Regional Roundup for Week of 11.30.18

EXSE FOCUS

Cambodia’s Hun Sen ‘Sorry’ He Hadn’t Killed Protest Leaders – Radio Free Asia Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen voiced regret on Thursday that he hadn’t had leaders of protests against his ruling Cambodian People’s Party in 2013 and 2014 killed, saying only that he hadn’t wanted to do this “at the time.” Speaking to a gathering of hundreds of workers, Hun Sen said that protest leaders had been lucky to escape Cambodia after the protests, which saw opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party members attacked and dispersed by security forces, with at least one shot dead and several others wounded by gunfire in 2013. “I want to let you know that if you hadn’t fled Cambodia, you would already have had your funeral,” Hun Sen said in remarks apparently addressed to former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, now living in exile in France after fleeing a string of convictions in Cambodian courts widely seen as politically motivated.//That’s the ticket: Speaking at an event earlier this week, Hun Sen said that his opponents only criticize him because they want to live abroad: “They must strongly insult us and allege that [the] regime attempted to kill and arrest them, so they will receive asylum in other countries” he said. Recently, exiled political analyst Kim Sok and his family were granted political asylum in Finland.

Thaksin’s son tipped to help lead Pheu Thai campaign – The Bangkok Post Panthongtae Shinawatra, who joined Pheu Thai on Sunday, will join senior members in leading the party’s political campaign, a party source said on Monday. The source said Mr Panthongtae will join Khunying Suradat Keyurphan and Chalerm Yubamrung as lead campaigners for the party in the lead up to the general election, tentatively planned for Feb 24. His presence would boost the morale of party members after seeing key figures defect to other parties, mainly Palang Pracharath, the source said.//The 38-year-old, better known by his nickname “Oak”, announced his membership on Facebook in front of an image of Martin Luther King Jr. and the latter’s famous quote, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Oak explained that if he did not act now his only option was to stay quiet and wait to be hunted down by his adversaries. His membership underscores that his father, even in exile, still has a strong influence in Thai politics.

Suu Kyi’s Electoral Blow in Myanmar Must Spark Real Change – The Diplomat Earlier this month, Myanmar by-elections confirmed a reality most had already internalized: that Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD), once the champions of democracy as the opposition in a military-ruled country, are now struggling to bring about expected change while in power. At the by-elections, the NLD won just six of the 13 seats contested for state, provincial and national parliaments, a poor performance by their own expectations and an unwanted portent ahead of a national ballot due in 2020.//Fall from grace: On top of the mounting domestic pressure on Suu Kyi, her international reputation continues to suffer as well. Just this week, Canada stripped Suu Kyi of her honorary citizenship, and the Malaysian prime minister stated that he no longer supports her. Her poor handling of the Rohingya crisis has been the major reason for the scrutiny against her, but Burmese law does not allow her government to hold the military accountable for its actions against the Rohingya. Her reluctance to speak out against the military may also be explained by the fact the her father, independence hero Aung San, is widely considered the founder of the Burmese army.

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

What’s Next for Vietnam-Thailand Defense Cooperation? The Diplomat This week, Vietnam’s deputy defense minister paid a visit to Thailand in yet another official exchange between the two Southeast Asian states. The interaction highlighted the ongoing activity on the defense side of the strategic partnership that both sides have forged over the years. Though their relationship had been characterized by animosity for much of the Cold War, it has gradually warmed since, including in the defense domain.

What Asean must do to navigate these perilous times – The Straits Times Last year to a backdrop of resounding backlash worldwide against free trade and multinational institutions, Asean celebrated 50 years as a proponent of these ever-more endangered ideals. The prevailing spirit of protectionism and isolationism, and no less a looming trade war and the simmering tensions in the South China Sea, all put no small damper on the occasion. In truth, the milestone was worth celebrating, especially in today’s political climate.

Asean chairmanship chance to ‘boost US ties’ – The Bangkok Post The United States supports Thailand’s role as Asean chair, specifically as it relates to Thailand’s ability to draw multilateral effort from Asean members to deal with maritime and cybersecurity, says the US Assistant Secretary of Defence for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, Randall G Schriver. “The US will be a supportive partner in Thailand’s chairmanship year,” he said. “We’ll take Thailand’s lead on what issues Thailand wants to promote during its chairmanship.”

