars in funding, and make them more appealing to financial institutions and private investors. The global financial hub’s decision to position itself as a broker for regional infrastructure investment came in after China ramped up efforts to fund and build transport and trade links in dozens of countries as part of its Belt-and-Road Initiative. Flagged earlier this year, Singapore’s Infrastructure Asia agency will be led by its central bank, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, and Enterprise Singapore, an arm of the trade ministry.

Hun Sen: Claim that China is ‘invading’ Kingdom is crazy – The Nation Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday slammed critics over claims that China is “invading” Cambodia, calling the argument “crazy”. Speaking to members of Cambodian diaspora in Geneva, Switzerland, Hun Sen said some people were concerned about the influx of Chinese nationals who live and work in the Kingdom, particularly in Preah Sihanouk province. He argued that the Chinese are in Cambodia to “fill the gap in the Kingdom’s construction labour market”.//Place your bets: Invasion or no invasion, Chinese money is transforming large parts of Cambodia, in particular the once-sleepy beach town of Sihanoukville. In the last year alone, the city saw $1.1 billion worth of Chinese investments, much of it in the form of flashy casinos, restaurants, and hotels to serve the rising number of Chinese arrivals. Some estimate that Chinese make up around 20% of the city’s population.

ASEAN: Shaping the Future of Regional Development in Southeast Asia – Asia Foundation Development cooperation is taking on new geopolitical significance. Earlier this month, the U.S. Congress passed legislation create the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, which is intended to help stimulate private-sector infrastructure investment in the developing world. Asia is one of the primary targets for this new institution, which will have $60 billion in new assistance funds. Also this month, Japanese Prime Minister Abe hosted the leaders of Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, announcing a major new infrastructure initiative focused on Southeast Asia.

                Related: Dynamics of cooperation mechanisms in the Mekong – Khmer Times

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Cambodia Strengthens Tourism Cooperation With Thailand, Vietnam – Investvine Cambodia will further strengthen its tourism sector cooperation with Thailand and Vietnam as the country seeks to attract ten million international tourists in 2025 and up to 15 million in 2030. These numbers should be reached from 5.6 million international tourists last year, which translated in earnings of $3.6 billion or 12 per cent of the country’s GDP. With Thailand, Cambodia will facilitate travel, improve the visa process and border crossings, promote the potential for reciprocal tourism, single-visa use and participation in tourism exhibitions. Cambodia Association of Travel Agents president Chhay Sivlin said strengthening cooperation with Thailand was “critical” for the sector.

ASEAN business is not keeping up with digital transformation – Asian Correspondent Digital transformation is something that every board in every region, including ASEAN, is prioritizing. It moved from being a key differentiator to an enabler (of innovation) sometime last year, and is now something that is purely driven by customer demand and market forces. Fail to transform and you’ll lose your customers. However, the question is, are businesses in ASEAN prepared to digitally transform? It doesn’t seem like it according to a new study published by Cisco.

China, Myanmar look into railway project linking Muse to Mandalay – South China Morning Post Two state-owned companies, China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group and Myanmar Railways, signed an agreement on Monday to begin the study on a proposed rail line from Muse to Mandalay. Muse – a town in Myanmar’s northeastern Shan state that borders Yunnan province in southwest China – is the biggest land route for trade between the two nations, while railway service to central Mandalay could create a transport lifeline for the country’s north. The route was first proposed under a high-speed railway deal signed in 2011, but the Myanmese government suspended the project three years later, citing public objections.//All aboard: While the West has been re-imposing sanctions on Myanmar for its human rights abuses, China is taking advantage of the vacuum by increasing its investments in the country. Pipelines for oil and gas have already been built from the coast near Kyaukpyu to Yunnan, and an MoU was recently signed for the construction of a new port at Kyaukpyu.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

How UK universities are building flood resilience in Vietnam and Peru – Environment Journal A major study from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently warned the world is on the brink of a climate disaster unless global warming stays under 1.5%. In many countries, the catastrophic effects of climate change are already acutely felt. To help understand these effects, the UK has partnered with Vietnam and Peru on the Newton Fund, which is a Government programme that links the UK up with 17 countries around the world, acting as a bridge between universities who can share scientific knowledge and expertise around environmental issues.

