Regional Roundup for Week of 3.23.2018


The Real Significance of the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit–The Diplomat The ASEAN-Australia Special Summit is a tangible and powerful demonstration of how far Southeast Asia and ASEAN has come over the decades and how far the Turnbull government is willing to go to signal the subregion and regional bloc’s importance to its interests. // This first special summit set up a milestone of ASEAN-Australia relations while it ignored some sensitive issues like human rights. To develop more close and stable bilateral ties, ASEAN and Australia need to consider more a broader set of topics including not only security and economic but also human rights and democratization.

Related: Why the New Vietnam-Australia Strategic Partnership Matters–The Diplomat

Related: Protectionism Concerns, North Korea Dominate Asean-Australia Summit –WSJ

Related: Australia right to huddle closer to Southeast Asia–Nikkei Asian Review

China to Target Trump’s Base in Tariff Response–WSJ Faced with mounting trade offensives from Washington, China is preparing to hit back with tit-for-tat tariffs aimed at President Trump’s support base, including levies targeting U.S. agricultural exports from Farm Belt states. // The trade war between China and the US will impact the international economy and damage free trade. The growth of the world economy relies on free trade instead of protectionism.

Related: Trump to Ramp Up Trade Restraints on China–WSJ

Related: Trump to set stage for China tariffs amid trade war fears–Channel NewsAsia

Related: Is Trump’s Get-Tough Approach With China Working? –Foreign Policy

Related: Trump moves to crack down on China trade with $60 billion in tariffs on imported products –The Washington Post


ASEAN is fulcrum of Indo-Pacific strategy: US–The Straits Times The United States under President Donald Trump sees Southeast Asia as the fulcrum of its “free and open Indo-Pacific” strategy rather than a region excluded from it, said its newly appointed point man for security initiatives in East Asia and the Pacific, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong. //Southeast Asia now becomes a hotspot because of its critical geo-strategic status and market potential. Great powers are at play to deepen their cooperation with the region – let the balancing acts proceed!

Xi’s stronger influence may change ASEAN policy toward Japan, diplomats sayThe Japan times Most members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have maintained amicable ties with Japan, Asia’s second-largest economy after China, but they may start to keep their distance from Tokyo to protect their national interests over the next two decades, the diplomats said. //Recently, Japan urged ASEAN to work with OECD on high and transparent infrastructure quality, and this reflects its desire to counter the influence of China’s massive infrastructure in the region. 

New Marawi Aid Boost Highlights Japan-Philippines Ties Uder Duterte–The Diplomat Tokyo’s important assistance for relief efforts in the southern Philippine city continues. The development was just the latest sign of Tokyo’s important and growing role as a key strategic partner for the Philippines despite the challenges encountered for ties under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte.

South Korea’s Moon visits Vietnam to deepen economic ties–NIKKEI ASIAN REVIEW South Korean President Moon Jae-in embarks on a three-day state visit to Vietnam on Thursday to strengthen economic ties with the rising Southeast Asian power, as Seoul struggles to deal with its two largest trade partners, China and the U.S.



Singapore moves to cut pollution with carbon tax but risks putting off potential investors–Southeast Asia Globe Magazine Singapore will become the first country in Southeast Asia to introduce a tax on carbon emissions, despite some MPs warning that it could affect the city-state’s competitiveness in the region. Government officials mentioned that the bill is an important step to promote industry climate responsibility and low-carbon economic transition.

Can the countries of the Mekong pioneer a new model of cooperation?The Third Pole In the next five years, the key is to tie together the efforts of the six LMC members while avoiding interventions from foreign countries outside the region, pushing forward the mechanism while minimizing impact of political uncertainties in certain transitional countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.// There are several platforms regarding the Mekong region including China-led Lancang-Mekong cooperation (LMC) and the US-led Lower Mekong Initiative (LMC). A new model of collaboration which includes both China and the US can diminish competition and create more profits for the region.

World Bank says Cambodia vulnerable to rising sea levels–Mekong Eye The World Bank said in a recent report that Cambodia is among 12 countries in East Asia and the Asia-Pacific that are vulnerable to rising sea levels which could lead to the loss of land and force millions of people to relocate.

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. In An Giang Province, Vietnam, a half-mile stretch of riverfront along the Van Nao River collapsed in April 2017, plunging houses and part of the road into the river. Sand mining had weakened the bank.

Asia is a key battleground in fight against killer air pollution: UN–Bangkok Post Asia is a critical battlefield in the global fight to rein in air pollution, registering about 5 million premature deaths each year, delegates at a United Nations conference said on Wednesday, as urged tougher enforcement of curbs. // Thailand and Vietnam’s major cities are choking with air pollution. Southeast Asian countries should accelerate green energy transition and low-carbon economic development to solve the problem efficiently.

Why care about Cambodia’s forest?–The Phnom Penh Post Similar to many countries in the world, Cambodia’s forests are under mounting pressure. Trees are being cut down and replaced with cash crops like cashew nuts and cassava. Many trees disappear due to the need for large-scale economic development. // Since 2005, Cambodia has had one of the highest deforestation rates globally. This rampant deforestation threatens not only biological diversity but also has impacts on flash floods, drought, and global warming.

New Climate Change Fears, Old Mekong Problems–The Diplomat The future of the Mekong will be underpinned by climate change. Dams in China and neighboring Southeast Asian states like Laos, depleted fish stocks, and a changing climate are also undermining the river’s future.


