Regional Roundup for Week of 2.8.19

EXSE FOCUS

A river’s end – Mekong Review In River Road to China, I wrote of the French colonial explorer Francis Garnier, second in command of the great Mekong River Expedition of the 1860s, confessing to having a monomanie du Mékong, an obsession with the great river. He had initially hoped that the Mekong might be a trade route into China from Vietnam.// Milton Osborne reviews Stimson’s Brian Eyler’s book Last Days of the Mighty Mekong.

The Mekong region is caught in a tug-of-war – East Asia Forum For the Mekong countries, including Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam, 2018 was a big year both domestically and regionally. Key developments from last year will inevitably continue to shape the politics of the region in 2019. In terms of domestic affairs, the most worrying trend is the consolidation of autocratic power in almost all countries.// The consolidation of autocratic power in almost all countries in the Mekong region paired with the unstable relationship between the United States and China has the potential to have a large impact on the region both economically and politically.

‘The world trusts us’: Vietnamese proud to host Trump-Kim summit – The Straits Times Vietnamese young and old expressed their delight on Wednesday (Feb 6) after hearing their country had been chosen for the second face-to-face meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.// The second Trump-Kim summit, which is set to be held in Vietnam, is being met with much anticipation and wariness.  The summit will be decisive for the future of the Korean Peninsula and many hope it will be more constructive than the first meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

China-Cambodia Military Fears in the Headlines with New US Intelligence Report – The Diplomat Last week, the suggestion that Cambodia could move towards changing its constitution to facilitate growing Chinese military presence in the country led to another series of headlines about Beijing’s rising influence in the Southeast Asian state. While such worries are far from new, their continued articulation by U.S. officials reinforces the extent of the concern around such developments as well as the wider trends that they represent within the Indo-Pacific.

US-China Relations in Flux: The Road to a Showdown – The Diplomat Two great powers stand toe-to-toe. America calls China a cheat, taking advantage of the U.S.-supported international system to grow wealthy and strong while trampling its rules. China counters that the Trump administration is bullying China through “unilateralism, protectionism, and economic hegemonism,” hearkening back to Beijing’s accusations that the United States is attempting to contain China as it did the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Chinese hunger for durians blamed for deforestation in Malaysia – The Straits Times Soaring demand for durians in China is being blamed for a new wave of deforestation in Malaysia with environmentalists warning vast amounts of jungle is being cleared to make way for massive plantations of the spiky, pungent fruit.

EU ban on Chinese technology in 5G revolution would hit trade, investment and cooperation, analysts say – South China Morning Post Trade, investment and scientific cooperation between Europe and China are at risk of taking a “big step back” as the European Union considers banning Chinese telecom giant Huawei, analysts said. Beijing has hinted at retaliation should the European Union go ahead with the ban. The 28-member bloc is planning ways to ban Chinese firms from work to develop its 5G networks, and that might spell trouble for joint efforts to test 5G in China and Europe.Top of Form

Rebuilding ASEAN’s financial safety net – East Asia Forum Singapore and Indonesia signed a US$10 billion bilateral swap agreement (BSA) in October 2018, allowing the two countries to assist each other through US dollar loans during financial stress. The move signals a willingness by ASEAN countries to play a bigger and more direct role in strengthening the region’s financial stability — but there is still much more to do.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

‘Water from Air’ Aims to Turn Back Thailand’s Tide of Plastic – The Irrawaddy Staying at a hotel on the Thai island of Koh Samui in 2015, Meghan Kerrigan noticed the four bottles of water she was given every day were clogging her bin with plastic.Outside her door, Chaweng beach was smothered in rubbish. It was then that she and Kohler brothers, Ryan and Matthew, had a “light-bulb moment”. “Instead of trying to solve the problem by cleaning the beaches every day, let’s go to what the source of the problem is, and take the plastic bottle away,” said Kerrigan, now 31.

One Year On, No Response on Myitsone Impact Assessment – The Irrawaddy The commission tasked with evaluating hydropower projects on Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River—including the Myitsone Dam in Kachin State—submitted its assessment to the President’s Office more than one year ago. 

Related: Say No to Myitsone – The Irrawaddy

Chinese plantation poisoning fish and disrupting appropriate agriculture in Lao communityThe people of Kua village in Sangthong district depend on the Ton River for their livelihoods. It is a prime source of food for the community and provides fishermen an income. It is a source of drinking water for the many diverse animals that live in the area. Locals use the water from the river on a daily basis for drinking, bathing and washing.  Villagers say the number of fish and aquatic life in the Ton River is on the decline ever since the Chinese-owned Yongzhen Import-Export Production Promotion Company started planting bananas there in 2014. 

Are Cambodia’s hydropower plans risky? – The ASEAN Post Along with most Southeast Asian countries, Cambodia’s electricity consumption over the past decade has skyrocketed. In a report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), electricity consumption in Cambodia has been growing rapidly, averaging 20 percent growth per annum since 2010. This rate continues to accelerate as average incomes in the nation rise on the whole.

