Regional Roundup for Week of 2.22.19

EXSE FOCUS

Waste-to-energy: A renewable opportunity for Southeast Asia? – China Dialogue Southeast Asia’s urban population is projected to rise to nearly 400 million by 2030, requiring significant investment in waste management to cope with the increase in garbage. The growth in electricity demand is also prompting countries to more than double generation capacity by 2040.// Courtney Weatherby explores the possibilities of waste-to-energy waste management in Southeast Asia and explains that the region should explore different technologies with fewer environmental impacts than incineration.

Review: The river rebels of the Mekong – Third Pole The Mekong is the world’s 12th-longest river, second only to the Amazon in terms of biodiversity importance, and the world’s most productive inland fishery. It is also a transboundary river – rising from the glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau, in China, before tumbling down through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia and emptying into the South China Sea, in Vietnam. The Mekong is therefore a critical point of contestation, or cooperation, between the six states that share its resources.// Review of Stimson’s Brian Eyler’s book Last Days of the Mighty Mekong.

China’s Growing Role in Southeast Asia Reopens Old Wounds – RADII I’ve traveled quite a bit through Southeast Asia this winter. It is evident views of China are changing — and not always for the better.  At a temple in Luang Phabang, the cultural heart of Laos and a former imperial capital, I eavesdropped as a local guide herded two American tourists through the courtyard and into the large hall. “There used to be a large, gold Buddha here,” the guide solemnly intoned. “But now it’s gone. The Chinese came, sacked our city, and stole all of our treasures.”// This narrative journey through Southeast Asia illustrates how impacts from Belt and Road projects and divergent views of history have caused China’s reputation to take a hit in the region.

China’s BRI negatively impacting the environment – ASEAN Post While its economic benefits and geopolitical implications are often splashed across the front pages of national newspapers worldwide, the impact of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) on the environment receives much less attention.// Side effects of the BRI: Loss of livelihood, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and water and air pollution have been cited as the unintended consequences of the BRI in Southeast Asia.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Vietnamese Intellectuals Call On Trump For Support in South China Sea Dispute – Radio Free Asia A group of 100 Vietnamese intellectuals and activists penned a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump urging him to help thwart China’s gradual takeover of the South China Sea, where Hanoi and Beijing are embroiled in maritime territorial disputes.

US, Cambodia in War of Words Over Detained Opposition Leader – Radio Free Asia Cambodia and the United States sparred this weekend over comments appearing on a U.S. embassy Facebook page criticizing the Cambodian government’s continued detention of the leader of a now-banned opposition party.

Hungarian expertise tapped for managing Mekong – The Nation Hungary, which has had success in resolving water-management issues with its neighbours in eastern and central Europe that share the Danube River, has been asked to help Thailand work out a plan for the Mekong.

Trade war hits SE Asia, growth down for first time in 3 years – Nikkei Asian Review Southeast Asia’s growth rate declined in 2018, falling for the first time in three years, as some countries were hit by external and domestic headwinds that could continue to weigh on the region this year.

China-Australia relations ‘will not be helped’ by foreign influence register – News Feed Australia’s new foreign influence register – which comes into force on March 1 – will have a negative effect on its relations with China, analysts have said, after a former Australian trade minister walked away from his Chinese consultancy role a week before the deadline.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

The race to save Myanmar’s Inle Lake – Southeast Asia Globe Myanmar’s famed Inle Lake has enchanted tourists for decades with its floating gardens and the graceful leg-rowing style of its fisherman, but experts warn the lake is drying up and urgent action is needed to avoid disaster.

How green technology is fuelling Cambodia’s eco-friendly flying – Southeast Asia Globe Southeast Asia Globe speaks with Emirates’ commercial manager in Cambodia, Abdulla Adnan, about what the world’s airlines can do to reduce their carbon footprint

The teak kingpin and corruption in the timber trade – Frontier Myanmar A Hong Kong man who became a shadowy teak kingpin and made millions of dollars from corrupt trade in the coveted timber paid for the overseas education of top officials in Myanmar’s ruling junta, an investigation by an environmental watchdog has alleged in a sensational exposé.

