Regional Roundup for Week of 11.16.18

EXSE FOCUS

Prayut announces 2019 Asean theme – Bangkok Post Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Thursday introduced “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability” as the official theme for the Asean chairmanship next year. Gen Prayut made the announcement at the handover ceremony after the conclusion of the 33rd Asean Summit and related summits held in Singapore, attended by leaders from 18 countries who are also members of the East Asia Summit (EAS) — which includes 10 Asean members, and its dialogue partners, Russia and the United States.//Losing its edge? Formed in 1967 at the height of the Cold War, ASEAN managed to anchor itself as a regional player and rule-maker in the space between competing superpowers. Today, the geopolitical landscape is becoming eerily similar to that time as tensions rise between China and the US on trade and the South China Sea, but ASEAN leaders are no longer showing the same political will to push for ASEAN centrality and regionalism, as evidenced by its failure to push back on Myanmar’s handling of the Rohingya crisis and China’s maritime assertiveness.

Related: Thais take Asean chair, haunted by past summit chaos – Bangkok Post

Genocidal justice finally served in Cambodia – Asia Times Two senior former Khmer Rouge officials were today (November 16) found guilty of genocide and other crimes against humanity after a closely watched four year trial. Nuon Chea, 92, deputy to deceased Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, was found guilty of genocide against Vietnamese and the Cham, a Muslim minority group. Khieu Samphan, 87, the regime’s head of state, was found guilty of genocide against Vietnamese but not the Cham.//The court found that Samphan was not in a senior enough position to have stopped the Cham genocide. The Khmer Rouge killed at least 1.7 million people and singled out ethnic minorities. Notoriously difficult to prosecute in international courts, the UN defines “genocide” as action pursued in the eradication of a “national, ethnical, racial, or religious group”, which means that Khmer Rouge crimes against other Khmer do not qualify.

Bringing Vietnam Into the ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ – The Diplomat The Trump administration can make the Free and Open Indo-Pacific idea work in Southeast Asia – with Vietnam as a model. For many Southeast Asian states, the Trump White House’s new strategy for the region, the Free and Open Indo-Pacific concept, is a hard idea to sell — at least right now. The strategy vows to promote a rules-based security and economic order in Asia, while also encouraging closer cooperation among regional U.S. partners. But the concept has been questioned by even close U.S. partners like Singapore, which has not yet expressed clear support for the idea.

China offers Myanmar support over Rohingya issue after US rebuke – The Straits Times China supports the Myanmar government’s efforts to protect domestic stability and approach to resolving the Rohingya issue, Premier Li Keqiang told the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, after US Vice-President Mike Pence offered a strong rebuke. Mr Pence on Wednesday (Nov 14) voiced Washington’s strongest condemnation yet of Myanmar’s treatment of Rohingya Muslims, telling Ms Suu Kyi that “persecution” by her country’s army was “without excuse”. Meeting Ms Suu Kyi on the sidelines of the Asean Summit in Singapore, Ms Li said China attaches great importance to its ties with Myanmar and would build on their tradition of friendship, China’s Foreign Ministry said late on Thursday.//Ties that pay: It is common practice for China not to let politics or human rights violations get in the way of business, and Myanmar is no exception. Just last week China signed a deal to construct a deep sea port in Kyaukpyu. China agreed to fund 70% of the initial investment worth $1.3 billion. Once completed, the port is expected to have a gross output of $3.2 billion.

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Join Asean in push for RCEP by next year, PM Lee tells India PM Modi – The Straits Times Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday (Nov 15) urged India to join Asean in a push to create the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s largest free trade area, next year. The proposed pact between 16 nations, including the 10-member Asean grouping and its six free trade agreement partners Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, South Korea and India, comprises 45 per cent of the world’s population and a combined gross domestic product of about US$25 trillion (S$34.4 trillion), exceeding that of the United States.

