Regional Roundup for Week of 11.9.18

EXSE FOCUS

Cambodia’s Hun Sen Denies Plan to Free Opposition Leader Kem Sokha – Radio Free Asia Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen denied on Wednesday he has plans to free opposition leader Kem Sokha, rejecting comments made on Facebook by former opposition chief Sam Rainsy, who said the move will be made in December. “No, I won’t release him,” Hun Sen said, addressing a gathering of hundreds of workers in southwestern Cambodia’s Takeo province and adding that the former opposition leader, now living in exile in France, believes Kem Sokha will be freed in response to international pressure. Because Kem Sokha has not yet been convicted of a crime, the prime minister has no power to apply to Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni for a pardon that would free him, Hun Sen said.//Tough talk: In a separate interview Hun Sen phrased it more pointedly, saying that Sokha’s release will come when the “horse grows horns” and that Rainsy “doesn’t understand the law [and] posts only to attract ‘likes’.”

Related: Cambodian strongman Hun Sen defends promoting sons – The Straits Times

Anti-Chinese Sentiment on the Rise in Cambodia – The Diplomat When a Chinese national crashed his military number-plated SUV into a stone erected in Phnom Penh in the 1990s to celebrate Cambodian-American friendship, many commented on how it was the perfect metaphor for Cambodia in 2018. “Chinese nationals have come to invest in Cambodia, prompting so many problems to Cambodia and making the people suffer,” commented one Facebook user under a post using the #ChineseAgain! hashtag on a popular page focused on highlighting social issues.//”Loved by few, hated by many.” A curious dichotomy exists in Cambodia’s relationship with China: Cambodia’s PM Hun Sen has emphatically embraced China and welcomed its investments in the developing nation in the face of Western criticism and sanctions. However, the close political and economic ties have not translated into any public support for China and the growing number of Chinese workers and tourists in Cambodia. In particular, in cities like Sihanoukville where China has invested heavily in casinos and hotels, the local population complains of being “overrun” by the Chinese.  

Vietnam Arrests Former Deputy Minister as Part of Graft Crackdown – US News Police in Vietnam arrested a former deputy labor minister on Friday on allegations of economic mismanagement, as the communist-led government presses on with a crackdown on corruption. Le Bach Hong, a former deputy minister of labor, invalids and social affairs, and former head of Vietnam Social Security, was accused of “deliberate violations of state economic management regulations, causing serious consequences”, the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement. Hong’s arrest is part an effort to widen investigations into wrongdoing at Vietnam Social Security, which runs social insurance operations, and at a bankrupt state-owned finance leasing firm, said the ministry, which is in charge of the police.//Xi through a glass darkly? While Trong is consolidating his power atop the Vietnamese government in much the same way as Xi’s anti-corruption campaign in China, the two have discernably different personalities. As opposed to Xi’s overt embrace of supreme, and possibly life-long, power in China, Trong’s persona is much more subdued and humble. While the strategy by Xi and Trong to crack down on corruption may appear to outside observers as a ploy to solidify their own hold on power, an Asian Barometer survey in 2017 suggests that there is widespread public support for their strategies: In Asia, domestic corruption was viewed as one of the biggest threats to society and future development.

Loyalists of deposed Thai PMs Yingluck, Thaksin form new political party – Asian Correspondent In a strategy to win more seats, relatives and allies of deposed Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother, Thaksin, have formed a new political party ahead of the general election expected to be held early next year. Yingluck and Thaksin’s nephew and niece are among the members of the new Thai Raksa Chart Party, which also comprised close aides and the younger generation of the influential clan’s political loyalists. An ex-member of parliament from the Shinawatra clan’s Puea Thai Party, Peechapol Pongpanich, will be heading the new offshoot.//The forming of the Thai Raksa Chart Party (Thai National Protection Party) can be viewed as a safeguard in case that the junta should decide to dissolve or impose restrictions on the Puea Thai Party, as next year’s elections get closer. The new party is expected to pursue largely the same policies as the Puea Thai Party.

Thai Junta Says No Need for Foreign Observers at Next Year’s Election – The Irrawaddy Thailand does not need international observers to monitor next year’s general elections, the foreign minister said on Tuesday, despite criticism from pro-democracy activists that the junta has restricted fundamental civil rights. The government has promised to hold elections between February and May after repeated delays, a contest between supporters of the military and royalist establishment and the populist political forces now led by the Puea Thai Party that was ousted by the military in a 2014 coup. Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said past elections in the Southeast Asian country have been credible.