Related: Thailand’s ASEAN Chair Challenge in 2019 – The Diplomat

Preventing Chinese influence in the Pacific has concerning historical parallels – Asian Correspondent One of the more notable outcomes from the recent APEC summit in Port Moresby was the announcement of a joint American-Australian-Papua New Guinean upgrade of the Lombrum naval base on Manus Island – by all accounts to contain China’s influence in the region. Although the announcement of this proposed facility emphasised it will be an American, Australian and Papua New Guinean joint enterprise, in reality, it will be the level of American commitment that will determine whether this base will be an operational facility.

China finds a friend in the Philippines – The ASEAN Post Xi Jinping’s visit to the Philippines marks the first visit by a Chinese president to the country in 13 years, highlighting the shift in relationship between the two countries. Before Duterte was elected, the Philippines was one of the strongest allies of the United States (US) in the region and had maintained a rocky relationship with China.

South Korea turns to ASEAN – The ASEAN Post If anything is clear from the recently concluded ASEAN Summit and the East Asian Summit held in Singapore is that Southeast Asia is now hot property. The heads of state that attended the summit says it all, from Russia’s Vladimir Putin to Japan’s Shinzo Abe – everyone is realising the geostrategic importance of the region. The opportunity presented in Southeast Asia is clear, the region’s economy is one of the fastest growing in the world and it has a market with over 600 million consumers. Another reason why many countries are vying for the region’s attentions is its geopolitical importance. One prime example of this is South Korea’s New Southern Policy.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

More promising offshore energy – Vietnam Investment Review Vietnam’s huge potential in the offshore wind industry has caught the eye of overseas investors, but further work is required to kick-start the fledgling market, according to energy experts. Edgare Kerkwijk, board member of the Asia Wind Energy Association, told VIR last week at the Vietnam Offshore Wind Roundtable in Ho Chi Minh City that more offshore wind developers will come to the country as the government begins to map out offshore wind policies for the future.

Offshore waste disposal laws need improving: experts – Vietnam Plus Vietnam’s laws on waste disposal at sea put the marine ecosystem, aquatic resources and people’s livelihoods under severe threat, according to experts. The country currently allows offshore disposal of dredged material and waste from three to six nautical miles from land. Vietnam, therefore, needs complete mechanisms on dredging and waste dumping activities to protect the environment, experts recommend.

Noose or life ring: Ho Chi Minh City’s proposed super dyke – Mekong Eye After years of collecting dust, Vietnamese authorities are resurrecting a plan to construct a 25m-wide sea wall that they hope can fend off tidal floods and impede saltwater intrusion and water-logging for a 10,000 square kilometer area anchored by HCMC. Operationally, the proposed Vung Tau – Go Cong Sea Dyke will also help to create a freshwater reservoir spanning 430 square kilometers  and impounding up to 3 billion cubic meters of fresh water 40 kilometers southeast of HCMC. Containing this water will require constructing a dam and another 60 kilometers of barriers that will bisect the UNESCO-recognized Can Gio biosphere reserve.

Germany willing to support Vietnam in wind power development – Vietnam Construction German businesses are ready to cooperate with and support Vietnam in developing wind power as the country boasts huge potential for renewable energy, including wind energy. The statement was made by German Consul General to Ho Chi Minh City Andreas Siegel at a seminar on wind energy in Vietnam hosted by the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Vietnam on November 6. Speakers at the event held that in the context of increasingly severe climate change and gas emissions that cause environmental pollution and threaten lives of people on the globe, the development of renewable energy – a source of clean energy – is extremely important, contributing to sustainable socio-economic growth.

Cambodian Villagers Protest Sand-Dredging Operation in Protected Zone – Radio Free Asia At least 10 ethnic Phnorng villagers protested on Monday in Cambodia’s Mondulkiri  province to demand an end to a sand-dredging operation carried out in a wildlife sanctuary in the Bou Sra commune of the province’s Pech Chreada district, local sources said. Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service on Nov. 26, Sraing Soeun—a resident of Bou Sra’s Pou Toeut village—said that villagers had earlier seized dredging machines used in the operation, which they said had been launched in secret and was still unlicensed. The project’s owner had already blocked the upper end of the stream being dredged, reducing the village’s daily fish supply and interfering with local religious practice in the forest, Sraing Soeun said.

