Regional Roundup for Week of 2.15.19

EXSE FOCUS

Thai King’s Sister Is Formally Barred From Running for Prime Minister – New York Times Thailand’s election commission on Monday disqualified the king’s sister from running for prime minister, formally putting an end to a candidacy that had briefly upended the nation’s political landscape.  King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, 66, had publicly opposed the candidacy of his elder sister, Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Varnavadi, 67, effectively preordaining the election commission’s decision.//With the long-awaited election coming up on March 24th, Thai Princess Ubolratana’s bid for Prime Minister reminds Thais that the divisions that have corroded Thai politics for more than a decade are more than likely to continue.

Tough policing is restoring Indonesia’s fisheries – China Dialogue Five years ago the world’s most populous archipelago nation started taking action against the decimation of its fish stocks. Indonesia’s waters were being plundered by vessels from nearby countries, particularly China and Thailand, but also Taiwan, South Korea and Malaysia.//Indonesia’s aggressive strategy to curbing IUU fishing practices has been effective. However, it is apparent that more active cooperation from China is necessary if long-lasting impacts are to be made on IUU fishing issues in the region. 

Troubled waters: World rivers under threat – The Financial Times We are going to hear more about rivers in the years ahead. Almost all the waterways on which our civilisations were built — and on which they still depend — are under threat in the Anthropocene era, from the Nile and the Euphrates to the Ganges, the Yangtze and the Murray-Darling.//Review of Stimson’s Brian Eyler’s book Last Days of the Mighty Mekong.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Navigating ASEAN’s economic priorities – East Asia Forum Southeast Asian economies may face major economic headwinds this year amid US–China trade tensions and US Federal Reserve interest rate increases. To help weather the impact, ASEAN member states should prioritise progress on regional economic initiatives.

Brexit and EU sanctions threaten to push Cambodia into economic crisis – Nikkei Asian Review Cambodia is teetering on the verge of economic crisis, as it faces higher export tariffs into Britain due to Brexit at a time when the European Union is considering suspending duty-free access to punish Prime Minister Hun Sen for political suppression.  The first wave of economic damage is expected to become evident by the spring if Phnom Penh loses preferential tariff treatment from the U.K.

Related: Cambodia PM Hun Sen blasts ‘interference’ as EU trade deal threatens country’s garment industry – The Straits Times

Trump’s foreign policy wreckage in Asia – Asian Correspondent If the past year is any indication of the year ahead, US policy in Asia will be erratic and self-serving. The beginnings of an Indo-Pacific strategy notwithstanding, the Trump administration continues to work out its issues with countries in the region bilaterally and sporadically.

US-Asean Partnership Forum: Common values or shared interests? Experts weigh in – The Straits Times Two differing views emerged from discussions at an international relations forum yesterday on what kind of concept the new regional Indo-Pacific initiative should adopt: Should it stress common values, such as democracy and human rights, or should it go bold on shared interests like economic benefits?

Related: Young leaders see challenges in US-Asean ties – The Straits Times

US commander pushes for more funding to counter China’s influence in Indo-Pacific – South China Morning Post The US Indo-Pacific commander has urged America’s strategic decision-making body to increase financial investment in the region to counter China’s expanding economic and military influence.  “Through fear and coercion, Beijing is working to expand its form of ideology in order to bend, break and replace the existing rules-based international order,” Admiral Phil Davidson told a panel at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday.

Myanmar: A New Pattern of China-Japan Interactions? – The Diplomat If Japan and China focus on different rail systems in Myanmar, can their division of labor create a new pattern for cooperation?

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Agri-tourism attracts more visitors to Mekong Delta – Vietnam Net The Mekong Delta, which is the country’s largest agricultural production area, has great potential to develop ecotourism. It has been listed among the best destinations to visit in 2019 by the US travel magazine Condé Nast Traveler. The delta attracts millions of visitors each year thanks to its cultural diversity, natural beauty and a large range of tourism products.

10th Meeting of Advisory Group on Climate Change and Sustainable Development Held at ADB – Asian Development Bank The Advisory Group’s discussions focused on the results and implications of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C for developing member countries (DMCs) and ADB’s work in the Asia and Pacific region. The group also considered approaches for effectively tackling climate change, building climate and disaster resilience, and enhancing environmental sustainability.

The potential of floating solar power – The ASEAN Post Thailand is the latest country in Southeast Asia to recognise the untapped potential of floating solar technology after the state-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) announced five pilot projects last month.

Việt Nam takes action to reduce plastic waste – Vietnam News Việt Nam is one of Asia’s five worst polluters of ocean plastic waste, according to international organisations. With 13 million tonnes of waste released to the ocean every year, the country ranks 17th in the world for ocean plastic waste pollution.

Laos endorses national green growth strategy – Xinhua News Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith signed a decree on the strategy last week, marking a significant milestone in the national development approach, which seeks to deliver environmentally friendly, sustainable and socially inclusive growth.

Vietnam mulls multi-layered FIT scheme as it kicks energy transition into gear – PV Magazine The shape of Vietnam’s solar policy after its FIT regime expires in June will be one of the most hotly anticipated PV developments in Southeast Asia.  According to a draft decision released by the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the 20-year FIT of $0.0935/kWh introduced in April 2017, and valid for projects that achieve commercial operation before June 30, could be replaced with a two-year solar tariff, which would take into consideration various irradiation levels.