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Vietnam condemns China for weather stations on Spratlys – Asia Times Vietnam has protested against China’s recent announcement that it will erect weather stations on the disputed Spratly Islands. The Chinese government revealed last week that three islands will have weather stations built on them that will offer forecasts to fishermen operating in the South China Sea and nearby countries. In response, Le Thi Thu Hang from the Foreign Ministry in Hanoi told the press that Vietnam has a solid legal claim, including historical evidence that will allow them to assert their claim over the Spratly and Paracel Islands, the Associated Press reported.

Thailand the missing link in China’s Maritime Silk Road – Asia Times After demurring for years, Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-ocha last week ordered national planning and security agencies to look into building a possible canal across the narrow Isthmus of Kra in the kingdom’s southern region. Indeed, the order came a month after China’s ambassador to Thailand confirmed the canal as part of his country’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Beijing’s US$1 trillion flagship project for global economic expansion. Although the BRI — including a “Maritime Silk Road” — is a logical undertaking for the most relentless economy in history, less discussed is its possible role under a concurrent security-driven policy.

Japan’s Belt and Road Balancing Act – The Diplomat There is an old saying: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Japan seems to be well aware of this adage, because it is oscillating between fellow democracies and China in order to strengthen its position in the race for influence in Asia. Japan used to be one of the most vehement critics of the Belt and Road Initiative, together with the United States, but lately its stance on the BRI seems to be changing.

Related: China and Japan’s power struggle is good news for Southeast Asia – Southeast Asia Globe

Time for Asean to drive the Indo-Pacific process: Jakarta Post writers – The Straits Times Asean is making significant progress in deliberating over the new regional Indo-Pacific architecture, but the bigger challenge is yet to come: convincing the big powers, particularly China and the United States, to come on board. Also, there is an unresolved issue with the term “Indo-Pacific”, with China harboring suspicions that it is part of a containment policy against its rise in the region and the world. The “Indo-Pacific Outlook” concept paper, drafted by Indonesia, provides the 10-member Asean the intellectual leadership to discuss the future of the wide region that is already becoming the main driving force of the global economy.

US v China: don’t mock Asia’s divisions – Europe’s no better, says Singapore’s Lee – South China Morning Post Southeast Asian countries should not be singled out for failing to take a unified stance on the escalating US-China rivalry – other regional blocs such as the European Union are grappling with mixed allegiances, too. That’s what Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told the Bloomberg New Economy Forum on Tuesday evening, just days before a summit of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) that will include its key global partners including the US and China.

Related: Commentary: The rebirth of the ASEAN miracle growth model – Channel News Asia

Brexit is bringing the UK back to Southeast Asia – East Asia Forum As the United Kingdom proceeds to leave the European Union, the Conservative Party government is busy promoting an international identity for itself under the banner of ‘Global Britain’. It is enunciating an ‘All of Asia’ policy — ostensibly to signal that London is keen to engage all countries in the wider East Asia region, big and small. Emboldened by the belief that it already has strong bilateral relations with many Southeast Asian countries, London envisions a future in which the United Kingdom makes a meaningful contribution to regional security, prosperity and development. The problem is that Southeast Asia does not yet seem to care much.

Deadly swine virus in south-west China threatens Asian neighbours – The Straits Times Animal health authorities in South-east Asia have beefed up border surveillance for African swine fever after a third outbreak of the deadly pig virus was reported in China’s south-western Yunnan province. The fast-spreading virus was found in a “backyard” operation last week in Guanfang village, within about 200km of China’s border with Myanmar and Laos and near Thailand. Some countries have taken measures at the border to control the introduction of people, animals, and products from China, said Laure Weber-Vintzel, the Bangkok-based deputy regional representative for the World Organisation for Animal Health.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Why is Asia so food insecure? – Eco-business One in nine people around the world is hungry—a total of 821 million people worldwide. But global food security is actually improving, with over 70 per cent of countries strengthening their scores in this year’s Global Food Security Index (GFSI). But only two countries from Asia-Pacific feature in the index’s top 10, with Singapore topping the list for the first time and Australia ranking sixth. At the bottom of the rankings, Laos, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Myanmar are positioned among the world’s least food-secure countries, most of which are in Africa.

The Blue Circle completes 40-MW wind farm in Vietnam – Renewables Now Singapore-based renewables developer The Blue Circle has completed the construction of the second phase of the 40-MW Dam Nai wind farm in Vietnam’s Ninh Thuan province. Dam Nai Project Phase 2 is yet to be commissioned this month, with commercial generation scheduled to start in December. Comprising 12 turbines, this wind farm is now the largest of its kind in the Southeast Asian country as well as the firm’s first to reach completion, The Blue Circle said.