Forest crime ‘rife’ at Prey Lang, Cambodia – Eleven Myanmar A Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) member in Thmea commune, in Preah Vihear province’s Chey Sen district, on Sunday claimed that authorities are unable to stamp out forest crime in the nature reserve, instances of which have been occurring for months. Chan Sarin, a PLCN member in the commune’s Thmea village, told The Post on Sunday that currently at least 10 loggers were engaged in illegal logging in Prey Lang across the commune.

Fix lax rules on factories  – The Bangkok Post This week, the government seemed to get tough on another source of toxic haze: industrial activities. But what it is doing will not tackle the root cause of the problem which is the country’s lax regulation.

Indonesia’s struggle with renewable energy – Asian Correspondent Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo inaugurated the 75-megawatt Sidrap Wind Farm in South Sulawesi in July 2018. Built by the foreign firm UPC Renewables at a cost of US$150 million, Sidrap is the first grid-connected wind farm of any meaningful scale in Indonesia and is expected to generate power for up to 70,000 households. This was welcome news for those wondering how Indonesia was going to achieve its ambitious goal of sourcing 23 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. But does this mean Indonesia is on the cusp of a clean energy revolution?

Are banks in Asia funding deforestation in Southeast Asia? – Asian Correspondent Industries that cause the loss of rainforest and peatlands in Southeast Asia were bankrolled to the tune of US$62 billion between 2013 and 2018, according to new data released by the Forests and Finance campaign of the Rainforest Action Network (RAN).  Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian and Malaysian banks were the biggest funders of so-called forest risk activities and were least likely to have internal policies that restricted damage to the environment from the activities they funded, RAN concludes.

CHINA

China runs into Belt and Road barriers in South Asia – Nikkei Asian Review For about three months, confidants of Maldivian President Ibrahim Solih have been holed up in an oceanfront building in Male, sifting through mountains of documents to answer an urgent question: How much money, exactly, does the region’s smallest country owe China?

Is China Undermining Its Own Success in Africa? – The Diplomat Chinese influence, money, and people blanket Africa. Mega-infrastructure projects such as Kenya’s Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), the light railway in Ethiopia’s capital, and Tanzania’s ports, are all pointed to as evidence that Africa has become China’s backyard. Countries like Japan, France, or even the United States simply cannot compete against China for trade and influence in Africa. This is the story that one reads in Japan, the United States, Europe, and Africa itself. But it is important to understand that this is only part of the story.

China’s Creeping South China Sea Challenge in the Spotlight With New Facility –  The Diplomat In late January, Chinese state media announced the establishment of yet another new facility in a South China Sea feature. Though the unveiling was just another manifestation of an old aspect of Beijing’s broader strategy in advancing its position in the South China Sea, the initially muted response from the Philippines has once again exacerbated concerns about the regional response to such actions taken by China.

China’s Belt and Road could lead to ‘alien invasion’ – study – Asian Correspondent China’s ambitious, multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative could introduce alien invasive species into several countries, threatening their native biodiversity, warns a new study.  Announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also known as “One Belt One Road” and “21st-century Maritime Silk Road,” proposes to connect China to countries in Asia, Africa and Europe via a network of land- and sea-based routes, making trade between the countries easier.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Duterte’s ailing presidency – East Asia Forum It would be premature to claim that Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency in the Philippines is in trouble. Despite a temporary drop in his approval ratings last year, three-fourths of Philippine citizens still approve of his performance in office, with his violent drug crackdown considered his ‘top achievement’.

Chinese New Year: Polluted Bangkok’s Year of the Pig curbs on incense go up in smoke – The Straits Times Thais of Chinese descent largely ignored Bangkok’s call for restraint in burning of incense and “spirit money” to mark the Chinese New Year as the city fights choking pollution.

Related: Bangkok running out of air purifiers as toxic smog grips Thailand – The Straits Times

Southeast Asia bucks trend of sinking global foreign investment – Nikkei Asian Review Southeast Asia is bucking the global trend of falling direct foreign investment, as the low-cost fast-growing region solidifies its position as an attractive location for multinationals.  James Dyson’s recent decision to relocate the headquarters of his eponymous technology business to Singapore is not about Brexit, the company said. Rather, the British tycoon said he is looking to a region that continues to exhibit solid growth — “future proofing” as his chief executive termed it.

Darkness Gathers in Myanmar – The Diplomat On January 11, the appeal of two Reuters reporters sentenced to seven years in jail was rejected, a decision with far reaching consequences for Myanmar’s reputation and freedom of expression. The ruling conveyed a determination to bury the truth about the ethnic clearance operations that drove 730,000 of the Rohingya minority group into refugee camps in Bangladesh in 2017.

BSR still in running for fast rail project – The Bangkok Post BSR Joint Venture, one of two contenders in the bidding for the high-speed railway project connecting three major airports, still has a chance to enter negotiations with the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) over the results of the bid, the SRT said on Thursday.

Vietnam cracks open new oil field in South China Sea with Russia – Nikkei Asian Review A Vietnamese-Russian joint venture has begun crude oil production at a new site in the South China Sea, a project expected to contribute more than $1 billion to Hanoi’s coffers by 2032.

A princess makes a surprising run to become Thailand’s next prime minister – CNBC In a historic first for Thailand, a senior member of the royal family is running in a general election — a move that some suspect could increase the monarchy’s overall power in the country.

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