Regional Roundup for Week of 11.2.18

EXSE FOCUS

Exclusive Report: Bureaucratic Chaos Rife in Hours Before Laos Dam Burst – Radio Free Asia On the night of July 23, water poured over a saddle dam at the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy (PNPC) hydropower project in Champassak, Laos, sweeping away homes and causing severe flooding in up to 12 villages downstream in Champassak and neighboring Attapeu province. More than 40 villagers were killed and dozens were listed as missing, in what has been described as Laos’ worst flooding in decades. The collapse of saddle dam D (one of 5 such structures at the dam complex) was not sudden. The government had been made aware that the dam was cracked earlier in the day.

Related: Collapsed Lao dam ‘was built on a sinkhole’ – Asia Times

Chinese dams ramp up Lao external debt – Nikkei Asian Review In its rush to become the “battery” of Southeast Asia, Laos is accepting more Chinese loans to build dams, ensuring the already debt-strapped country falls ever deeper into China’s pocket. The landlocked country’s latest dam project is the groundwork for the $2.1 billion Pak Lay hydropower scheme on the Mekong. It is being built by state-owned Power China Resources, a leader in dam construction, and financed with a $1.7 billion loan from China’s Export-Import Bank.//Living on borrowed money: With public debt climbing to more than 60% of GDP, Laos’ Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith said earlier this year that he “is not concerned much about the burden of debt.” A recent IMF report warned that Laos’ debt will continue to climb to over 70% unless changes are made immediately.

Southeast Asia to double renewables with help of experts – Nikkei Asian Review The Association of Southeast Asian Nations will accept know-how from the International Renewable Energy Agency to advance the use of such renewable sources as solar and wind power under a memorandum of understanding signed on Tuesday. ASEAN aims to increase renewables to 23% of its energy mix by 2025 from 12.4% as of 2016. IRENA will dispense advice on system design and overcoming technological challenges, for example, toward the end of setting up large-scale green power facilities as the region works to reduce its dependence on environmentally unfriendly coal.//Projections by IRENA indicate that employment opportunities created by renewable energy technologies will triple by 2030, from 611,000 in 2016 to around 2 million jobs. A majority of these jobs will be connected to solar power, liquid biofuel, and hydropower.

Wind, Sun to Strand $60 Billion of Coal Assets in Southeast Asia – Bloomberg Keep pouring money into coal-fired plants and it won’t be just the fuel that’s getting burned. As much as $60 billion of coal power assets may be stranded in the next decade across Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines, according to a new study by Carbon Tracker, which cited tighter environmental policies and competition from cheaper renewable energy. That analysis is aimed to caution those contemplating new coal plants.

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

‘Xi pushing further Preah Sihanouk investment’ – Phnom Penh Post As China continues to invest in Preah Sihanouk province, despite fears raised by residents over the recent influx of its nationals, an official from the Asian giant on Monday said President Xi Jinping is pushing for further investment in the coastal area. Preah Sihanouk has seen huge growth in the manufacturing, tourism and gambling sectors, and a local real estate agency director said further investment in manufacturing would “help transform Cambodia from an agricultural to an industrialised nation”.

Japan joins to shape China’s Belt and Road – East Asia Forum On the first state visit to China by a Japanese leader in 11 years, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Xi Jinping announced 50 joint infrastructure projects. This embrace of joint infrastructure investment cooperation through the Belt and Road Initiative in all but name is on a scale even larger than was anticipated before Abe’s arrival in Beijing. There was also a raft of other announcements that will help normalise the political relationship between the two Asian giants that share one of the largest economic relationships in the world. But the most consequential of those could be the joint investment in infrastructure projects.

What does Chinese ‘reciprocity’ mean for Mekong’s dams? – The Third Pole It is now two and a half years since the first Lancang Mekong Cooperation (LMC) leaders’ summit was held in Sanya city on Hainan Island, China. The aim of the LMC – a China led multilateral body involving all six Mekong countries – is to deepen economic, cultural and political ties between China and mainland Southeast Asia. Leaders have repeatedly declared the importance of the Lancang-Mekong River to this cooperation. Reflecting this, on 1-2 November, the LMC will host the “1st Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Forum” in Kunming, China.

