Regional Roundup for Week of 12.14.18

EXSE FOCUS

Lower Sesan II plant set to launch – The Phnom Penh Post The Hydropower Lower Sesan II power plant, which will be launched next week, is set to add another 20 per cent to the Kingdom’s current total electricity production, said a senior official of the Ministry of Mines and Energy. The plant has a total electricity generating capacity of 400 megawatts, which will bring the total amount of hydropower produced by Cambodia to 1,328 megawatts. The project is a joint investment by Chinese firm Hydrolancang International Energy Co Ltd, which holds 51 per cent of its shares, Royal Group (39 percent), while the rest is held by a Vietnamese-owned company, EVN, with a total investment of more than $800 million.//Construction of the dam has carried with it a string of controversies, the latest being the complaints by hundreds of Cambodian families who say that the dam has left them without access to clean water as the water in the dam’s reservoir is not clean enough for consumption. Also, farmers have complained that they can no longer make ends meet as the dam has taken over much of their farmland. 

How Asia fell out of love with China’s Belt and Road Initiative – The Straits Times After an unprecedented run of funding large-scale investments in projects from railways to highways in poorer countries across Asia, governments are adopting a far more cautious approach to China’s grand plans for what it regards as its backyard. “The first phase of the Belt and Road is effectively over,” said Andrew Small, a senior fellow with the German Marshall Fund’s Asia programme. “A new model has not yet emerged, but it is clear that the old one, almost entirely focused on speed and scale, is no longer sustainable.”//Serious concern or just teething troubles? It is true that implementation of the BRI has not gone according to plan in countries like Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Nepal, and Pakistan. However, the biblical-sized BRI is an unprecedented endeavor in global trade and infrastructure, and it has the potential to raise the living standards of more than half of the world’s population. To a large extent, China is “learning by doing” and while we are witnessing push-back against the BRI, we are also seeing cooperation between recipient countries and China to adjust and downscale projects when necessary, so that they are a better fit with local needs and economies.

Related: Is the BRI debt trap real? – The ASEAN Post

Prayut hints again at return as premier – The Bangkok Post Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has hinted once again he may be ready to return as premier after the Feb 24 poll, a day after the ban on political activities was lifted. During his visit with cabinet ministers to the northeastern province of Bung Kan on Wednesday, Gen Prayut admitted he is now a full-time politician. “I am here today. If I tell you that I am not a full-time politician, that’s not true because I have been running the country.//A true politician: Officially a full-time politician, Prayut wasted no time acting like one last week, when a billboard was put up showing him and British PM Theresa May shaking hands with a message supporting his premiership due to his honesty and anti-corruption campaigns. The only problem is that election campaigning was not yet allowed. The move underscores how “fluid” election laws are in Thailand.

Related: Dictator’s new clothes a very ill fit  – The Bangkok Post

Cambodia’s PM Hun Sen Calls For Lift of Ban on Opposition Political Activities based on ‘Individual Merit’ – Radio Free Asia Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday that he will ask for a royal decree to grant permission for more than 100 senior members of the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to reenter politics based on “individual merit,” following a ban last year. The prime minister and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) overwhelmingly won a July 29 election widely criticized as unfree and unfair following the Supreme Court’s November 2017 dissolution of the CNRP and a five-year ban on the political activities of 118 of its senior officials for the party’s role in an alleged plot to topple the government.//Earlier this week on Human Rights Day, Hun Sen announced that the rights of Cambodian citizens have been “fully restored” since the collapse of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979. The national elections earlier this year, coupled with the political exile of senior opposition leaders, paint a different picture.

Related: Cambodia Now ‘More Free’ Than Under Khmer Rouge: Hun Sen – Radio Free Asia

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Favourable currents for ASEAN–China relations in the South China Sea – East Asia Forum Despite increased friction between the United States and China, on balance, positive developments in the South China Sea outweighed negative ones this year. The Single Draft South China Sea Code of Conduct Negotiating Text (SDNT) was adopted in August by the foreign ministers of ASEAN and China. The SDNT includes proposals for areas of cooperation and for dispute prevention, management and settlement mechanisms in the South China Sea among the parties. While the SDNT is a major step forward, several points of contention remain, including the geographic scope of the eventual Code of Conduct (COC), preferred dispute settlement mechanisms, and details of resource exploration and development.

Cambodia’s key role in regional security – The Bangkok Post Last month, Asia Times, citing unnamed diplomatic sources, reported that China has lobbied Cambodia for a naval base in Koh Kong province on the Gulf of Thailand, prompting the Cambodian government to deny the news. A Chinese naval base in Koh Kong or in any coastal area inside Cambodia would greatly damage the current state of excellent Asean-China ties and jeopardise China’s many regional and global schemes, including its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). 

What’s Next for the Cambodia-Laos Border Dispute? – The Diplomat Last week, there was a flurry of activity in Cambodia-Laos relations tied to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s anticipated visit to Laos. While both sides discussed a range of issues within their bilateral relationship, the interaction also once again put the focus on the outstanding border dispute between the two sides.