Activists up in arms over new factory law – The Nation The pollution crisis will only worsen if the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) pushes through the revised Factory Act, environmentalists warned yesterday. Several environment protection groups called on the NLA to reject the bill and avoid taking the country down a path of environmental and health dystopia. 

A new method to help track the Mekong’s rare wildlife – Southeast Asia Globe Scientists are rapidly developing new DNA-methods to identify what kind of life is present in rivers, lakes and the ocean. Advocates of the method claim that it has the potential to revolutionise the way environmental monitoring is done.

Thailand advances Asean energy partnership  – Bangkok Post As Asean chair for 2019, Thailand is expected to excel in leading the grouping to collectively address regional issues. Announced by Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha last year, the current chairmanship theme of “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability” carries a significant message for the regional cooperation. 

Thailand in need of ‘Energy 4.0’ – Asian Development Blog The transformative potential enabled by the intersection of clean energy technologies and the interconnected digital economy offers an ideal platform for powering “Thailand 4.0.” Adopted by the Thai government in 2016, “Thailand 4.0” is a model for growth that aims to transition Thailand into a high-income country through an economy centered around knowledge, innovation, and value addition.

New Species of orangutan threatened from moment of its discovery – Mongabay News For months, rumors had been flying around in the communities of conservationists and biologists. Something big was coming. Then, in November 2017, the bombshell officially dropped: Researchers had confirmed the identification of a new great ape, the eighth such species alive today known to science.

Latest survey finds 72 dolphins in Ayeyarwady – Myanmar Times A survey by the Wildlife Conservation Society of Myanmar (WCS Myanmar) has counted 72 Irrawaddy dolphins inhabiting the Ayeyarwady River between Mandalay and Bhamaw in Kachin State. The Department of Fisheries and WCS Myanmar conducted the survey of Irrawaddy dolphins from February 6 to 16, said WCS Myanmar spokesperson U Kyaw Hla Thein.

CHINA

China’s capital Beijing vows air quality improvement but gives no target – The Straits Times China’s capital city Beijing has pledged to improve air quality this year but did not commit to a specific target, suggesting the country’s air-pollution campaign is stalling as the easily attainable measures have already been taken.

‘China’s World Bank’ is making it easier to complain – China Dialogue In a riverside village near the Shwe Taung cement plant in Myanmar, a white suggestion box is nailed to the wall of the company’s office. Villagers can slip paper into the box to lodge complaints about problems they attribute to the plant, such as the diminishing water or air quality. But company staff and locals are unclear about how or if their queries would be addressed.

Global ambitions fuel China’s nuclear power strategy – East Asia Forum Over the past several years, there has been a monumental shift in China’s energy policy towards nuclear power. And Beijing’s nuclear ambitions aren’t limited to its own borders. Its ‘Made in China 2025’ blueprint envisages vastly expanding China’s role in nuclear power generation in developing economies worldwide.

Explained: Belt and Road Initiative – News Feed The “Belt and Road Initiative” is a vast China-centred strategy to grow global trade that involves dozens of countries and more than US$1 trillion in investment. It spans Asia, Europe and Africa, although projects in other regions have also been named under its banner.

Consumers in China are getting more cautious about data privacy – Asian Correspondent CHINA is an interesting country in the digital ecosystem of Asia. Bigger than its neighbours, China is a digital behemoth in itself — unique in every way — with its own regulatory challenges. Residents are subjected to strict censorship laws, their actions (and every move) monitored by CCTV cameras, and their behavior scrutinised by artificial intelligence (AI), but new laws also promise a great deal of data privacy and information security.

Investors upbeat but scepticism over BRI growing – ASEAN Post The ongoing Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that’s taking place all over the world has got investors excited. A survey by London-based international tax and law firm, CMS, reveals that there is a growing sense of confidence among Chinese and international investors about the future of the BRI.