Cambodia’s solar regulation – The Phnom Penh Post On January 26, the Electricity Authority of Cambodia (EAC) enacted for the first time a solar generation regulation. The regulation is a new driver for the country’s solar photovoltaic (PV) system development. The solar generation regulation has elevated the regulatory framework in Cambodia with a foreseeable positive impact to its future solar PV development. Having six to nine hours of daylight on a daily basis, the solar irradiation in Cambodia is recorded at 5kWh/m2/day. Despite having such potential, Cambodia is still dependent on imported electricity which accounts for 36 per cent of its power generation last year, which is an increase from 2015 and 2016 (26 per cent and 23 per cent respectively).

Thailand eyes 1GW of floating PV for hydro dams and pilots large-scale battery storage – Energy Storage State-run utility Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) is planning to facilitate 1GW of hybrid floating solar-hydro projects across eight dams throughout the country. Thepparat Theppitak, deputy governor, power plant development and renewable energy, EGAT, announced the plans at the ASEAN Solar + Storage Congress & Expo in Manila, the Philippines, organised by Leader Associates. The first two projects, located in the Northeast, are already in the development phase, including 45MW(AC) of contracted capacity at Sirindhorn Dam, with a commercial operation date expected in 2020. A second 24MW(AC) project at Ubol Ratana Dam is due to come into commercial operation in 2023.

Chiang Rai’s Chiang Khong Residents Fear China Will Proceed with Blasting Rapid on Mekong River – Chiang Rai Times Residents living along the Mekong River in Chiang Rai’s Chiang Khong district have expressed strong opposition to a “new” public hearing on China’s plans to blast away a stretch of rapids, saying there was no need for more talk about the proposal, which they would not tolerate. China wants to eliminate the rapids in the river to accommodate boat movement from Jinghing to Luang Prabang in Laos. Some blasting has been done in the past, and in 2016 the Thai government approved a feasibility study and design for more such work.

GMS biodiversity conservation corridors to operate from 2019 – Saigon Online The Greater Mekong Subregion biodiversity conservation corridors and project management plans will be put into operation from 2019, said Vice Director of the Vietnam National Administration of Environment Nguyen The Dong. The project aims to strengthen cross-border cooperation and the management of the forest ecosystems among countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion. It is significant to not only Vietnam but the world too as it will offer valuable experience in building biodiversity corridors.

Mega-dam costs outweigh benefits, global building spree should end: experts – Mongabay Large hydroelectric dams are not worth the environmental and societal costs, and their benefits will continue to dwindle further as the climate changes, analysts argue. After proliferating in North America and Europe in the mid-20th Century, hydroelectric fell out of favor there in the 1970s and more dams are being removed than constructed nowadays. But hydroelectric development didn’t stop, it moved location – thousands of dams have been built in developing nations since the 1970s, with many more planned.

Feeding Singapore’s hunger for sand – The ASEAN Post Sand mining for reclamation of coastal areas is both, a geopolitical and conservation issue for the Southeast Asian region, with many of the more developed countries in the bloc playing culprits. Leading the regional pack for reclaiming land from its coasts is Singapore, with Malaysia close behind. In Singapore, the total land area has literally grown more than 25 percent since the nation first came into being. The island city-state has so far increased its total land area from 578 square kilometres (km²) in 1819 to 719 km² today.

 

CHINA

China’s Belt & Road needs to listen more – The Bangkok Post In the aftermath of a tense Asean-led summit season, it is clear now that the United States and China are engaged in a great-power competition not seen since the Cold War. The US-China trade war, irrespective of negotiated talks in Buenos Aires between President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping, is set to deteriorate over the next two years and probably longer. The two superpowers may have fundamental and structural differences that cannot be resolved without a sweeping deal that realigns their geopolitical status and geo-economic interests in a way that is acceptable to both, an unlikely prospect. So the confrontation will likely intensify.