In pursuit of a paradigm shift in development – Khmer Times Development is not only about economic growth – mainly measured in the form of GDP – but increasingly also the need to enhance social justice, social welfare, and environmental protection. Now it is a paradigm shift in development strategy, from a traditional linear economy to a circular economy and sustainable development. Asian countries have experienced remarkable economic development over the past five decades. Hundreds of millions of people have managed to escape from poverty. The living standard has been improved significantly. However, the quality of life, measured in terms of happiness and social values, is in decline.

Milestone solar deal reached – Khmer Times Shanghai-based Jinko Solar, one of the world’s leading solar module manufacturers, will participate in the construction of what will become the Kingdom’s largest solar plant by supplying more than 200,000 solar modules to local firm SchneiTec Group. The 60-megawatt solar plant will be raised in Kampong Speu province. New York Stock Exchange-listed Jinko Solar announced Tuesday the signing of the deal with SchneiTec Group.

Modern slavery and climate change are in a vicious cycle of degradation, according to experts – Phys.org The relationship between climate change, environmental degradation and modern slavery needs to be better understood in order for the interconnected crisis to be tackled, according to a new report. The report, which is released today by experts from the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab, Royal Holloway University of London and the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (IASC), critically reviews what is currently known about the relationship and assesses the academic research that has already been done.

World hunger has risen for three straight years, and climate change is a cause – The Third Pole World hunger has risen for a third consecutive year, according to the United Nations’ annual food security report. The total number of people who face chronic food deprivation has increased by 15 million since 2016. Some 821 million people now face food insecurity, raising numbers to the same level as almost a decade ago. The situation is worsening in South America, Central Asia and most regions of Africa, the report shows. It also spotlights a troubling rise in anemia among women of reproductive age. One in 3 women worldwide are affected, with health and developmental consequences for them and their children.

Impact of renewable energy on rural health – The ASEAN Post Renewable energy is set to change the energy landscape of the region and its benefits are plentiful. The regional goal is to ensure 23 percent of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) primary energy mix is made up of renewable energy by 2025. However, many of those living in Southeast Asia’s remote villages are still reliant on traditional biomass like firewood for heating and age-old diesel generators for intermittent electricity supply. Hence, the solution has to, in effect, accomplish two things – provide rural areas with access to electricity and alternative energy, whilst ensuring the environment isn’t harmed. In doing so, rural villages enjoy the health benefits that accompany their use of renewables.

 

CHINA

China struggles to end coal habit despite climate pledges – Aljazeera China’s appetite for coal is rising again despite a surge of investment in alternative energies, limits on coal use, and the establishment of “no-coal zones” throughout the country designed to help it meet climate pledges. “China embarked on an energy transformation in terms of cutting coal and developing renewables, but we are now facing difficulties on both fronts,” Li Shuo, senior climate adviser with Greenpeace, told the Reuters news agency. Though some studies have suggested China’s total climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions peaked at 9.53 gigatonnes in 2013, well ahead of its official target of “around 2030”, the environmental group said they could reach a new high this year or next.

Melting glacier in China draws tourists, climate worries – Phys.org The loud crack rang out from the fog above the Baishui No. 1 Glacier as a stone shard careened down the ice, flying past Chen Yanjun as he operated a GPS device. More projectiles were tumbling down the hulk of ice that scientists say is one of the world’s fastest melting glaciers. “We should go,” said the 30-year-old geologist. “The first rule is safety.” Chen hiked away and onto a barren landscape once buried beneath the glacier. Now there is exposed rock littered with oxygen tanks discarded by tourists visiting the 15,000-foot (4,570-meter) -high blanket of ice in southern China. Millions of people each year are drawn to Baishui’s frosty beauty on the southeastern edge of the Third Pole—a region in Central Asia with the world’s third largest store of ice after Antarctica and Greenland that’s roughly the size of Texas and New Mexico combined.

