Regional Roundup for Week of 12.7.18

EXSE FOCUS

Southeast Asia’s Clean Energy Challenge – The Diplomat December 12 marks the third anniversary of the Paris Agreement, a compact intended to catalyze a global reduction in carbon emissions. Yet all the statistics suggest the problem is getting worse: the latest report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggests 2018 is likely to set a new record for carbon emissions. This stat is all the more surprising, and alarming, since 2017 saw record levels of renewable energy installation.

Related: Major Cities Can Fight Climate Change and Make Billions: Researchers – The Irrawaddy

Report: Thailand most unequal country in 2018 – The Bangkok Post Thailand has overtaken Russia and India as the most unequal country in the latest survey by a Swiss bank. Banyong Pongpanich, chairman of Phatra Securities, posted on Facebook on Wednesday the findings of the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2018 conducted on 40 countries. He expressed concern about the trend. Two years ago, Thailand ranked third in the report, after Russia and India. He expressed concern about the trend. Two years ago, Thailand ranked third in the report, after Russia and India.

Cambodia may ease grip on opposition as EU threats loom – The Bangkok Post Cambodia said Monday that banned opposition members may be allowed back into political life and shuttered media outlets could reopen as the EU considers pulling a trade deal the country is loath to lose. Numerous activists, journalists and government critics were released from jail in the months after strongman Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party won all parliamentary seats in July elections held without the main opposition party.

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Watch out for Asean’s new Indo-Pacific – The Bangkok Post If everything goes as planned, members of the United Nations Security Council will have a rendezvous in Bangkok at the end of 2019. Asean leaders will use the occasion to display to the world’s most powerful players their collective leadership on the new vision of an Asia-wide region stretching from South Asia to Northeast Asia. Even though it is still nearly a year away, preparations for the first meeting between Asean leaders and the Big 5 (the council’s five permanent members) have already started in earnest.

Related: Asean ‘must bolster maritime strength’ – The Bangkok Post

The meager truth of China’s aid to the Philippines – Asia Times When Chinese President Xi Jinping made a landmark visit to the Philippines last month, many expected the leader to make good on a previous reported pledge to deliver as much as US$24 billion in aid and investment on his host. Despite a slew of new signed agreements, Xi’s visit failed to clarify China’s commitment to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s expansionary economic agenda, including his much ballyhooed “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure-building scheme.

Laos, Cambodia pledge to enhance cooperation – Vietnam Plus Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith and his Cambodian counterpart Samdech Techo Hun Sen reaffirmed their commitments to strengthening bilateral friendship, solidarity, and cooperation during their talks in Vientiane on December 5. Speaking highly of the bilateral friendship and collaboration over the past years, both sides discussed joint work across national defence-security, consular work, public administration-transportation, culture-tourism, trade-investment, border issues, and the economic cooperation in the Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam development triangle, as well as regional and global issues of shared concern.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Vietnam’s wind power tariffs attractive, but grid capacity a major concern – VN Express Vietnam’s new feed-in tariffs are attracting great interest in wind power, but investors are concerned about grid connection and purchase agreements. The new feed-in tariffs (FIT) are expected to be attractive to domestic and foreign investors, Tommaso Rovatti Studihard, South East Asia sales director for wind power developer Vestas Asia Pacific, told VnExpress International. The government recently approved tariff revisions under Decision 39 on support mechanisms for the development of wind power.

Kien Giang pilots to place artificial reefs around Phu Quoc – Vietnam Plus The Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang has coordinated with Thailand to place artificial reefs in waters around Phu Quoc island to restore, preserve, and develop local fisheries resources. The pilot project, which was approved by the Kien Giang People’s Committee in October 2017, received the consultation of the Nha Trang Institute of Oceanography. Quang Trong Thao, Vice Director of the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said that Kien Giang has sent officials to Thailand to learn their experience in placing artificial reefs.

Related: Vietnam hosts roundtable on climate, security in Netherlands – Vietnam Plus

Water firms told to expand network or lose license – Khmer Times The government yesterday threatened to withdraw the licenses of private water operators that fail to expand their operations in rural areas and are not contributing to enhancing access to clean water in the country. Cham Prasidh, the Minister of Industry and Handicraft, said water companies that are not expanding their networks into rural areas are failing to fulfill the responsibilities they acquired when they earn their licenses, and stand in the way of the government’s goal to provide access to clean water for everyone.