Dialogue Eases Sino-US Relations, for Now – VOA A frank dialogue between Chinese and U.S. defense chiefs has taken the two countries into a temporary calm period after a series of rival military moves in the contested South China Sea. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis agreed with his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe, on Friday to continue progress on a “crisis communications and deconfliction framework to reduce risk,” the Defense Department said in a statement. Their meeting touched on Beijing’s military expansion in the South China Sea, which is claimed by five other governments.

US Vice President Presses Asian Leaders on Rohingya, Maritime Dispute – VOA While leaders from 10 Southeast Asian countries largely discussed trade in Singapore Wednesday, participating U.S. Vice President Mike Pence focused on keeping Asian seas open internationally despite Chinese expansion. He also sought help in checking North Korean nuclear ambitions and pressed Myanmar on its treatment of Rohingya refugees. At an annual summit for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), heads of state talked business throughout the day with one another as well as with officials from larger countries, including India, Russia and China. But Pence steered most of his talks Wednesday toward geopolitics.

Related: 33rd ASEAN Summit: Analysis and key takeaways – The ASEAN Post

What is the CLV Development Triangle Area? – The ASEAN Post Back in March, the Prime Ministers of three neighbouring ASEAN countries Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam (CLV) met and endorsed an action plan to connect their economies until 2030. The three leaders committed themselves to building “integrated, sustainable and prosperous CLV economies” which would be located in the larger regional plan of the ASEAN Community Vision 2025. The meeting took place in Hanoi as part of the 10th Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam Summit on Development Triangle Area (CLV-DTA).

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Climate change in Asia: Why collective welfare comes before individual rights – Asian Correspondent When governments look at efforts to address climate change and ensure sustainability in Asian countries, collective welfare should take precedence over individual rights, an independent think tank said. Chandran Nair, the founder and chief executive of Global Institute For Tomorrow (GIFT), said Asia must find its own model based on strong government policies instead of a Western-style free market and small government model to tackle these issues. In other words, Chandran believes that in tackling problems unique to Asia, the West isn’t always best.

TBC and AC Energy to build 1.5GW wind projects in South East Asia – Power Technology  Singapore’s renewable energy developer and operator The Blue Circle (TBC) has signed a strategic partnership agreement with Ayala Corporation’s power subsidiary AC Energy. Under the new partnership, the two companies will jointly develop and construct TBC’s pipeline of nearly 1,500MW of wind projects across South East Asia, more than 700MW of which will be built in Vietnam.

Thailand’s Gulf Energy and Mitsui to start working on 2.5GW combined-cycle power plant – Asian Power Thailand’s energy producer Gulf Energy Development (Gulf) and the Public Japanese conglomerate Mitsui have agreed to start works on the 2,500MW Chonburi combined-cycle (CCGT) power plant in the Chonburi province of Thailand before the end of 2018. Approximately JPY170b ($1.5b) will be invested in the project, which will include four units of 625 MW each slated to become gradually operational between March 2021 and October 2022. The four M701JAC gas turbines will be supplied by Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MHPS) as per a contract signed in February 2018

Central province to pilot ‘green’ energy for fishing boats – Vietnam News The central district of Núi Thành in Quảng Nam Province, in co-operation with SolarBK Holdings, has commenced a pilot project to develop a solar power system for its off-shore fishing fleet to supply ‘green’ energy for use during long trips. The district said the project aims to equip fishing vessels with renewable energy generators to save fuel and supply ‘clean’ energy. It said solar panels and batteries had been installed on several fishing boats from the district’s fishing fleet, and are working well during off-shore fishing trips.

How climate change drives debt bondage in Cambodia’s booming brick industry – Southeast Asia Globe As the Phnom Penh construction boom begins to permeate secondary cities, demand for locally produced clay bricks has seen full kilns selling out at unprecedented rates. But a transformation to Cambodia’s rural economy – led in part by remittances from construction workers on these sites and microfinance loans – has increased costs in the countryside, leaving the most vulnerable in a constant state of financial keep-up and feeding some into the growing brick sector and its toxic debt bondage

Sustainability reporting: 4 things companies get wrong – Eco-Business Southeast Asia is witnessing a rapid increase in sustainability reporting with 500 per cent growth in the number of companies producing reports over the last six years, according to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), a standards organisation that helps companies report their impacts. The region is the biggest and fastest growing market for GRI, but companies can be more efficient and effective in the way they do their reporting, said chief executive Tim Mohin.