CHINA

China’s Energy Efficiency Claims Questioned – Radio Free Asia After a year of concern over increased carbon emissions, China has claimed another gain in energy efficiency, raising questions about how it achieved the results. On Jan. 21, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) announced that energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product fell 3.1 percent in 2018, exceeding the government’s target of 3 percent for the year.

The impact of polluted air on life expectancy – China Dialogue How much longer could you expect to live if you breathed clean air? If you’re in north-east China then it could be three or more years, according to the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), which was launched last month in Beijing by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC).

China’s Trade Practices Spawn Tough Questions But No Easy Solutions – The Diplomat China’s problematic policies are clear enough – but how to respond is a much trickier question. Three recent reports help illuminate the complexity of the problems currently facing the global trade system, and the elusiveness of tidy solutions.

China’s ‘ham-handed’ PR moves hurt its global image – Nikkei Asian Review Over the past 20 years, China has leveraged its economic growth and practiced deft diplomacy to craft an image as a responsible member of the global community. More recently, the political chaos of the Donald Trump presidency and Brexit have made China appear to be a steadying presence in a changing world.

China’s environmental crime arrests soar in 2018 – South China Morning Post China arrested 15,095 people for environmental crimes in 2018, up 51.5 per cent from a year earlier, the country’s top prosecuting body said on Thursday, as it worked to improve compliance among local governments and enterprises.

Melting glaciers spell more disaster for China and South Asia – China Dialogue Glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region could lose over a third of their volume by 2100 even if the world manages to keep global warming below 1.5C, according to a report by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).  If the global average temperature hits 2C then 49% of the volume of these glaciers will be lost.

Will China let Belt and Road die quietly? – Nikkei Asian Review Xi’s global investment program faces domestic criticism amid economic and fiscal worries.  The news for China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been unrelentingly bad.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Southeast Asia’s Battle Against Disinformation – The Diplomat Disinformation campaigns have entered the agenda of many states around the globe. As countries continue to introduce solutions, there may emerge a gap among various countries in terms of their capacities to respond to disinformation campaigns. As disinformation campaigns enter the agenda of the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) as a security concern, inequalities in member countries’ approach to, apprehensions about, and competence to counter disinformation campaigns may impede regional collaboration on the issue.

Smog in Thailand set to ease, but summer brings water shortage fears – The Straits Times Winter in Thailand will be over next week, the Meteorological Department announced on Monday (Feb 11). Even though the smog problem is expected to improve nationwide once winter ends, the arrival of summer brings along a new problem – water shortage.

Survivors of Laos’ PNPC Dam Disaster Still Struggling – Radio Free Asia Survivors of a July 2018 dam disaster described as Laos’ worst flooding in decades are still dealing with physical and mental hardship, according to an official of a South Korean-led relief effort.

How Southeast Asia ranks in cybersecurity – Southeast Asia Globe A recent report of 60 countries worldwide, released by UK-based tech research company Comparitech, has ranked six of Southeast Asia’s countries among both the worst and best in terms of cybersecurity. We break down how ready Southeast Asia is to stare down cyber attacks.

What the Turmoil in Thailand Reveals About the Thai Monarchy – Council on Foreign Relations Thai politics continues to be drawn along the monarchy’s fault lines, following the recent dramatic events, which exposed deep conflicts between opposing monarchical factions. The newly established party of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Thai Raksa Chart, tested the waters by proposing a candidate for the premiership. This candidate happened to be the eldest daughter of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Princess Ubolratana.

Reversing Cambodia’s democratic drift – East Asia Forum Cambodia is drifting towards autocracy with a clear trend. An unprecedented crackdown on independent media, civil society and the country’s major opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), hardly suggest otherwise. Whether Hun Sen’s government likes it or not, similar observations about Cambodia will continue to emerge.

Trump-Kim 2: Why Hanoi? – The Diplomat What can we tell from the decision to select Hanoi as the venue for the second Trump-Kim meeting? 

Long-suffering residents call for completion of road works – Vientiane Times People living alongside a 9.4-km road that is in the process of being upgraded have taken to social media to express their dissatisfaction with the perpetual clouds of dust that engulf them while the road remains unsurfaced.  The road in question runs from the Tanmixay crossroads in Xaythany district to the Sikeuth junction in Naxaithong district, Vientiane.

China signs off on special funds projects – The Khmer Times The Chinese government has provided more than $7.66 million to Cambodia through the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Special Fund 2018. Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn and Chinese Ambassador Wang Wentian yesterday signed agreement for the funds. Most of the money will cover activities related to capacity building, education, research and exchange programs at the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Tanintharyi to ‘Discipline’ Local Officials – The Irrawaddy State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi warned that her government would take “decisive action” against officials who harm the public interest during a trip Wednesday to Tanintharyi Region, where a crowd urged her to sack the local chief minister.

Displaced Families in Vietnam’s Loc Hung Community Accept Compensation – Radio Free Asia A majority of the families displaced by the January demolitions in Ho Chi Minh City’s Loc Hung Vegetable Garden settlement are accepting compensation from Vietnamese authorities, officials said on Thursday.  In a two-day operation at the beginning of last month, authorities demolished at least 112 houses in the settlement in Tanh Binh district claimed by the Catholic Church, where sources say political dissidents and veterans of the former Army of South Vietnam had made their homes.

This week’s news digest was curated by Kathryn Hundley.

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