Philippines hints at compromise on South China Sea dispute pact – Nikkei Asian Review The Philippines on Monday said a set of rules intended to prevent conflict in the South China Sea need not legally compel countries to follow it — an issue of importance for the Chinese government. Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. raised this possibility during a joint news conference with Wang Yi, his Chinese counterpart, in Davao City where they held bilateral talks to firm up preparations for President Xi Jinping’s visit to Manila next month.

The New US Hard Line Toward China Is Worrying Southeast Asia – The Diplomat Analysts are feverishly debating whether the United States and China are on the brink of a modern version of their own “Cold War.” It is of course too early to tell and there are many reasons why that may not happen. But the “soft war” for the hearts and minds of Southeast Asian countries is clearly intensifying and the United States has suffered some recent setbacks.

Related: ASEAN — finding middle path in the US-China conflict – Nikkei Asian Review

China-Vietnam Joint Patrols in the Spotlight – The Diplomat Last week, China and Vietnam held another iteration of a joint patrol around the Gulf of Tonkin. The patrol spotlighted an ongoing activity that both sides have continued to develop in spite of the lingering differences they have, including in the maritime realm. Vietnam and China have long managed a relationship that has been fraught with challenges even amid the opportunities it offers.

Myanmar, Thailand to Jointly Upgrade Highway from Border to Dawei SEZ – The Irrawaddy Myanmar and Thailand signed an agreement to jointly upgrade a highway linking the Thai-Myanmar border with the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ), a USD8 billion project that includes a deep seaport. The project in southern Myanmar’s Tanintharyi Region is set to be Southeast Asia’s largest industrial complex. Under the Record of Discussion (ROD) agreement inked on Thursday, the Ministry of Construction will allow Thailand’s Neighboring Countries Economic Development Cooperation Agency (NEDA) to conduct survey and design work in preparation for upgrading the two-lane highway. The route will connect the border crossing point at Htee Kee to the SEZ via Myittar.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Combating climate change through industrial efficiency – Khmer Times The TEST programme, which aims to fight the effects of climate change by helping corporations adopt efficient and environmentally friendly processes, was launched yesterday in Phnom Penh. ‘TEST’ stands for ‘transfer of environmentally sound technology’. The project, set to run for four years between 2018 and 2021, is a collaboration between the United Nation Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), the Ministry of Industry and Handicraft and the Ministry of Environment. With a budget of $1.8 million, TEST aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 500,000 tonnes through more efficient energy consumption, innovation, technology transfers and environmental management.

Việt Nam pledges to contribute to Paris Climate Agreement – Vietnam News Việt Nam had set itself ambitious climate targets to contribute to the global Paris Climate Agreement it ratified in 2016. Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Lê Công Thành made the statement on Tuesday at a workshop themed the “Creation of an Overarching Framework for Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) and Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) in Việt Nam.” “The NAMA project is vital for us to formulate these targets and respective policies and prepare for their implementation. Continued support has enabled us to strengthen Việt Nam’s position in international climate policy,” said Thành.

Banks race to fund green energy projects – Vietnam News Commercial banks are rushing to provide loans for green energy projects amid a wave of investment in the growing industry, dubbed a landmark for the country’s renewable energy outlook. Vietcombank has recently approved a VNĐ785 billion (US$33.55 million) loan for the BP Solar 1 project, which has total investment capital of VNĐ1.2 trillion with designed output of 46MW in the south central coast province of Ninh Thuận.