China’s action on air quality is saving lives – Eco-business Air quality in China has substantially improved over the last three years with a 20 per cent reduction in small particulates, the most dangerous form of pollution that has been causing more than one million deaths a year. The figures show that Chinese government policies designed to improve air quality are working, and that life expectancy in the country will increase as a result. The study, published in Environmental Research Letters by the University of Leeds in England, is based on air quality readings taken at 1,600 locations in China from 2015 to 2017.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Coup warning by new army chief casts cloud over Thai election – Asia Times The new commander-in-chief of the Thai army has warned in a veiled threat that he may unleash a coup if people “create riots” over the results of next February’s promised election. The polls are expected to be won by allies of the current military regime, itself installed by a putsch four and a half years ago, but a surprise victory could be achieved by their civilian enemies. Army Commander-in-Chief General Apirat Kongsompong’s remarks coincided with the first visit to Thailand by Admiral Phil Davidson, Commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command.

For VN firms, ready or not, here the CPTPP comes – Vietnam News Most Vietnamese enterprises are unprepared to take advantage of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a senior trade official has said. Speaking at a meeting titled “CPTPP: Opportunities and Challenges for Việt Nam” on Thursday in HCM City, Phạm Quỳnh Mai, deputy head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT)’s Multilateral Trade Policy Department, said with its supporting industries remaining weak and rules of origin being strict in many countries, it is difficult for Vietnamese exporters to fully capitalise on the CPTPP. However, the clothing and leather and textile sectors, among others, would see the biggest growth under CPTPP, she said.

Nghệ An to scrap hydropower projects – Vietnam News Local authorities in central Nghệ An Province have decided to stop granting licences to new hydropower projects in the province, highlighting the damage caused by the plants. During rainy season, water discharged from the plants along with flooding from upstream inundate a number of areas, causing landslides, sweeping away homes and bridges, and damaging roads. Local residents have complained about the issue and proposed authorised agencies stop granting licences to hydropower projects.

Related: Vietnam’s southern provinces want environmentally-friendly LNG power, not coal power – Vietnam News

Viet Nam signs deal with EU to fight illegal logging – Vietnam News Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc witnessed the signing of the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement (FLEGT-VPA) between Việt Nam and the European Union which aims to fight illegal logging, in Brussels yesterday on the sidelines of the 12th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit. The core of the deal is the Việt Nam Timber Legality Assurance System (VNTLAS), which ensures that wood and timber products exported from Việt Nam to the EU have legal origins.

Why Cambodia’s Poverty Statistics Dispute Matters – The Diplomat How many Cambodians are living in poverty? According to the government’s figures, using income as the only indicator, poverty stands at 13.5 percent, a considerable feat given that it was in the realm of 40 percent only two decades ago. However, at the end of September, another figure was put forward in an annual report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative. This figure, which took into consideration health, education, and living standards – as well as income – put Cambodia’s poverty rate at 35 percent.

Investigator: Dam Project Killing Dolphins, Hurting Fishing and Tourism Industries – Radio Free Asia A member of Cambodia’s Supreme Council for Recommendations on Wednesday told RFA’s Khmer Service that local authorities are utilizing legal loopholes to avoid adhering to regulations that would protect the biodiversity of the Mekong River. Kong Monika led the Council’s team in investigating the impact of the Don Sahong Dam, currently under construction near the Laos-Cambodia border. He said the purpose of the investigation was to find out if the endangered freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins are being protected according to the laws of Kratie and Stung Treng provinces. Monika said that authorities are doing nothing to restrict illegal fishing during times when the activity is supposed to be banned. He also highlighted how illegal fishing nets are killing the dolphins and other marine animals.

