Regional Roundup for Week of 3.15.19 and 3.22.19

EXSE FOCUS

Sustaining the heartbeat of the Mekong Basin – China Dialogue The Mekong River is often depicted as originating in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Maps show it flowing downstream through China’s southwest, and then forming the borders of or flowing through Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, before bisecting Cambodia and Vietnam’s Mekong Delta on its 4,500 kilometre journey from the Himalayas to the sea.//Not all renewables are created equal: Stimson’s Brian Eyler and Courtney Weatherby summarize their new report on the benefits of moving from hydropower to solar in the Mekong Basin.  They discuss how smart energy planning can conserve the Tonle Sap’s massive fish population.

Beijing saves Mekong islets  – Bangkok Post The revelation that China is backing away from its plans to blow up islands and outcroppings in the Mekong River is welcome news. Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said he had raised the issue last month during a visit by Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.// Environmental groups, activists, and community advocates have played a major role in successfully protecting this group of Mekong islets from being destroyed.

Energy Regulatory Commission eyes B40bn from solar power projects  – Bangkok Post The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) expects to create new investment value of 40 billion baht from its new 10,000-megawatt solar power projects for households from 2019-2028.// For countries in Southeast Asia struggling with energy shortages, diversification and inclusion of different renewable energies will be important for the future of energy security in the region.

Hun Sen denies Cambodia is Chinese ‘colony’ as work on US$2b road begins – The Straits Times Cambodia broke ground on Friday (March 22) on a US$2 billion (S$2.70 billion) Chinese-funded expressway – the country’s first – as strongman premier Hun Sen denied his country was in danger of becoming a colony of Beijing.// As China and Cambodia hold their biggest bilateral military exercises this week, Prime Minister Hun Sen continues to defend China’s investments in Cambodia.  The military exercises and construction of Cambodia’s first expressway being financed by China are manifestations of Cambodia’s growing relationship with China. 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Can Japan contribute to equitable development in ASEAN? – East Asia Forum The establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in December 2015 was a notable milestone in the economic integration of Southeast Asia. However, despite the AEC’s ambitious vision, the on-the-ground reality of Southeast Asian regionalism continues to raise some concerns.

Asean can do more in Trump-Kim talks: Experts – The Straits Times Asean, two of whose members hosted the recent summits between the leaders of the United States and North Korea, can play a more active role in bringing them together again after the failure of their second encounter in Hanoi.

US at UN takes aim at China’s Belt and Road initiative – The Straits Times The United States on Friday (March 15) clashed with China at the UN Security Council over Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative, saying the infrastructure investment scheme had “known problems” with corruption and debt distress.

Italy Wants to Sign Belt and Road Deal to Help Exports: Deputy PM – The Irrawaddy Italy wants to join China’s giant “Belt and Road” infrastructure plan to boost Italian exports, not to strengthen political ties with the Asian giant, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Sunday.

Related: China’s Xi to visit Italy, France as Rome joins ‘New Silk Road’ – CNA

Vietnam, Laos Enter Cooperation In Cyber Security, E-Government – Investvine The governments of Laos and Vietnam agreed to enter a cooperation for the development of cyber security and e-government solutions and continue their cooperation in postal services.

Government says ‘yes’ to Japan’s smart city initiative – Khmer Times The government has agreed to a Japanese initiative that seeks to drive investment in the development of smart cities in the Kingdom.

Advancing ASEAN-South Korea Relations in Moon’s New Southern Policy – The Diplomat Last week, South Korean President Moon Jae-in embarked on a pre-scheduled tour of three Southeast Asian countries.

Vietnamese Workers, Streaming to Japan, Face Risks as Labor System Opens Up – The Irrawaddy When a young Vietnamese woman found out late last year that she was pregnant after arriving in Japan on a “technical trainee” visa, she was given a stark choice: “Have an abortion or go back to Vietnam.”

China and Cambodia Hold Their Biggest Military Exercise Yet – The Diplomat Last week, China and Cambodia kicked off what amounts to the biggest iteration of a bilateral military exercise seen between the two countries yet.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Dead whale in Philippines had 40 kg of plastic in stomach – The Straits Times A starving whale with 40kg of plastic trash in its stomach has died after being washed ashore in the Philippines, activists said on Monday (March 18), calling it one of the worst cases of poisoning they have seen.

Chiang Mai air pollution worst in the world – Bangkok Post Forest fires have sent air quality in nine provinces to a level considered harmful to people’s health, as cities in the North like Chiang Mai registered air quality that was among the world’s worst.