Thailand’s Biggest Wind Power Generator Plans Solar, Hydro Expansion – Jakarta Globe Thailand’s biggest wind power generator, Wind Energy Holdings, or WEH, plans to invest into other sources of electricity including solar, hydro and biomass to back up its capacity, its chief executive told Reuters in an interview. Thailand has emerged as Southeast Asia’s leading developer of renewable electricity, with providers obliged to guarantee minimum levels of supply. “The problem with wind in this region is it tends to be night-time wind, so we do need something to balance that mix,” said chief executive Emma Collins. She added that five onshore wind farms with a capacity of 90 megawatts (MW) each would be operational this year, boosting WEH’s total capacity in Thailand to 720 MW.

Laos looks to increase electricity export – Vietnam Plus Lao media on November 30 quoted a report by the country’s Minister of Energy and Mines Khammani Inthilath as saying that it is looking to increase electricity export in the time to come. The country can ensure supply of electricity for domestic consumption and the export of this form of energy creates a stable source of income for Laos. The minister’s report further said currently Laos is continuing to develop 36 hydropower projects which will be completed in 2020 with a combined capacity of 4,184.10 MW, adding 20,892.99 Kwh to the national grid.

Chinese-Owned Cement Factories Pollute Lao Villages – Radio Free Asia Two Chinese-owned cement factories in the Vang Vieng district of Laos’ Vientiane Province are covering approximately 900 local families in at least four villages with dust and smog, threatening their health, local sources say. The affected villages of the northwestern province include Khanmark, Houa Ngam, Phonesoung and Markkham. Villagers say that trucks hauling stones to the factories throughout the day are kicking up dust, which has a negative effect on the air quality in and around houses along the roads. This is compounded by other kinds of dust created during the cement production process. Pollution from the factories themselves is also a serious problem. 

Myanmar coal mining ‘causing environmental disasters’ – Aljazeera Farmers in Myanmar’s Shan State say coal mining operations are causing widespread environmental damage. Bordering China and Laos, Shan State is home to several ethnic groups and is only partly under the control of Myanmar’s government. Activists warn that pollution levels are increasing as mining operations across the state continue to grow.

Is Asia’s media reporting the real causes of air pollution? – Eco-Business It is a little odd that a problem that kills 4.7 million Asians a year doesn’t make many headlines. Particularly since the culprit—air pollution—is more severe in Asia than anywhere in the world. Air pollution kills more Vietnamese than motorbike accidents, more Indonesians than malnutrition, and more Filipinos than guns. In fact, Asia accounts for 60 per cent of the world’s population, but two-thirds of all air pollution deaths. So why don’t air pollution stories excite editors much here? It is a question that puzzled delegates at the Better Air Quality (BAQ) Conference in Kuching in November.

Will China’s waste ban force a global clean up? – East Asia Forum China’s announcement in July 2017 of a ban on waste imports sent shockwaves through the global recycling industry. Until 2017, China and Hong Kong had imported an estimated 70 per cent of the world’s plastic and electronic waste, and 37 per cent of the world’s paper waste. Now they were pledging to raise import standards to a level where virtually all waste imports would be banned. Under a new ban on solid waste imports that will take effect on 31 December 2018, standards have become even stricter, but the same question remains: can the government effectively enforce the waste ban in the long-term?

 

CHINA

Xi unusually omitted China’s BRI from his G20 remarks – Asia Times The talking point of the recent summit of the Group of Twenty leading economies in Buenos Aires was that, on its sidelines, US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping reached an agreement to pause the trade war between the world’s two biggest economies. Such a trade truce was struck only because the two leaders, notably Xi, significantly tempered their stance and rhetoric. The Chinese president’s softened stand was evidenced by his long list of concessions. It was also somewhat manifested in his decision to exclude the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) from his remarks at the G20 summit.