Redefining the Belt and Road Initiative–The Diplomat The most important development of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in 2017 might end up being not its first summit in Beijing, but the expansion of the project into Latin America. The BRI is no longer a regional infrastructure project, but a global strategy through which China aims to establish itself as the world’s main economic power.

Is China losing interest in nuclear power?–China dialogue  A lot of countries have backed away from nuclear power in recent years due to concerns over public safety, cost and the complex challenge of getting plants built. But not China, whose state-backed nuclear industry has been steadily rolling out new reactors since the mid-2000s. The country has dominated growth in the sector over the past decade, and accounts for 40% of new reactors currently under construction.

China Gives Communist Party More Control Over Policy and Media–NYT China on Wednesday issued a blueprint for shaking up its bureaucracy that will sharpen the Communist Party’s power over films, books and newspapers, while raising the profile of hitherto secretive party groups that steer policy on the economy, the internet and foreign affairs.

Turning cities into sponges: how Chinese ancient wisdom is taking on climate change–The Guardian These days, urban planning that doesn’t factor in some sort of catastrophic weather event is like trying to build something in a fictional utopia. For Kongjian Yu, one of the world’s leading landscape architects, the answer to coping with extreme weather events actually lies in the past.

China urges US to ‘correct mistake’ on Taiwan–The Guardian China has called on the US to “correct its mistake” after Donald Trump approved rules allowing top-level US officials to travel to Taiwan to meet their Taipei counterparts. Beijing says bill violates ‘one China’ policy and asks US to stop pursuing official ties with Taipei.

China has new three-year plan to clean up environment, minister says–The South China Morning Post China is looking to set tougher goals in a new three-year “green” plan to improve air quality and tighten regulations, minister of environmental protection Li Ganjie said on Saturday. .


Thailand’s (Possible) Election: A Plethora of Parties Register, But Will Politics Actually Change?–CFR With elections in Thailand seemingly slated for early 2019, could an Emmanuel Macron–like figure emerge in the kingdom? It would be virtually impossible for any newcomer in Thailand to build a political movement without taking steps to woo both Puea Thai and placate the military and royalist elites.

Southeast Asia needs better labor migration policies–Nikkei Asian Review ASEAN countries, which signaled their desire for deeper integration with the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015, should improve their policies to manage migration so that labor mobility benefits both the migrants and the rest of their populations.

From battlefield to marketplace on the Thai–Myanmar border–New Mandala The Thai–Myanmar relationship is changing as diplomatic and economic bonds deepen, and so is economic life on the border. But large and still-marginalised migrant communities remain in Thai frontier towns like Mae Sot, facing challenges as donors redirect aid to “transitioning” Myanmar.

Alibaba counters Amazon’s expansion in Southeast Asia–Nikkei Asian Review Only a week after U.S. e-commerce group revealed its intention to enter the Vietnamese market, Alibaba Group Holding has made a countermove to secure its own growth path in Southeast Asia’s burgeoning e-commerce industry.

Related: Alibaba Bets Another $2 Billion on Southeast Asia–WSJ

China profits from Southeast Asia’s democratic deficits–Nikkei Asian Review With China’s one-party state presiding over a strong if brittle economy and promoting its achievements across the region, the temptations are clear. But Strongman politics endangers regional security, inviting external interference

Can ASEAN Continue to Improve Cybersecurity in the Region and Beyond?–CFR Singapore holds the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2018 and wants to make cybersecurity a priority. How well will it fare?

Malaysian government denies hiring Cambridge Analytica–Channel NewsAsia The Malaysian government denied to hire Cambridge Analytica on Tuesday in response to reports that the political consultancy firm had helped the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition win the 2013 general elections.

  Related: Malaysian Prime Minister deflects Cambridge Analytica accusations by pointing finger at                  Mahathir’s son–Southeast Asia Globe
How Will PAS Matter in Malaysia’s Election?–The Diplomat The conservative Islamic party could play an important role in upcoming polls or thereafter. The real question, beyond the manifesto, is what role, if any, PAS will play in Malaysia’s upcoming general election, which must take place before August.

 Singapore will launch initiatives to improve welfare of ASEAN people: Desmond Lee–Channel NewsAsia As ASEAN Chair for 2018, Singapore will be launching several initiatives and focus on various projects to improve the livelihood, well-being and welfare of the ASEAN people, according to Minister of Social and Family Development Desmond Lee.

Hun Sen, Cambodia’s ruler, has been in power too long–The Economist Though Mr Hun Sen has ruled for 33 years, as strongmen go he is a whippersnapper at 65. He will need to live half as long again to be of Robert Mugabe’s vintage. Whenever and however Mr Hun Sen goes, he will have been on the throne too long.



Yunnan to Open First Biobank for Ethnic Minorities–Sixth Tone The Yunnan Ethnic Minorities Biobank will collect biological samples — including blood and tissue — from consenting members of the province’s myriad ethnic minority groups, to be applied to novel medical treatments and stem cell research.



Taiwan’s Chunghwa Telecom banks on AI and Southeast Asia–Nikkei Asian Review Taiwan’s Chunghwa Telecom, the island’s biggest telecom operator and internet provider, aims to expand new service business related to artificial intelligence to revenues of $100 million in less than three years, while it continues to boost its presence in Southeast Asia. // Now Southeast Asia has a vast potential market for digital development including e-commerce and AI, but the problem of insufficient relative infrastructure needs addressing soon.

This week’s news digest was curated by Chen-Sheng Hong.

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