Related: Germany willing to support Vietnam in wind power development – Vietnam Plus

Cambodia to Boost Clean Energy Use — But Coal Plants Planned Too – Eco-Business Cambodia will push ahead with plans to use hydropower and coal to electrify the entire country by 2020, but solar energy will play some role, especially in remote areas, an energy ministry official said on Wednesday. The Southeast Asian nation has electrified rapidly since 2000, when only 16 percent of the population had access to power, according to the World Bank. Today, 87 percent of villages and 73 percent of households are connected to the grid, said Victor Jona, a spokesman for the department of energy at the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

Related: Clean coal clean enough? – The ASEAN Post

 Stringent measures afoot to tackle air pollution – The Nation Thailand aims to reduce the health impacts from air pollution by 25 per cent by 2030, while there will be stricter monitoring of air pollution and prevention measures this year during the haze season in the North and Bangkok. Health Department director-general Dr Panpimol Wipulakorn said Thailand had pledged at a World Health Organisation conference that it would firmly place the air pollution problem on the national agenda and lower the prevalence of sickness and fatalities from pollution.

“Space data offers instant clues to cause of deadly Laos dam disaster”: Stanford Professor – The Laotian Times Bangkok-based professor Richard Meehan from Stanford University in the United States’ has been investigating the dam’s failure from Bangkok using new space technologies, according to a report published via the Blume Earthquake Engineering Center website on October 26. The failure hypothesis goes as follows: on the first filling of the reservoir, a wave of groundwater from the main reservoir pushed southwest eventually filling the dry basin behind the saddle dam with 20 m of water,” Professor Meehan wrote.

Large hydropower dams ‘not sustainable’ in the developing world – BBC A new study says that many large-scale hydropower projects in Europe and the US have been disastrous for the environment. Dozens of these dams are being removed every year, with many considered dangerous and uneconomic. But the authors fear that the unsustainable nature of these projects has not been recognised in the developing world.

Better technologies needed for rice production – The Phnom Penh Post Rice production in the Mekong Delta needs more modern technologies and better cooperation among farmers, experts said during a conference in Can Tho city on Friday. The rate of machinery use in agriculture in the delta is higher compared to other regions in Vietnam. However, the area’s rice processing capability is only average when compared to other Asian regions, which makes it harder for Vietnamese rice to compete with other rice exporting countries, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Agro Processing and Market Development Authority.

 

CHINA

The Environment in China: Inside the Middle Kingdom – Asia Sentinel Given widespread concern about China’s depredations on the global environment, what is going on inside China itself in terms of environmental conservation and wildlife protection? The picture is complex, unpredictable, and perhaps without structure. It is perhaps a mosaic of competing interests and forces, some of them genuinely in favor of conservation, others more insidious.

Civil Society Space Changing, Not Shrinking: Report – ChinaFile Berthold Kuhn of Freie Universitat Berlin has published a new paper looking at “Changing Spaces for Civil Society Organisations in China.” This framework explicitly pushes back against the notion that civil society space is uniformly shrinking, instead positing that the space available is highly dependent on the individual organization and the type of work it seeks to do: Analysis based on interviews and talks with experts in China and abroad shows that advocacy-oriented organisations and those receiving foreign funding tend to face more difficulties. Larger international nonprofits with a long track-record in China, however, are seen to continuing or even expanding their activities.

Offshore wind projects hasten Asia’s renewable shift from solar – Nikkei Asian Review China is starting to build its largest offshore wind-power facility in the latest move in an accelerating shift in Asia away from solar to wind and other renewable energy sources. Work began in late October on the facility off Nanpeng Isle in China’s southern Guangdong Province. The project has a planned capacity of 400,000 kilowatts, and its developer, China General Nuclear Power Corporation, expects it to generate about 1.46 billion kilowatt hours of power annually when it goes on stream in 2020.

Is China targeting the wrong chemical in effort to cut winter smog? – China Dialogue If Beijing wants to tackle severe winter smog then it may have to adjust policies to account for formaldehyde, according to recent research. Chinese policymakers have typically thought that smog-causing particulate matter came from sulphates, prompting the government to target sulphur dioxide emissions in its ongoing crack-down on air pollution. But the new research, carried out jointly by scholars from Harvard, Tsinghua and Harbin Institute of Technology, finds air monitoring tools have confused sulphate with hydroxymethane sulphonate (HMS) – a chemical which is formed when formaldehyde and sulphur dioxide react. In other words, for years the role of formaldehyde in smog formation has been overlooked.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Illegal sand mining discovered along Đong Nai River – Vietnam News Authorised agencies of southern Bình Phước Province have discovered 15 cases of illegal sand mining so far this year along the upstream section of Đồng Nai River that flows through the province, provincial police announced on Tuesday. Authorised forces temporarily seized 11 sand exploitation boats and over 431cu.m of sand. Violators were fined over VNĐ500 million (US$21,400).