The Geopolitics of Oil and Gas in the South China Sea – The Diplomat Diplomat author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject-matter experts, policy practitioners and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into U.S. Asia policy. This conversation with Eufracia Taylor and Hugo Brennan –  Senior Asia Analysts at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft – explores the motives of China’s push for joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea, and the broader consequences for geopolitics.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Protests and demonstrations a key concern for extractive companies – Myanmar Times Protests and demonstrations pose a serious security threat to the oil and gas industry as well as mining sector in Myanmar, a recent poll among industry players showed. Yangon-based Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB) organised workshops aiming to raise awareness of the relevance of Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPSHR) for Myanmar’s extractive companies, and identify the most serious security issues for the industries. The workshops were held in the capital city and Yangon in late November, attended by stakeholders from public and private sectors.

Related: Renewed calls to stop dam construction in Shan – Myanmar Times

Towards an energy efficient ASEAN – The ASEAN Post In tandem with a renewable energy policy, energy efficiency will be key to building a reliable and sustainable energy system for the future of Southeast Asia. Energy efficiency refers to the reduced rate of energy consumption in order to produce the same amount of output. Less energy resources are needed to fuel the same level of economic production, leading to higher gains over the long term. While most Southeast Asian countries have their own energy-efficiency targets, ASEAN as a bloc aims to increase energy intensity 20 percent by 2020 and 30 percent by 2025.

Asian cities stand to lure climate investments worth US$20 trillion – ASEAN Today A new International Finance Corporation (IFC) report indicates Asian cities will pull in more than US$20 trillion in climate investments in six important sectors by 2030. Those sectors earmarked for significant investment are sustainable construction, renewable energy, electric vehicles, public transportation, and waste and water management. In the East Asia Pacific region, green buildings have the potential to lure investments worth US$16 trillion. Nearly 81% of this capital flow will be absorbed by China but, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam are set to reap investment opportunities worth US$345 billion in the green building space.

Low carbon electricity generation, carbon pricing could reduce emissions in Asean: MIT report – The Straits Times The ongoing United Nations (UN) climate change talks in Poland have emphasised the need for the world to drastically reduce its emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, with many nations arguing that both developing and developed countries should bear the responsibility of doing so. But how can rapidly developing nations, such as those in South-east Asia, strike a balance between mitigating climate change and providing ample electricity to its people and growing economies?

How to build resilient cities without wrecking the environment – Asian Correspondent “What happens if the water temperature rises by a few degrees?” is the 2018 International Year of the Reef leading question. While the ocean is the focus, urbanisation is the main reason for the rising temperatures and water pollution. Yet it receives little attention in this discussion. In turn, rising temperatures increase downpours and urban floods, adding to the pressures on urban infrastructure.

Strengthening forest governance is vital for growth of Southeast Asia’s forests – Forest News The Greater Mekong Region (GMS) in the transnational region of the Mekong River Basin in Southeast Asia experienced a 5.1 percent decline in total forest cover from 1990 to 2015, according to a recent study conducted by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Based on current data, this trend is predicted to get worse.

 

CHINA

China Backtracks on Local Coal Ban – Radio Free Asia China’s government has restored heat to hundreds of frigid households after an “improper” ban on burning coal highlighted problems with anti-smog policies for the second year in a row. In early November, an inspection team from the Ministry of Ecology and Environment was sent to the capital of northern China’s Shanxi province following complaints that residents were burning furniture to keep warm, according to state media and independent reports. The problem for households in the Kangle district of Taiyuan city followed a local ban on coal-fired heating, an order that the official English-language China Daily called “improper” in a report on Nov. 23.

China issues white paper on human rights progress over 40 years of reform, opening up – The Straits Times China on Wednesday (Dec 12) issued a white paper on progress in human rights since its reform and opening up drive. The white paper, titled “Progress in Human Rights over the 40 Years of Reform and Opening Up in China”, said reform and opening up has helped liberate and develop social productive forces, opened up a path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and ushered in a new chapter in the development of human rights.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Thailand sets election date, lifts ban on political campaigning – Southeast Asia Globe Voting will take place on 24 February, marking the country’s first national election in eight years. According to a statement published in the Royal Gazette on Tuesday, the military government has also lifted its ban on political campaigning, which has been in place since the junta took power in 2014. “The people and political parties will be able to take part in political activities during this period up to the election in accordance with the constitution,” the statement read. Effective immediately, political parties can begin campaigning for the election in Thailand’s lower house, which will likely see Thailand’s populist party pitted against the military establishment

However Thailand Votes, the Military Is Set to Retain Influence – The Diplomat More than four years after the May 2014 coup, the Thai junta has set a new date for elections: February 2019. Although the military government has frequently postponed elections in the past, it looks likely that the planned ballot will go ahead as all political parties have launched their campaigns, even the pro-junta factions. Will the transitional period bring Thailand on the democratic track? The short answer is “unlikely.”

Weighing up political developments in Vietnam – East Asia Forum This year marked the mid-point between Vietnam’s five yearly National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). The eighth plenum of the CPV Central Committee met in October to initiate planning for the 13th Congress in 2021, appointing five sub-committees charged with drawing up Vietnam’s next socio-economic plan, amending party statutes, and vetting possible candidates for the next Central Committee and Politburo. A number of major domestic political and economic developments in 2018 will weigh heavily on these preparations.