Wasting away to make energy  – Bangkok Post Many private companies in the Thai renewable energy field are pleased with the new version of the national power development plan (PDP) for 2018-37.

Hun Sen orders Sao Sokha to curb timber smuggling across the borders – The Nation Prime Minister Hun Sen has called on relevant authorities to continue curbing illegal smuggling of timer across borders and protect natural resources.

Government may withdraw environmental tax hike proposal – Vietnam Plus The Government is considering withdrawing a proposal from the Ministry of Finance (MoF) to increase environmental taxes on fuel products to the maximum of 8,000 VND (0.35 USD), stating the move requires further consideration.

Locals pray for Salween River to always run free – The Nation The lives of people living along the Salween River still face the risk of being adversely impacted by developments in the river basin, environment campaigners said on the International Day of Action for Rivers yesterday. 

Cambodia has wind energy potential – study – Khmer Times France-based Blue Circle has finished a feasibility study for a project to build wind turbines in the Kingdom, with results indicating investment should ensue.

China’s ‘iron fist’ against pollution is softening – China Dialogue In 2014, China declared a war against pollution when Premier Li Keqiang pledged to crackdown on polluters and negligent officials “with an iron fist” at the opening of the annual National People’s Congress (NPC).

Forget red or yellow, forest crusader doubles down on green – Khao So An environmentalist turned politician seeking to gain a toehold in power through Sunday’s election said poachers wouldn’t get off so easy under his watch. Speaking from the campaign trail about this morning’s conviction of a powerful construction magnate, the leader of the Thai Forest Conservation Party said hunters would be punished with more jail time than the 16 months given to Premchai Karnasuta.

Vietnam aims to reduce power losses to under 6.5% by 2025 – Nhan Dan Vietnam has set a target to bring down power losses to less than 6.5% by 2025 under a recently adopted national programme on economical and efficient use of energy for the 2019-2030 period.

Researchers warn of toxic chemicals – Khmer Times Researchers from the Institute of Technology of Cambodia are appealing to farmers to reduce the use of agrochemicals on crops after it found that some farmers improperly mixed chemicals.

Dry spell causing power cuts: PM – Khmer Times Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday said the country is now facing an electricity shortage of about 400 megawatts, leading to power outages, and appealed to people, especially those in the business sector, to understand that this is because of an ongoing dry spell.

Energy analysts forecast ‘the end of coal’ in Asia as Japanese investors back renewables – The Guardian Major Japanese investors, including those most indebted to coal, are seeking to back large-scale renewables projects across Asia, marking a “monumental” shift that energy market analysts say is “the start of the end for thermal coal”.

How can Cambodian farming survive climate change? – Eco Business Rural and poor, Cambodia is one of the world’s most threatened countries by climate change. How is the country’s critical agricultural sector adapting to increasingly severe, unpredictable weather events?

Indonesian Environmentalists Seek Meeting with Chinese Bank over Sumatra Dam Project – Radio Free Asia Indonesia’s leading environmental group said Wednesday it was seeking a meeting with Bank of China representatives to discuss a Chinese-funded dam project in North Sumatra province that, activists and scientists warn, could threaten the world’s rarest orangutan species.

CHINA

China wants EEC estate land – Bangkok Post A group of Chinese investors, led by representatives of China’s government, has expressed interest in buying 10,000 rai of industrial estate land in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) to create its own community and improve its supply chain in Asean.

China Revives Oil And Gas Reform Plan – Radio Free Asia After previous predictions have gone by the boards, China’s government has confirmed plans for major steps to reform the oil and gas sector this year.

Suu Kyi, China and the controversial Myitsone dam – Asia Times Amid increased pressure from China to resume construction of the controversial Myitsone hydropower dam in the far north of Myanmar, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has said the public should think about the project “from a wider perspective,” Myanmar website The Irrawaddy reported on March 14.

Foreign investors eye China’s renewables sector – China Dialogue China has been leading the world in the expansion of solar and wind power capacity in recent years. By the end of 2018, China’s solar capacity of 174 gigawatts and wind capacity of 184 gigawatts accounted for 36% and 32% of the global totals for each respective technology.

Chinese companies in Laos attach importance to environment protection – Xinhua Net Ducks are paddling around in a pool of water near Sun Paper Holdings Laos Co., Ltd (Sun Paper Laos), and moving closer, you even can see beautiful goldfish swimming in the pond. Don’t mistake it for a natural pond; it is the drainage outlet of Sun Paper Laos which is a wholly-owned company of Shandong Sun Paper Group, one of China’s top 500 enterprises.

