Regional Roundup for Week of 3.16.18

EXSE FOCUS

Thailand Delays Decision on Power Purchase from Pak Beng Dam–International Rivers In mid-February, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) issued a letter to the Rak Chiang Khong Group, a Thai Mekong community network. The letter stated that a decision on signing the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for the Pak Beng Dam in Laos has been deferred until the completion of the ongoing review of Thailand’s Power Development Plan (PDP). // A signal not to be overlooked. Thailand is emerging as a Southeast Asian leader in solar and wind generation. The suspension indicates that Thailand’s government could prioritize environment-friendly energy instead of hydropower and fossil fuels.

Related: Thais weigh merit of Mekong dam –The Phnom Penh Post

Word of Trump-Kim Summit Meeting Stirs Concern in Asia–NYT As President Trump accepts an offer from North Korea’s Kim Jong-un to discuss the country’s nuclear program, Japan and South Korea worry that President Trump may offer too many concessions to Kim Jong-un, or turn to a military option if talks fail. // Ignoring the standard chain of command meetings that lead up to such summits is a risky bet for  Trump because any decision made in the conference will be hard to walk back in the future.

Related: China likely to greet Trump-Kim talks with hope and trepidation–The Guardian

Related: Japan leaves door open for PM Abe-Kim Jong Un summit–Channel NewsAsia

Related: A Trump-Kim Summit: How Did We Get Here, and What’s Next? –The Diplomat

 Ending Term Limits for China’s Xi Is a Big Deal. Here’s Why. –NYT China’s legislature passed an amendment allowing Xi Jinping to stay longer than two terms as president. The move is about much more than the presidency. // China’s political system since the Deng era has relied heavily on norms and principals. Destroying these rules and principals could bring turmoil.

     Related: China’s authoritarian streak | Letters–The Guardian

      Related: Xi Jinping: Rising Dictator or Another East Asian Strongman? –The Diplomat

      Related: Xi Jinping and China’s Return to One-Man Rule –The Diplomat

 Without US, 11 nations sign new TPP dealChannel NewsAsia Eleven nations signed a slimmed-down version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement on Thursday (Mar 8), moving to lower tariffs just as US President Donald Trump seeks to raise them after withdrawing from the deal. // Even  without the US, Asia-Pacific countries can still walk on their own way. And the US is always welcome to rejoin.
Related: US the Biggest Loser as Asia Inks TPP-11The Diplomat

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Australia’s new strategy towards Asean–Bangkok Post Southeast Asia is no longer the geographic landmass in Australia’s front yard comprised of 10 countries governed by different political systems and cultural values to its own. From next week onward, Southeast Asian countries, each with a unique domestic dynamic, will become the nexus of Australian foreign policy. // With the recent ‘Quad’ dialogue and more aggressive attitude to China, Australia may desire to play a more proactive role and compete with China in the Indo-Pacific region.

  Related: Who Cares If Duterte Skips the ASEAN-Australia Summit? –The Diplomat

         Related: Four challenges for Australia-ASEAN relations –EAST ASIA FORUM

US navy carrier’s Vietnam visit signals closer ties amid China tensions–The Guardian  USS Carl Vinson’s port call was largest US troop presence in Vietnam since war ended in 1975. Thousands of sailors from a US navy carrier and two escort vessels have taken part in a charm offensive while on a port call to the Vietnamese coastal city of Da Nang, in the largest US troop presence in the country since the war ended in 1975.

       Related: China Dismissive of US Carrier Visit to Vietnam –The Diplomat

 Vietnam and India Cement an Increasingly Vital Relationship in Southeast Asia–CFR  In addition to bolstering strategic ties with the United States, Vietnam is also building a strong strategic relationship with other partners, particularly India, that are skeptical of China’s growing power in the Asia-Pacific.

 India pivots to Southeast Asia to counter China’s growing clout–NIKKEI ASIAN REVIEW India is determined to act as a counterweight to China’s strong presence in Southeast Asia. This policy should find support from countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam amid discontent over economic imbalances and China’s territorial disputes with members of the ASEAN

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Measures sought for sustainable development in Mekong River basin–Mekong Eye Representatives from the Mekong Delta and Central Highlands gathered in Pleiku city, Gia Lai province, seeking ways for sustainable development of the Mekong Basin. According to the Committee, climate change and extreme weather patterns will continue posing challenges for socio-economic development in the Mekong Delta and Central Highlands localities.

 Building for green growth in Thailand–Mekong Eye Thailand seems likely to emerge as a model of green building in Asia, a region that is urbanizing more rapidly than any other in the world. Last month, the country took a significant step by submitting two Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change: greening Thailand’s low- and middle-income housing, and greening the country’s government buildings.

Study says Mekong River dams could disrupt lives, environment–Mekong Eye A new article from University of Illinois and Iowa State University scientists lays out what dam construction could mean for residents and the environment in the region.

 Women Must Be Central to Decisions on Hydropower in Myanmar I Asia Times–International River Asia Times is publishing this article on March 8, International Women’s Day, to highlight a recent trip to the Salween River as a reminder that women’s voices must be central to decision-making processes on the role of hydropower and in broader energy planning for Myanmar and the region.