Is Hun Sen’s long-time rival really a ‘democratic alternative’? – Southeast Asia Globe Cambodia’s Interior Minister Sar Kheng has long been hailed by Western diplomats as a more liberal alternative to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s decades-long strongman rule. But with the factional heavyweight growing increasingly strident in his criticism of corruption and incompetence within the ruling party, just what has the former Khmer Rouge cadre done to deserve this reputation?

Cambodia’s Hun Sen Eases Pressure on Unions, as EU Sanctions Threat Looms – The Irrawaddy Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told his ministers to ease pressure on labor union leaders on Wednesday, after threats by the European Union to remove the Southeast Asian country’s duty-free trading access. The EU began a formal procedure last month to strip Cambodia of its “Everything but Arms (EBA)” initiative, following a July general election that returned Hun Sen to power after 33 years in office and gave his party all parliamentary seats. In a speech to 20,000 factory workers on Wednesday, Hun Sen urged his ministries of justice and labor to speed up or drop any pending court cases against union leaders.

First large-scale gold project in the Kingdom in early 2020 – The Phnom Penh Post Emerald Resources, the Australian-listed mining firm behind Cambodia’s Okvau gold project in Mondulkiri province, will start its first large-scale gold project in the Kingdom in early 2020. Ministry of Mines and Energy spokesman Yos Monirath who said this, added that the firm obtained an industrial mining licence in July and actively raised funding to develop the project. Emerald Resources, which is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), said in an ASX filling last Thursday that it has raised A$27 million ($19.5 million) to fund development activities at its Okvau operations.

Laos-China railway opens doors for establishment of SEZs – Vientiane Times The government’s top economic research agency has suggested that investment focus in areas which would make use of and maximise the benefits of the Laos-China railway. There is the possibility of building Special Economic Zones (SEZs) along the 409-km route of the high-speed railway, with a focus on developing industrial zones, the National Economic Research Institute (NERI) recommended in its latest survey which was revealed recently. The think tank also suggested creating a free trade zone, a logistics park, a smart city, an ecocity, and a high tech park along the under-construction railway, which is slated for operation in 2021.

Rohingya Crisis, Suu Kyi Under the Microscope at Southeast Asia Summit – The Irrawaddy The customary cordiality of Southeast Asian summits may be missing when the region’s leaders meet next week due to sharp differences over Myanmar, whose military has been accused of genocide against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority. Myanmar leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is due to attend the Nov. 11-15 Singapore meeting, and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a doyen of the group, has served notice he has lost faith in the Nobel peace laureate because of the Rohingya issue.

Newly built bridges in Kachin damaged – Myanmar Times The two seven-month-old bridges and their embankments collapsed in Kachin State allegedly due to substandard construction, a Lower House legislator told The Myanmar Times yesterday. U Larmarlay, a member of  Pyithu Hluttaw, said the two bridges are located in Hsawlaw Township. The bridges had been built by the winner of a tender called under last year’s budget for the Ministry of Security and Border Affairs, he added. “The failure of the bridges is believed to have been caused by substandard construction,” said U Larmarlay, representative of the Lisu National Development Party said.

Golden Triangle’s Drug Production Expands, Diversifies Amid Opioid Concerns – The Irrawaddy Organized crime groups are expanding and diversifying drug production in Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle amid fears the region could emerge as a hub for synthetic opioids like fentanyl, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Asia Pacific counter-narcotics police met in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw, on Wednesday to negotiate a new strategy to strangle the supply of chemicals used in synthetic drug production. The Golden Triangle, centered on Myanmar’s conflict-ridden north, has exported illicit drugs to the world for decades. While opium cultivation and heroin trafficking has slumped in recent years, synthetic drug manufacturing — especially methamphetamine — has soared.

 

REVIEWS

Dead in the Water: book charts failings of Laos’ World Bank-funded hydro dam – Southeast Asia Globe Dead in the Water delves into what lessons can be learned from the development of the World Bank-funded Nam Thuen 2 (NT2) hydropower dam in Laos. Drawing on research and analysis conducted by experts before, during and after the dam’s completion in 2010, the book highlights the systemic failures to properly address the social and environmental impacts the dam has had on local populations and ecosystems, resulting in the project being widely regarded as failing to better the lives of the people of Laos.

The many flaws and failures of the United States in the Vietnam War – The Washington Post Max Hastings’s “Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975” reads like a gripping work of fiction. The storyline is as fluid as it is riveting, and the main characters are finely delineated. Part political, part social and part oral history, the book advances that events unfolding in Vietnam after World War II constituted predominantly an Asian tragedy “upon which a US nightmare was overlaid.” Consistent with that theme, Hastings endeavors to relate the Vietnamese perspective, underscoring the roles played by leaders and combatants from both North and South. The suffering and losses endured by civilians are vividly illustrated, humanizing them to a degree few accounts have.

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