China’s Wunonglong Dam on the Upper Mekong Filling – Planet.com Watch the 990 MW Wunonglong Dam fill between October 2018 and February 2019. This is the 11th dam to be completed on China’s portion of the Upper Mekong.

China to aid Mekong’s development  – Bangkok Post China has pledged to work closely with Thailand under the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) framework to help promote the development of the Mekong Basin region.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Thailand’s oldest party fails to woo first-time voters – The Straits Times With less than two weeks to go before Thailand’s general election, the country’s oldest political party, founded in 1946, has faced up to an uncomfortable realisation: Young, first-time voters are writing it off.

Thailand delays trans-Pacific FTA application – Bangkok Post Thailand will delay its application to join a trans-Pacific free trade agreement until after next Sunday’s election, a Commerce Ministry official said Monday.

Kachin Gov’t Vows to Crack Down on China-Backed Banana Plantations – The Irrawaddy The Kachin State agriculture minister will investigate controversial Chinese tissue-culture banana plantations across Kachin State, and plans to tighten regulation of the plantations in response to local residents’ concerns about their social and environmental impacts.

Thailand Pushes Projects For Eastern Economic Corridor – Investvine The Thai government continues to promote investment in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), one of the largest economic initiatives geared particularly towards foreign investors. This time, innovation, electric vehicles and the railway sector are being addressed.

Elections Kick Off In Thailand With Long Lines At Voting Stations – Investvine Hundreds of thousands of voters across Thailand were heading out on March 17 to cast early ballots, a week ahead the country’s first general election since a military coup in 2014.

Bangkok students strike against climate change – The Nation Bangkok students led by an 11-year-old, among others, went on strike on Friday and abandoned their classrooms to join the global “Fridays for Future” movement calling for action on climate change and environmental protection.

Mekong Delta rope weaving families’ exodus to Saigon – VN Express Unable to earn enough in their hometown, they come to Saigon, rent some land and resume their traditional work. Many families from the Mekong Delta are now making a living by weaving plastic ropes in Binh Hung Hoa B ward in Saigon’s Tan Binh District.

Civil society groups from across Myanmar hold anti-hydropower protest – Frontier Myanmar Civil society groups from across the country convened in Mandalay on Wednesday and Thursday to protest against large-scale hydropower development on the country’s rivers, which they say is driving conflict and undermining efforts to build a democratic federal union.

Vietnam plans new northern railroad route to China – VN Express The Vietnam Railway Authority has hired a Chinese consultancy to carry out a feasibility study, Vu Quang Khoi, its chief, said Tuesday. The 392-kilometer route will start in the border province of Lao Cai and pass through Hanoi — and eight cities and provinces in total – and end in the port city of Hai Phong.

Southeast Asia’s looming drug crisis threatens regional security – The Strategist This week, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released its much-anticipated report on synthetic drugs in East and Southeast Asia. For the most part, UNODC assessments tend to be rather conservative, which ought to make the revelations contained in this report of even greater concern for Australian authorities.

Cambodia Hosts a Public Consultation Meeting on Road and Railway Impact Assessment – Agence Kampuchea Presse Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment in collaboration with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have hosted a public consultation meeting on road and railway impact assessment.

Airport rail pact ‘needs fine-tuning’  – The Bangkok Post Contractual negotiations on a high-speed rail project linking three major airports between the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) and a CP-led consortium have become less tense after CP settled for a 50-year contract.

Laos says to continue to contribute to LMC cooperation – Xinhua Net Laos will continue to closely work with Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) countries to move LMC cooperation forwards to a higher level.

Don commends MLC members on their cooperation  – The Nation Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai marked the third anniversary of Mekong-Lancang Cooperation (MLC) by saying the member states’ tireless efforts were testimony to the “cordial and warm relationship that runs deep in the fabric of our societies”.

87% of Thais more likely to vote for environmentally friendly party: poll – The Nation “Environmental” concerns among Thais was rated on top of the list of major concerns about the country, more than any other concern, including rising prices, corruption, congestion, crime and the economy, according to a Marketbuzzz poll.

Laos’ Deputy Prime Minister Blames PNPC Dam Collapse on Poor Planning – Radio Free Asia Laos’ deputy prime minister has identified poor soil analysis for a fatal hydropower dam collapse, often described as the country’s worst flooding in decades.

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

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