Regional Roundup for Week of 2.2.2019

EXSE FOCUS

Southeast Asians See China Replacing US as Regional Power, Survey Finds – Radio Free Asia Three-quarters of educated professionals surveyed across the ASEAN bloc say China is the country most likely to fill a vacuum created by a perceived growing lack of American interest in the region, according to a report published by a Singaporean think-tank Tuesday.//While the ISEAS survey illustrated Southeast Asia’s tilt towards China, only nine-percent of respondents see China as “a benign and benevolent power,” and 45.4 percent viewed China as becoming “a revisionist power with an intent to turn Southeast Asia into its sphere of influence.”.

Can ASEAN Play a Greater Role in the Mekong Subregion? – The Diplomat Despite the Mekong subregion’s huge potential, ASEAN has given relatively less attention to the issues concerning this subregion. This is reflected by the slow progress of the ASEAN Mekong Basin Development Cooperation (AMBDC) platform, which was established in 1996. This grouping involves the 10 ASEAN member states and China and it is aimed at enhancing economic and social cooperation in the region.//Untapped potential: Shawn Ho and Kaewkamol Pitakdumrongkit provide two reasons for ASEAN to pay more attention to the Mekong Subregion that shows that ASEAN has nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Bangkok Is Choking on Air Pollution. The Response? Water Cannons. – New York Times The monsoons are no longer lashing Bangkok, in that soggy season when my sons sometimes have to wade through waist-high floods to get to soccer practice.  So why did I get soaked last week, as I walked along a major avenue in the Thai capital?The liquid, which soon flooded one of Bangkok’s busiest intersections, came from water cannons aimed at alleviating the smog that has shrouded Bangkok for weeks.//School’s out: Toxic smog has blanketed Bangkok for weeks forcing government officials to close hundreds of schools and use water cannons to alleviate the smog.  The haze has created far-reaching economic repercussions illustrating how environmental degradation can be costly not only to human health but also to the economy.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Malaysia threatens to freeze out EU over palm oil ban – Nikkei Review The Malaysian government said that a recent regional agreement to upgrade relations with the European Union should be deferred due to an ongoing trade dispute over palm oil, where the EU has been moving to ban the use of palm oil in biofuels, citing deforestation as a reason.

Defense Minister Visit Puts Vietnam-Thailand Military Ties into Focus – The Diplomat Last week, Thailand’s defense minister was in Vietnam for a visit. The visit, which represented the first publicized high-level defense interaction between the two sides in 2019, spotlighted some of the ongoing activity within this aspect of the relationship between the two Southeast Asian states.

Myanmar official suggests downsizing or relocating dam that frayed China ties – The Straits Times A top Myanmar investment official on Tuesday (Jan 29) suggested alternatives such as scaling back or relocating a stalled Chinese-backed dam project that has strained ties between the neighbours.

‘We just can’t pay’: Mahathir soothes China’s ego over Malaysia’s cancelled East Coast Rail Link – South China Morning Post Malaysia would be “impoverished” if it went ahead with the US$20 billion East Coast Rail Link, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Tuesday as he urged Chinese parties behind the financing and building of the project to understand his country’s predicament.

US, China launch high-level trade talks amid deep differences – CNA The United States and China were set to try again on Wednesday to dig out from a damaging trade war with a new round of high-level talks aimed at bridging deep differences over China’s intellectual property and technology transfer policies.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Fish-bombing killing east Sabah’s marine life: WWF – The Straits Times The town of Semporna on the east side of the Malaysian state of Sabah is known for being the gateway to some of the world’s best diving sites, including Mabul Island. However, conservationists warn that fish-bombing is threatening the marine ecosystem there. 

Binh Duong has first wastewater-to-clean water treatment plant – Vietnam News Agency A plant processing industrial wastewater into clean water for daily use and production, the first of its kind in Vietnam, was inaugurated at Song Than 2 industrial park in Di An town, the southern province of Binh Duong on January 26.

Community-based forest management the way forward – Vietnam Plus Forestry experts are optimistic about the future in Vietnam, largely thanks to community-based forest management.  The model is developing extensively in the country, and experts have lauded its ability to increase forest recover, limit deforestation and create income from forests for local people.

Happy eco-campers: protecting wildlife in Cambodia – The Guardian A new eco-tourism camp keeps a remote forest safe from poaching, and offers a laid-back stay with creature comforts

EGAT to float solar panels at dams  – Bangkok Post The state-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) will start installation of floating solar panels in April at five hydropower plants in five provinces.

The miracle method for sustainable rice – and bigger harvests – The Guardian A technique developed by a Jesuit priest is producing bumper crops – and reducing emissions of a grain responsible for 1.5% of greenhouse gases.

Environmental degradation exacerbates Indonesia flooding, landslides – Conservation News Days of torrential rain in an eastern Indonesian province last week unleashed flash floods and landslides that killed dozens of people. In the wake of the emergency, local authorities and environmental activists identified land degradation as a result of farming and mining as a key factor intensifying the impact of the disaster.