Related: Socio-Economic Benefits of a Sustainable Energy Future in Southeast Asia – Modern Diplomacy

Thailand paves the way for renewables – The ASEAN Post Similar to many other growing Southeast Asian countries, Thailand is facing an increase in energy demand. According to the ASEAN Centre for Energy (ACE), energy demand in Southeast Asia in 2040 is expected to increase between 110- to 130 percent. Meanwhile, due to Thailand’s good economic performance and population growth, energy demand is forecasted to rise by almost 80 percent in the next 20 years. Data from the Ministry of Energy shows that Thailand has about four or five years left before it runs out of either oil or natural gas. To overcome a crisis in its energy sector, Thailand has developed a plan to diversify its energy mix.

Jinko Solar: ‘solar is going to become the new primary energy in the world’ – Southeast Asia Globe China-based Jinko Solar is the largest solar panel manufacturer in the world. The company is supplying solar panels for the huge Dau Tieng solar plant in Vietnam, and also recently came to an agreement with SchneiTec to build a 60MW solar plant in Cambodia.

 

CHINA

Through the looking glass: the institutions behind Chinese aid – East Asia Forum In the last two decades, China has emerged from its position as a net aid recipient to become one of the world’s ten largest providers of development assistance. In OECD-DAC Official Development Assistance (ODA) comparable flows, China ranked seventh in 2016. How China delivers aid is subject to speculation and critique, not least because of the perceived opaqueness of China’s aid system. Chinese observers also criticise its lack of transparency. They do not attribute this opaqueness to deliberate secrecy but to the system’s complexity and fragmentation.

A circular economy could save China five trillion dollars – China Dialogue China could see big improvements in air quality, a reduction in carbon emissions and huge savings for business and households worth 32 trillion yuan (US$5.1 trillion) by 2030 if it moved to a circular economy, according to a recent report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. As China’s economy grows people are consuming a lot more. In urban areas, the amount people spent increased four times in real terms from 1995-2014 to about 17,000 yuan (US$2,700) a year, says the report. This will grow even more as rapid urbanisation continues.

Chinese officials call for objective reporting of BRI – The Straits Times The press should present a truthful, objective and multifaceted picture of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), top Chinese officials stressed yesterday at an annual gathering of international media organisations here. Beijing also called on news outlets to adhere to the “correct and objective reporting direction” of the Chinese-initiated, globe-spanning infrastructure building initiative, even as top editors from various news agencies said there needs to be more localisation and better management of individual BRI projects.//Many of the negative stories have come out of neighboring Southeast Asia, where governments are becoming wary of adopting BRI projects due to fears of incurring debt and losing sovereignty to China. This points to the importance of winning the hearts and minds of your partners, rather than merely showering them with dollars and renminbi.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Thailand to fully lift ban on political activities by December – Asian Correspondent Political activities will no longer be banned in Thailand by December following four years of strict military rule, ahead of the kingdom’s general election next year. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said made the major announcement on Tuesday, reversing a strict ban imposed since the 2014 military coup that removed the civilian government under then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The removal of the ban also comes after the government relaxed some restrictions last month to allow political parties to begin organising ahead of the polls due before May next year.

Thailand’s post-coup foreign policy – The Diplomat Thailand’s foreign policy in the aftermath of the 2014 coup has been based on bamboo diplomacy, whereby it befriends undemocratic states in Asia to reduce its dependency on Western governments. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is continuing to seek political recognition from Thailand’s partners, both in Southeast Asia and further abroad. His desperation has contributed to foreign policy based primarily on appeasement and compliance.

Cambodian Villagers Say Authorities Failed to Honor Promises For Flood Relief – Radio Free Asia Nearly 100 families in two communes affected by flooding from the reservoir of the controversial Lower Sesan 2 mega-dam in northeastern Cambodia’s Stung Treng province said Tuesday that authorities have failed to honor promises they made to rebuild their submerged communities and provide much-needed supplies and services. Forty-seven families in Kbal Romeas commune and 50 in Sre Kor commune, who refused to relocate for the hydropower project, have turned down compensation from the joint venture that built Cambodia’s largest dam on the Sesan River, a major tributary of the Mekong River, after the facility went online in November 2017 and submerged their homes.