Related: From growth opportunity to threat: how the world has changed its mind on China’s belt and road – South China Morning Post

China, UK publish guidelines to make Belt & Road construction greener – China Daily The Green Finance Committee (GFC) of the China Society for Finance and Banking and the City of London’s Green Finance Initiative (GFI) on Friday jointly published a set of green finance guidelines for the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Green Investment Principles were published here at the third meeting of the UK-China Green Finance Taskforce, chaired by Dr Ma Jun, chairman of the GFC of the China Society for Finance and Banking, who also sits on the People’s Bank of China Monetary Policy Committee, and Sir Roger Gifford, chairman of the GFI.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Prayut warms to PPRP as poll looms – The Bangkok Post Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has hinted that the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) may be his preferred choice if he decides to become a prime ministerial candidate on the ticket of any party. Gen Prayut also said he will give a clear answer about whether he will enter the political fray after the ban on political activities is lifted. “If I am approached, I’ll consider any party which works in sync with what we’re doing now,” Gen Prayut said.

Vietnam’s new power monopoly – East Asia Forum Vietnam’s top leadership positions, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) and the president, are traditionally held by two different people. This separation ceased to exist on 23 October 2018, when the National Assembly elected General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong as president, filling the vacancy created by the sudden death of former president Tran Dai Quang on 21 September. While unusual, this is not the first time that a leader has worn the dual hat. From 1951–69, and during the latter half of 1986, Ho Chi Minh and Truong Chinh were respectively party chief-cum-head of state. What is unprecedented, though, is that Trong is the first to be the chair of both the Central Military Commission and the Central Party Commission for Public Security.

Behold the rise of Cambodia’s political princelings – Asia Times The Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia (UYFC), an organization with tight ties to the country’s long-ruling party, had plenty to be pleased about after its recently concluded annual congress. First, it earned a place in the Guinness World Records for the fifth time for building the world’s longest dragon boat, which was rowed along Phnom Penh’s stretch of the Mekong at the annual Water Festival in November. The UYFC also arguably set a local record for dynastic promotions inside the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), Prime Minister Hun Sen’s vehicle for his recent consolidation of a one-party state and eventual handover of power to one of his offspring.

‘We Can’t Go Anywhere’: Myanmar Closes Rohingya Camps but ‘Entrenches Segregation’ – The Irrawaddy As the world was focused on abortive efforts to begin repatriating hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar last month, hundreds of their fellow Muslims still in Myanmar were boarding boats seeking to escape the country. Their attempted flight cast the spotlight back on 128,000 Rohingya and other displaced Muslims still living in crowded camps in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine, six years after Buddhist mobs razed most of their homes. The government of Aung San Suu Kyi, under international pressure to address their plight, says it is now closing the camps on the grounds that doing so will help development and put the labor of camp residents to good use.

Tatmadaw, Arakan Army Clash in Buthidaung Township – The Irrawaddy The Myanmar Army and the Arakan Army (AA) have engaged in a series of clashes over the past six days or so along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, according to the ethnic armed group. “The two sides engaged in a fierce clash from 6.30 a.m. till 2 p.m. [Wednesday], and the fighting continued sporadically [till evening],” AA information officer U Khaing Thu Kha told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday. The clashes occurred in Rakhine State’s Buthidaung Township, he said.

The X Factors in Indonesia’s Presidential Race – The Diplomat With a GDP of more than $1 trillion, a population of 264 million, and diverse natural resources, Indonesia is one of the most dynamic economies in Southeast Asia. It is also one of the region’s most robust democracies. The 2019 elections will see a rematch of the 2014 vote. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, the nation’s first leader from outside the political and military elite, is once again facing Prabowo Subianto, a former lieutenant general and establishment figure who chairs the Gerindra Party.

Indonesia woos China investors with BRI projects – The Straits Times Indonesia is offering new projects worth up to US$60 billion (S$82 billion) to Chinese investors in a bid to capitalise on Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a senior official has said, despite growing concern over the strings attached to some of the loans. Despite Indonesia’s strategic location, South-east Asia’s largest economy has not been among the biggest beneficiaries of China’s trillion-dollar push to create a modern-day Silk Road. Its best-known BRI project is a US$6 billion railway linking the capital city of Jakarta to the textile hub of Bandung, which has faced land procurement problems.

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