China’s prosecutors are litigating government agencies for being soft on pollution – China Dialogue On New Year’s Day, the government of Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in north-west China’s Qinghai province, issued an official notice banning the release of non-native fish species in the waters of the Sanjiangyuan, the source of the Yangtze, Mekong and Yellow rivers.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Thaksin-linked Thai opposition Pheu Thai party undeterred after ally’s failed princess bid – The Straits Times Leaders of Thailand’s biggest opposition party campaigning on Monday (Feb 18) never mentioned ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whose policies they espouse, nor the princess whose shock candidacy could see its ally banned from the March 24 election.

Summit throws spotlight on Vietnam as strategic player – The Straits Times With days to go before the highly anticipated second meeting between United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un takes place in Hanoi, the summit venue has sparked a fervent guessing game.

ASEAN Subregionalism in Focus with BIMP-EAGA Anniversary – The Diplomat A recent development reinforced the ongoing work to advance one of Southeast Asia’s under noticed subregional institutions.

List of Approved Candidates for Yangon Election Released – The Irrawaddy The Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) on Monday released a list of the 274 candidates for the March 31 municipal election.  They include candidates for the ruling National League for Democracy, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party and some independents.

A new paradigm for a changing world order  – Bangkok Post The latest air pollution crisis has been a wake-up call to the way we in this country think about the need for a more environmentally friendly development strategy.  Yet one aspect overlooked was that this problem is a common challenge for all countries in the region and has a transnational dimension.

Laos villagers rebuild their lives after shocking dam collapse – IFRC A little over six months ago the world watched in horror as a massive dam wall collapsed in Laos. It was late July 2018 when powerful flash floods caused by the collapse of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydropower dam hit more than 13,000 people in the southern province of Attapeu, Lao PDR. The floodwaters swept away the homes of more than 6,000 people and left behind mud and rocks on farmlands which had been the source of livelihoods and income for many families in the region.

ERC speeds operation of Laos hydropower project  – Bangkok Post The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) is planning to accelerate power distribution from the Xayaburi hydroelectric power project in Laos ahead of schedule as the regulator wants to curb the overall power tariff.

Provincial Lawmakers in Laos Call for More Scrutiny of Foreign Firms – Radio Free Asia Lawmakers in Laos are urging the government to be stricter on foreign business entities in the country in an effort to protect the environment and protect the livelihood of the people.

Malaysia’s Mahathir Overpowers Coalition Partners – Asia Sentinel There is growing uneasiness in Malaysia that the ethnic chauvinism of the United Malays National Organization under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad during his first 22 years in power is rising to overpower the platform of multiracialism and ending political corruption that defeated the country’s founding coalition last May 9.

5 countries leading Southeast Asia’s fintech revolution – Southeast Asia Globe Southeast Asia’s fintech market is among the fastest-growing in the world, with estimates placing expected market growth to reach between $70 billion and $100 billion by 2020. Fintech investments in Southeast Asia shot up by more than 30% over the course of 2018 to reach nearly $6 billion, while some estimates state that the overall Internet economy across the region increased by 44% last year compared to 2017.

Few Takers as Cambodia Tries to Lure Back Banned Opposition Politicians – Radio Free Asia Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior on Thursday issued detailed instructions for the political rehabilitation of lawmakers from the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), but a party official said it had no interest in returning while leader Kem Sokha remained in jail.

Delayed dam project awaits resolution in Myanmar – Global Times Though Myanmar officials have expressed their appreciation for the benefits of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Chinese analysts noted that more practical outcomes should be delivered apart from optimistic plans, as some BRI projects still face uncertainty in the Southeast Asian country.

WB pledges to support Vietnam in infrastructure development – Vietnam Plus The World Bank (WB) is willing to cooperate and support Vietnam in infrastructure development, and wants to share Vietnam’s experience with other countries in this sphere, said WB Vice President for Infrastructure Makhtar Diop.

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

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