 

CHINA

Xi Arrives in Papua New Guinea for First-Ever Visit by a Chinese President – The Diplomat Xi Jinping hopes to defend – and expand – China’s role in the Pacific. Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea on Thursday, marking the start of his first state visit to the Pacific Island country – and indeed, the first visit to PNG ever by a Chinese head of state. Xi’s visit is tied to the upcoming APEC leaders’ meeting, which will be hosted in Port Moresby from November 17 to 18. Xi will spend the two days before that on his official state visit, and will also fit in a meeting with the leaders of eight Pacific Island countries.

Chinese Nationalism: The Dog That Barks in the Night – The Diplomat It comes up often in conversations about where China is heading – the reference, often sotto voce, to that great emerging global force, Chinese nationalism. We see small clues to what it looks like when we eavesdrop on social media conversations within China, or watch when China comes up against issues around its own region. But framing the precise threat that Chinese nationalism poses to the wider world proves surprisingly challenging.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

EC to monitor Pheu Thai, Thaksin meet – Bangkok Post The Election Commission (EC) is keeping a close watch on Pheu Thai Party members who will reportedly meet former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in Singapore, its secretary-general Jarungvith Phumma said. Pol Col Jarungvith said the agency will need a great deal of time to look into whether the party lets Thaksin control its affairs. Pheu Thai is under EC investigation for alleged violations of the organic law on political parties.

Thai proposal for all-powerful cyber agency alarms businesses, activists – The Straits Times A proposed cyber security law in Thailand would give a new government agency sweeping powers to spy on Internet traffic, order the removal of content, or even seize computers without judicial oversight, alarming businesses and activists. Civil liberties advocates, Internet companies and business groups are protesting the planned legislation, saying it sacrifices privacy and the rule of law, according to interviews and documents reviewed by Reuters.

How Thailand’s “Father of Democracy” is being erased from history – Southeast Asia Globe Thailand’s first popularly elected prime minister, Pridi Banomyong, was instrumental in the overthrow of the Kingdom’s absolute monarchy and the creation of the nation’s first constitution. But as the palace-backed military junta continues to pave the way for the long-promised return to elections, Pridi and his fierce struggle for democracy are being increasingly written out of Thailand’s chequered history

At Least 10 Vietnamese Arrested Amid Forced Evictions in Land Grabs in Danang – Radio Free Asia Authorities in central Vietnam’s coastal city Danang on Friday ordered the detention of at least 10 protesters who opposed being forcibly evicted from their homes in the latest development in a long-running land grab case in Con Dau parish, one of the evictees told RFA’s Vietnamese Service. About 500 people, including policemen and security guards, were mobilized along with an ambulance, a fire truck, and a digger to forcibly evict seven families and demolish their homes in the Catholic community in Cam Le district to make way for an ongoing ecotourism development project, said evicted resident Huynh Ngoc Truong.

EU Prepares to Withdraw Cambodia From Trade Scheme – VOA The European Union, Cambodia’s largest export market, is making preparations for the country’s expulsion from a preferential trade scheme that guarantees tariff-free access to EU markets for Cambodian goods, according to the EU ambassador. George Edgar, EU ambassador, said in an email on Tuesday that starting the procedure for removing Cambodia from the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme reflected the concerns in Brussels over the deterioration of human rights and basic freedoms.

PM Hun Sen Creates Task Force to Address Civil Society Concerns – VOA Prime Minister Hun Sen has created a task force to deal with complaints from civil society groups over government suppression of their activities. The premier made the announcement on Friday, assigning eight officials to the group, which will be led by Interior Minister Sar Kheng. “Gather information; study the requests and proposal and share ideas with government, ministries and relevant stakeholders to resolve it. Promote and raise civil society’s awareness and relevant stakeholders [awareness] about associations and NGOs law and regulations,” he wrote. The statement came as Rhona Smith, the UN’s rights envoy to Cambodia, was visiting the country on a fact-finding mission and amid continued criticism from the United States and European Union over the suppression of basic freedoms in the country.