 Vietnam and UN to build storm-proof housing for coastal communities–The Straits Times Working with the government, UNDP plans to build 300 houses by the end of this year, out of a total of 4,000 by 2022. The project also includes the regeneration of mangrove forests that help protect coastal areas from storms, and developing disaster risk management planning.

Can the countries of the Mekong pioneer a new model of cooperation?–The Third Pole Over the last two years, the China led Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Mechanism has used everything from a “bulldozer approach” to engaging with local communities to deal with tensions over development projects.

Dramatic Photos Show How Sand Mining Threatens a Way of Life in Southeast Asia–National Geographic Vietnam is a prime example of a little-known global threat: the mining of river sand to build the world’s booming cities.

 

CHINA

China Hopes Security Flows From Foreign Oil Deals–Radio Free Asia. As China’s reliance on foreign petroleum continues to grow, it claims to have rights to more oil abroad than it produces at home. Energy experts like Edward Chow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington have said that China’s heavy reliance on foreign oil represents a significant security risk.

 China reshapes ministries to better protect environment–Chinadialogue. Two new cabinet level ministries will be tasked with managing natural resources and fighting pollution

Related: China shake-up gives climate change responsibility to environment ministry –Reuters

What’s the impact of the East China Sea oil spill?–Chinadialogue. Sanchi, the Panama-registered oil tanker that set fire after colliding with a Hong Kong freighter on January 6. The Sanchi has sunk but it’s cargo could still damage the environment

 Can China’s ‘firefighter’ Wang Qishan break the deadlock with US over trade?–South China Morning Post. Foreign diplomats and businesspeople expect China’s former anti-graft tsar to play a key role in de-escalating trade tensions with the United States, and that he could also get global relations higher up the nation’s policymaking agenda.

China slows down spending on Belt and Road energy projects–South China Morning Post. China’s thirst for overseas energy investments is declining, at least by one tally. The nation’s financing for Belt and Road Initiative energy projects dropped 28 per cent to US$14.3 billion last year from US$19.9 billion, according to data released Monday by Boston University’s Global Development Policy Centre.

China, Southeast Asia Seek a Safer Disputed Sea with Plan for Joint Exercises–VOA Plans for a first-ever joint military exercise by China and Southeast Asian nations this year would calm safety risks on the most heavily contested sea in Asia and could ease fear of Beijing’s dominant role in the sovereignty dispute.

China is rapidly developing its clean energy technology–The Economist China is hoping to deal with this over-dependence on fossil fuels partly by rebalancing the economy away from energy-intensive industries. But it also leads the world in clean energy. .

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Southeast Asia Seeks New Partners in the Era of “America First”–CFR Amid uncertainty over U.S. foreign policy, countries across Southeast Asia are looking to build up strategic partnerships with regional powers to counter an increasingly assertive China. // If Trump wants to compete with China which he called a challenger in the region, he needs to rethink his Asia policy. Recent policies like quitting TPP and raising tariffs will marginalize the US in the region.

 UN envoy urges Cambodia to let opposition stand in election–Channel NewsAsia A U.N. human rights envoy urged Cambodia on Wednesday to drop a ban on the country’s main opposition party so it can take part in a July general election. Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in November and banned more than 100 of its politicians in a ruling that was widely condemned by the international community.

ASEAN needs to remain ‘effective and central player’ in region: PM Lee–Channel NewsAsia ASEAN must continue working hard to remain an effective and central player in the region, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Highlighting the growing strength and influence of new powers like China and India, Mr Lee also stressed the need for individual ASEAN countries to adapt to the “new and changing strategic landscape”.

Trump’s trade war antics start worrying Thailand–Investvine Moves of the US administration to impose new tariffs and duties on a variety of imported products leaves Thailand worrying about its potential to continue profitable business with one of its most important trade partners.

Malaysia getting closer to high-income status, says IMF–Investvine The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its latest country report on Malaysia concluded that the nation is “well on its way to achieving high-income status,” but still has work to do to “pass the finishing line.”

 What did the ASEAN Defense Chiefs Meeting in Singapore achieve?–The Diplomat On March 8, Singapore held this year’s iteration of the meeting of ASEAN defense chiefs. Though meeting was just one of a number of defense-related interactions that the city-state is hosting, it offered some sense of how Southeast Asian states view the region and what agenda items they are prioritizing.

Everything you need to know about investing in Cambodia–Southeast Asia Globe Magazine For the past two decades, Cambodia has experienced rapid economic growth. Broad access to global markets and an economic policy that openly courts foreign investment means the country’s economy is expected to continue growing

 

YUNNAN

China Defends Dam Building on Mekong River as Activists Head to Court–Mekong Eye Officials from southwest China’s Yunnan province have defended a plan to build a dam in the region as “fully legally compliant”, after an environment group took developers of the project to court last month for violating laws.

 

TAIWAN

Why Taiwan’s most recent pivot to Southeast Asia is its best yet–ASEAN Today 2018 will be a pivotal year for Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy. Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen launched the policy in 2016. She is striving to strengthen ties with the 10 ASEAN nations and six other South Asian countries. // With the increasing influence of China in Southeast Asia and frozen cross-strait relations, it may be difficult for Tsai’ s government to make progress on this policy. But if it succeeds, Taiwan can increase its influence in Southeast Asia.

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