Cambodia’s King Sihamoni Transfers Court Officials in ‘Reshuffle’ – Radio Free Asia Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni has moved almost 60 court officials, judges, and prosecutors to new posts across the country in a move welcomed by NGOs and legal experts, who said that more still needs to be done to restore judicial independence in the autocratic Southeast Asian state. The transfers were enacted by royal decrees signed by the king on Oct. 27 in his role as head of Cambodia’s Supreme Council of Magistracy, Cambodian media said on Tuesday. Aimed at reducing corruption in the country’s judicial system, the transfers—a “routine procedure” authorized every four years—still fall short of reforms needed to ensure fair and honest dealings in the courts, one rights activist told RFA’s Khmer Service.

Asian MPs urge halt to Rohingya repatriation plan amid safety fears – The Straits Times Myanmar is not safe enough for the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in camps in Bangladesh, said Asian parliamentarians on Friday (Nov 2), urging both governments to halt plans for repatriation scheduled to begin this month. More than 700,000 Rohingya people crossed into Bangladesh in the four months after deadly attacks by Rohingya insurgents on security forces in August 2017, which were followed by military operations that the United Nations said targeted civilians. Myanmar has denied most of the allegations.

Related: Bangladesh, Myanmar to Begin Repatriating Rohingya in November – Radio Free Asia

Displaced villagers in Myanmar at odds with UK charity over land conservation – The Guardian A British conservation charity has become embroiled in a row with villagers displaced by civil war in Myanmar over plans to protect pristine forests housing wild Asian elephants, tigers and sun bears. Fauna and Flora International (FFI) is helping to finance the $21m (£15.8m) ridge to reef project, which is led by the UN’s development programme and aims to protect up to 800,000 acres of the country’s south-eastern Tanintharyi region from threats like poachers, loggers and palm oil companies. But the project faces widespread opposition from ethnically Karen people who depend on the forests for their livelihoods.

Related: ‘We feel like hermit crabs’: Myanmar’s climate dispossessed – The Guardian

Myanmar Fails to Advance in World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business List – The Irrawaddy Myanmar showed no improvement in its overall ranking in the World Bank’s latest ease of doing business index, retaining the No. 171 spot it held last year—and remaining the least favorable ASEAN member country in which to conduct business. Illustrating the ambitious nature of the government’s goal of reaching the top 100 by 2020, Myanmar ranked 171st out of 190 economies (tied with Iraq) on the World Bank’s 2019 index in terms of overall ease of doing business. To compare Myanmar’s performance with its ASEAN neighbors, Laos ranked 154th, the Philippines 124th, Cambodia 138th, Indonesia 73rd, Thailand 27th and Malaysia 15th.

Related: Myanmar Presents Plan To Attract Over $200 Billion In Foreign Investment – Investvine

Philippines: Most dangerous place for journalists in Asia – The Straits Times The Philippines was the most dangerous country in Asia for journalists last year. It has been that way in recent years, and it is unlikely to change soon, especially with a government targeting journalists criticising its policies. Four journalists were killed there last year. That brought to nine the number of journalists killed since President Rodrigo Duterte was sworn into office in June 2016.

The Complex Interdependence of China’s BRI in the Philippines – Brink Asia Since the Belt and Road Initiative came into being, most analyses have largely focused on infrastructure development. The BRI not only has the potential to impact a host government’s socioeconomic agenda, but also its overall bilateral relationship with China. The case of the Philippines demonstrates that to examine the progress of the BRI, it is imperative that it not only be measured through hard infrastructure, but also against the four other major areas of cooperation—policy coordination, trade and investment facilitation, financial coordination and integration, and people‐to‐people ties and connectivity.

First Formula 1 Race In Hanoi Starts With 2020 Season  – Investvine Vietnam’s capital Hanoi will start hosting Formula 1 races by April 2020, the Hanoi People’s Committee said on November 1 in a statement. That way, Vietnam is becoming the third Southeast Asian nation – after Singapore and Malaysia – to welcome the F1 racing circus as the franchise seeks to move into new markets. The circuit set to be unveiled at a gala next week.

 

 

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