Beijing has ‘stern’ words with Washington over US ship in South China Sea – The Straits Times China said on Friday (Nov 30) it had lodged “stern representations” with the United States after the US Navy sailed a ship through the contested South China Sea, passing near islands claimed by China. Tension between the two powers in disputed Asian waters comes as their relationship has been strained by a trade row involving increasingly severe rounds of tariffs on billions of dollars worth of each other’s imports. The US guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville sailed near the Paracel Islands on Monday to challenge China’s “excessive maritime claims”, the US Pacific fleet said in a statement.

Related: China envoy warns of dire consequences if US hardliners hold sway – The Straits Times

China ‘Buying’ Positive News Coverage From Foreign Journalists: Report – Radio Free Asia The Chinese government is inviting foreign journalists to Beijing on international relations fellowships, on the understanding that they write “positive stories” about China, an online newspaper in India reported. The Chinese foreign ministry has been running the 10-month programs for journalists from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and more than a dozen countries from Southeast Asia and Africa since 2016, The Print news website reported. “They have been given the red-carpet treatment: Apartments in one of Beijing’s plush residences … and free tours twice every month to different Chinese provinces,” the article said.The initiative follows a call from Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2016 for journalists to “tell China’s story better” to the rest of the world, it said.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Cambodia achieving 2030 economic target ‘almost impossible’, says World Bank – Southeast Asia Globe At the launch of the World Bank’s annual economic update on Cambodia, held in Phnom Penh on Wednesday this week, regional economists explained that sustaining the considerable growth the country has seen over the past two decades will be a challenge for Cambodia.And even if Cambodia does manage to maintain its consistent growth, the government’s short-term goal of becoming an upper-middle income country by 2030 is a “very tall order indeed”, World Bank lead economist Norman Loayza said.

Will Cambodia’s Bun Rany be the next ‘first lady’ to fall from grace? – Asia Times The recent ignoble falls from grace of two of Asia’s former “first ladies” – the Philippines’ Imelda Marcos and Malaysia’s Rosmah Mansor – raise some relevant questions for Cambodia and the international community: Could Cambodia’s Bun Rany, the wife of Prime Minister Hun Sen, be next on the list? The answer lies in addressing further questions: Will the wife of Cambodia’s longtime prime minister ever be investigated for allegations regarding the 1999 murder of actress Piseth Pilika? Will Bun Rany be investigated for using the Red Cross emblem to bolster her husband’s leadership?

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.

Analysis : National Leaders Send a Chilling Message over Media’s Role – The Irrawaddy Myanmar’s senior leaders offered a revealing glimpse of their perceptions of the media last week—and their view of the country’s Fourth Estate appears to be one of deep skepticism that some media professionals fear could have a chilling effect. Last Friday, newly elected members of the Myanmar Press Council gathered at the Presidential Residence in Naypyitaw to take their oath in front of President U Win Myint, who delivered a speech. Following the ceremony, at a dinner in honor of the council, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi chatted briefly with several MPC members on the topics of social media, mainstream media and access to information.

The change to come to Indonesian democracy – Asia Times In a country where political parties are already held in low regard, Indonesia’s democratic landscape may be about to undergo a significant transformation because of the unforeseen consequences of holding the legislative and presidential elections on the same day next April. Ten political parties are represented in the current 560-seat House of Representatives, now in the final stretch of its five-year term. Come October 2019, when the newly-expanded 575-seat Parliament is convened, opinion polls show that the number of parties could fall from ten to six.

South-east Asia grapples with stunting and anaemia: Global report – The Straits Times Most South-east Asian countries are grappling with stunting and anaemia, a report on global nutrition has warned. According to the Global Nutrition Report released on Thursday (Nov 29), countries like Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar have significant cases of stunted children and anaemic women. Malaysia, meanwhile, is grappling with those problems as well as that of increasing weights. At least 35 per cent of Malaysian women were overweight, according to its data. The report is the latest in recent studies warning against global malnutrition even as rising incomes put more balanced and nutrient-rich diets within closer reach.

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