Minister pushes for energy efficiency – Khmer Times Environment Minister Say Samal yesterday urged people to use energy more efficiently and enjoy benefits such as lower costs and a greener environment. Mr Samal, who is also chairman of the National Council for Sustainable Development, told participants at a conference on improving energy efficiency in Cambodia that more information on climate change should also be disseminated. He noted that promoting energy efficiency is one of the main drivers of sustainable economic development.

Govt needs over 6 trillion kip for flood recovery – Vientiane Times The government estimates it will need at least 6 trillion kip to recover from the damage done by floods around the country this year, with the greatest need being in the transport and agriculture sectors. The recovery effort will take place in the short, medium and long term with a focus on the social, productive and infrastructure sectors and crosscutting issues. The findings were reported at a meeting held on Tuesday to assess Post Disaster Needs, with the aim of preparing a report to submit to the Round Table Meeting next month.

Related: Govt presses for progress in dam collapse enquiry – Vientiane Times

In Laos, a World Bank ‘model’ dam and the myth of sustainable hydropower – Devex  It wasn’t a flood. It was a tsunami, Premrudee Daorung said of the wall of water that tore through the forests of Laos’ Attapeu province, snapping timber like matchsticks and flattening entire villages. The July collapse of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy saddle dam in southern Laos and the widespread disaster that followed made international headlines. But Premrudee, coordinator of the Lao Dam Investment Monitor — along with several other development and water experts — says many other mega-hydropower projects in Laos are little more than quiet, slow-moving disasters.

Myanmar’s ‘Genocidal Acts’ Demand UN Action – The Diplomat At a dramatic meeting of the United Nations Security Council on October 24, the anniversary of the founding of the UN in 1945, the chair of a special independent investigative commission on Myanmar starkly outlined a campaign of atrocities by the government’s security forces against the country’s Rohingya Muslims. Marzuki Darusman, the chairperson of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (FFM) that the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva set up last year, briefed council members on the “human rights catastrophe” faced by the Rohingya from military “clearance operations” in northern Rakhine State beginning in August 2017. He detailed his mission’s comprehensive documentation of murder, mass rape, enforced disappearance, arson, looting, torture, and “large-scale massacres including of women, children, and elderly,” among other brutalities.

The shifting landscape of Myanmar’s politics – The ASEAN Post Ever since the military-backed government of Myanmar embarked on a series of political reforms back in 2011, the country’s political landscape has never been the same. The political reforms carried out by Myanmar’s then government included the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission, general amnesties for more than 200 political prisoners and many others. The culmination of such reforms was seen in 2015 when the country held its first openly contested elections since 1990. There were also general elections held in 2010, however that election was widely discredited as fraudulent.

Myanmar government readies additional supply of electricity to meet demand – Myanmar Times Arrangements have been made to prepare sufficient electricity to meet rising demand next year, according to the Ministry of Electricity and Energy (MOEE). The rate of increase in electricity consumption typically rises by 15 percent per year on average. This fiscal year though, demand is expected to increase by 19pc. As such, the MOEE is aiming to raise supply to 3700 megawatts during the period, from 3400MW this year.

Indonesia To Review China’s Belt And Road Projects If Prabowo Beats Widodo In Presidential Election – South China Morning Post Infrastructure projects Indonesia signed up to as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative are likely to be reviewed if former general Prabowo Subianto wins next year’s presidential election, his brother and campaign leader has said. “Indonesia and China have a good relationship, but I think there are certain [belt and road] projects that we want to look at,” Hashim Djojohadikusumo said of China’s ambitious infrastructure investment plan, after a recent media briefing for foreign correspondents. “I’m sure there are some projects that are very good, and I’m sure some projects are not necessary.” Djojohadikusumo, a wealthy businessman, is helping to fund his older brother’s bid to lead Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, just like he did in 2014, when Prabowo lost to current president Joko Widodo.

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