Cambodia, looking to the horizon, prepares for drought – UNDP In an effort to reduce the impact of drought on two of Cambodia’s most at-risk provinces, Kampot and Takeo, UNDP Cambodia and DanChurchAid have joined together to establish two new provincial drought information hubs and to train farmers and local communities in climate-resilient agriculture. The initiative marks another in a series of partnerships forged by UNDP under a project strengthening climate information and early warning systems in Cambodia.

CHINA

China’s renewable energy output leaps – The Straits Times By the end of 2018, China’s installed capacity for renewable energy reached 728,000 megawatts (MW), up 12 per cent on a year-on-year basis. It took up 38.3 per cent of the total installed capacity, growing 1.7 percentage points year on year, demonstrating that the alternative role of renewable energy has become increasingly important.

Debt trap could derail China’s high-speed train network – Asia Times They are a symbol of China’s technological prowess and the envy of the world. But the amazing web of high-speed trains is glued together by debt.

China eyes a strategic port in the Philippines – Asia Times A sudden and unexpected bankruptcy has provided China with a unique opportunity to win control of a Philippine port facility at Subic, the former site of US military bases that were closed in 1991 amid a surge of anti-American nationalism at the end of the Cold War.

Reports of Belt and Road’s Death Are Greatly Exaggerated – Foreign Affairs With the vast, ambitious investment project known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China meant to pull the world closer, making itself the political and economic center of gravity for more than 60 countries within the project’s sweep. But domestic and international opposition to the initiative has mounted in the five years since President Xi Jinping announced its start.

China’s Coal Plants Haven’t Cut Methane Emissions as Required, Study Finds – New York Times China, the world’s coal juggernaut, has continued to produce more methane emissions from its coal mines despite its pledge to curb the planet-warming pollutant, according to new research.  In a paper published Tuesday in Nature Communications, researchers concluded that China had failed to meet its own government regulations requiring coal mines to rapidly reduce methane emissions, at least in the five years after 2010, when the regulations were passed.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Thailand’s elections in 2019 will test Prayuth’s political strategy – East Asia Forum The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) continues to extend its term as Thailand’s longest coup regime since the 1960s. Whether junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha will succeed in perpetuating his power will be determined through elections expected in March 2019. 

Corruption rises in Thailand, global watchdog says – The Bangkok Post Thailand dropped to 36 points, one lower than the year before, in Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index for 2018 released on Tuesday. The index ranges from 100 (very clean) to 0 (very corrupt).

Pheu Thai chooses three as PM candidates – The Bangkok Post  Pheu Thai has chosen three as its prime ministerial candidates while pro-regime Palang Pracharath will officially ask Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to be its PM candidate on Friday. The three Pheu Thai PM candidates are former agriculture minister Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, ex-transport minister Chadchart Sittipunt and former justice minister Chaikasem Nitisiri. 

Myitsone Dam ‘Must Be Stopped’: Cardinal Bo – The Irrawaddy The Archbishop of Yangon, Cardinal Charles Bo, said the controversial Chinese-backed Myitsone Dam slated for construction at the source of the Irrawaddy River, known as Myanmar’s lifeline, “must be stopped” to ensure a peaceful future for the country, adding that the construction of the dam would be a “death sentence for the people of Myanmar”.

Cambodia Seeks Opposition Leader’s Arrest Amid EU Sanctions Threat – Voice of America Cambodia renewed calls on Monday for the arrest of veteran opposition chief Sam Rainsy as it faces the threat of sanctions from the European Union, its biggest garment export market worth billions of euros a year, over human rights concerns.

Related: Sar Kheng: Only ‘fifty-fifty’ chance of Rainsy returning – Cambodia Daily

Gag order issued as East Coast Rail Link talks continue – The Straits Times The Malaysian Cabinet has issued a gag order while negotiations with the Chinese contractor of the multi-billion-dollar East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project are ongoing, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said yesterday.

Malaysia enthrones new king after historic abdication – Southeast Asia Globe Malaysia on Thursday installed a new king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, after the last monarch abdicated in a historic first following his reported marriage to a Russian ex-beauty queen

How are Southeast Asians today faring differently to their parents? – Asian Correspondent Southeast Asia has changed dramatically over the last 40 years.  On the doorstep of some of the biggest export markets in the world and on the frontline of tech development, Southeast Asia, with a population of more than 640 million people and an average annual growth rate of 5.2 percent, is now considered the place to do business.

Chinese company consults locals over Mekong blasting – China Dialogue The red-robed monk sat impatiently at the front of the consultation meeting in Chiang Saen, northern Thailand. Once the representatives from China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) had finished their presentation he stood up and scolded them for taking too long.

Related: Chinese firm fails to convince locals over Mekong blasting – The Third Pole

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

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