Related: Cambodia’s Court of Appeal Routinely Fails to Explain Verdicts: Rights Group – Radio Free Asia

Seeing red: ‘Cambodia doesn’t have anti-China nationalism – yet’ – Southeast Asia Globe China is investing billions in Cambodia’s economy, outspending even the Kingdom’s national budget. But as more and more Cambodians raise fears of crime, corruption and colonial ambition, could rising public resentment lead the nation back to its dark days of racially motivated violence?

Myanmar blames Bangladesh for repatriation failure – Myanmar Times Myanmar yesterday accused the Bangladesh government of failing to repatriate the first batch of over 2000 refugees to northern Rakhine State. The start of the repatriation was supposed to start yesterday as agreed by the two countries, but no refugees returned to Myanmar, where authorities were waiting to receive them.  U Myint Thu, permanent secretary of Foreign Affairs, told a press conference in Nay Pyi Taw the Bangladesh government had failed to abide by the agreement on repatriation, and those who were on the repatriation list were not informed. “Bangladesh failed to make the arrangements to which both countries agreed. The Myanmar side followed the arrangements,” he said.

More Southeast Asian Dam Disasters Likely Unless Funders Ensure Higher Standards – Radio Free Asia The Lao dam disaster in July that resulted in heavy flooding in two provinces that left at least 40 people dead and displaced 7,000 others has drawn both regional and international attention to the potential dangers of Southeast Asia’s current dam-building spree. With plans for 11 large dams either proposed or under construction on the mainstream of the lower Mekong River in Laos and Cambodia, and for about 140 dams on Mekong tributaries in Laos, more disasters are likely to occur, experts say.

Is the Philippines’ Pro-China Policy Working? – The Diplomat There are mixed views on whether and to what extent the country has achieved a truly independent foreign policy, yet one can credit the Duterte administration for its audacity. The Philippines’ relationship with China — even given the territorial disputes — could still be a fruitful one, economically. One question, however, is whether this approach has necessarily yielded more economic benefits for the country.

Indonesia’s campaign for centrist Islam goes global – East Asia Forum Ma’ruf Amin is vice-presidential running mate for incumbent President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo in the 2019 presidential election. While Amin was a surprise choice, his ideas on the role of Islam in Indonesia are proving to be a potential vote-getter. Amin’s value for Jokowi is not his personality per se, but what he symbolises or represents. The coming together of the duo reflects the symbiosis of the two main streams of Indonesian politics — nationalism as manifested in Jokowi and Islam in Amin.

Related: Indonesia’s 2019 Election: Food (Prices) for Thought – East Asia Forum

Indonesia’s opposition wants to review China-led rail project – Nikkei Asian Review If the opposition wins Indonesia’s presidential election next year, it will review the Chinese-led construction of a high-speed rail line and may cancel the project, vice presidential candidate Sandiaga Uno told reporters on Thursday. The rail line connecting Jakarta and the city of Bandung is a signature policy for President Joko Widodo. But construction has been beset by delays and rising costs amid difficulties in land acquisition.

Vietnam’s New Bamboo Airways Can Finally Take Off – Investvine Vietnam’s Ministry of Transport on November 12 officially granted an aviation business license to Bamboo Airways, the latest airline in the country to take to the skies. The airline now plans to make its maiden flight before the end of this year.The license was granted after a long wait. Bamboo Airways was founded by Vietnamese private firm FLC Group, a property conglomerate owned by Trinh Van Quyet, one of Vietnam’s richest men, in mid-2017 with a starting capital of $30 million, which it increased to around $55 million recently.

A lost history: how the Great War shaped Southeast Asia’s century – Southeast Asia Times World War I introduced nations around the world to deadlier weapons, bloody battles and each other. Though Southeast Asia was left relatively unscathed by the war, which ended 100 years ago this month, the reverberations of the conflict were felt in the region for decades

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