Vietnam an FDI magnet in Southeast Asia: experts – The Nation Vietnam is among the few Asean member countries to consistently improve its attractiveness to foreign investors due to its growing economy and improving business climate, according to experts. The fact that it hosted the 2017 APEC meetings highlights its regional economic integration and steadily improving business climate, he added. Vietnam has been attracting investment in infrastructure, including power projects, road and rail construction and renewable energy.

Returned to persecution: The Vietnamese deportees caught in Trump’s immigration war – Southeast Asia Globe As the Trump administration ramps up deportation numbers, people who fled the Vietnam War are finding themselves caught between two former foes. This is the story of a deportee who has found himself a stranger in a strange land where he is a target for discrimination because of his father’s wartime legacy and his minority ethnicity

Vietnam Seeks Arrest of Activist Over Facebook Posts – The Irrawaddy Police in Vietnam have issued an arrest warrant for an activist accused of trying to overthrow the state by posting pro-democracy materials on Facebook. Nguyen Van Trang, a member of the banned group Brotherhood for Democracy, posted articles, photos and videos on his Facebook account that distorted the policies of the Communist Party and state, and incited people to protest, the Ministry of Public Security said on its website. Several Brotherhood members have been jailed this year since the group was formed in 2013 to “build multi-party democracy” in the Southeast Asian country.

Cambodia’s Opposition Begins to Crack – The Diplomat Cambodia’s merged opposition party teeters on the edge of a damaging split after its self-exiled former leader Sam Rainsy said that he had seized back the party leadership from his successor, Kem Sokha, until his onetime rival-cum-ally is released from house arrest. The decision was announced at a December 1-2 meeting in the U.S. city of Atlanta attended only by the faction of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) with roots in the former leader’s Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), with those linked with Sokha’s Human Rights Party (HRP) boycotting.

Cambodia Seeks To Double Tourism Arrivals By 2025 – Investvine Cambodian has ambitious plans to increase the number of tourism arrivals from six million in 2018 to 12 million by 2025 as it builds two new airports in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and renews, enlarges and modernises the one in Sihanoukville. According to Prime Minister Hun Sen, a new airport for Phnom Penh in Takhmao city, Kandal province, some 30 kilometers southeast of Phnom Penh, funded partly by Chinese loans would create 18,000 jobs.

Myanmar Speeds up Progress on China’s Belt and Road – The Diplomat In late November, Ning Jizhe, deputy head of China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), visited Myanmar and met with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and the minister of planning and finance along with other ministers. A week later, on December 6, the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) implementation steering committee, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, met. Years after the launch of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Myanmar is finally moving rapidly to embrace President Xi Jinping’s project.

Related: China-Myanmar Economic Corridor a ‘Win-Win’ – The Irrawaddy 

‘Dirty List’ Names 49 Firms Doing Business with Military – The Irrawaddy A total of 49 companies worldwide are named and shamed in Burma Campaign UK’s latest “Dirty List” of firms that do business with the Myanmar Military. The list released on Tuesday comprises companies whose operations have been linked to human rights violations or environmental destruction in Myanmar. The companies work in sectors including energy, telecommunications, Internet services, and arms and military equipment, and come from countries including China, Russia, India, Japan, the U.K., France, Norway, Ukraine, the U.S., Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Singapore.

World Bank: East Asian countries must adapt to match most developed nations – Southeast Asia Globe If countries across East Asia intend to sustain the growth of their economies, policy makers are going to need to accommodate a changing global and economic environment, according to a recent World Bank report. At a conference in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, World Bank representatives explained that East Asia’s continued development is not guaranteed in the future. “Despite this progress, countries in the region still have significant gaps in labour productivity, human capital, and living standards compared to high-income countries,” said Victoria Kwakwa, World Bank vice president for East Asia and the Pacific, speaking in Kuala Lumpur.

Philippine Congress extends Mindanao martial law until end-2019 – The Straits Times The Philippine Congress approved a 12-month extension of martial law in the restive Mindanao region on Wednesday (Dec 12), after President Rodrigo Duterte argued for maintaining tough security measures to stop Muslim extremists from regrouping. A joint legislative session voted 235-28 in favour of retaining military rule in Mindanao until the end of next year, prolonging what was already the country’s longest period of martial law since the brutal 1970s era of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Indonesia, Singapore, Burma among world’s ‘most generous’ countries – Asian Correspondent A new survey found that Indonesia, Singapore and Burma (Myanmar) are placed among the top 10 most generous countries in the world based on their likeliness to donate money or volunteer for a humane cause. Washington-based management consulting company Gallup, which recently released it World’s Most Generous Countries Report 2018 found that Indonesia topped the list alongside the more affluent Australia with both having the Highest Civic Engagement Index Score of 59. The Southeast Asian country was even placed higher than “better positioned” New Zealand and the United States which both scored 58 on the index with Ireland and the United Kingdom trailing behind with a score of 56 and 55 respectively.

 

 

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