Regional Roundup for Week of 3.29-4.5.2018

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EXSE FOCUS

Mekong summit begins Wednesday–Bangkok Post The summit will see the leaders discussing a wide array of issues and challenges that the region is facing, namely economic growth, a growing population, infrastructure development, climate impact, energy, food, urbanisation and industrialisation, and water security. // The summit’s centerpiece was the MRC’s Council Study Results which clearly demonstrate how hydropower will increase food insecurity and poverty in the Mekong basin. Mekong region countries should shift from the business as a usual trajectory to alternative development pathway to achieve regional sustainability. Increasing renewable energy deployment is one of the keys to achieving this goal.

Mekong cooperation: making a problem bigger–The Phnom Penh Post Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam vary greatly in size, population, natural resource abundance and level of economic development. Their interests do not necessarily converge. However, it is also the case that Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam can each offer its neighbours something they cannot achieve by themselves. // This article is valuable because it expands regional cooperation beyond water to include energy and natural resources. It helps the governments of Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos identify potential solutions to the dilemma.

Related: PM Phúc meets Cambodian and Lao counterparts at MRC SummitViet Nam News

Mekong leaders urged to actThe Phnom Penh Post – The message conveyed to those leaders on Tuesday night, after a two-day conference with experts, civil society and country representatives from across the Mekong Basin, was to heed the results of the MRC’s landmark Council Study – a massive report assessing the impacts of hydropower development – as the basis for future policymaking. The study’s predictions of the impacts on fisheries, agriculture and the economy across the basin if hydropower projects go through are dire – and for Cambodia, they are potentially catastrophic.

Stimson Center Statement at 3rd Mekong Summit Ministerial Meeting – Stimson Center – As the only non-governmental organization at the table, and with the final message of the meeting, Stimson’s Southeast Asia Program Director Brain Eyler focused on the need for renewables, smart planning techniques, and a stakeholder-led process that reaches across borders to ensure a sustainable and secure Mekong basin.

Greater Mekong Sub-region countries determined to seek greater regional connectivity, closer trade links–Xinhua Net Leaders of the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) countries agreed at the 6th GMS Summit in Hanoi to take concrete actions to achieve deeper economic integration, greater regional connectivity, closer trade links and financial cooperation, consolidated people-to-people bonds, and closer links with the rest of the world.

Related: Mekong summit sees $66B worth of projects agreed toThe Phnom Penh Post

China’s sway clear at Mekong summit–The Phnom Penh Post China’s ever increasing influence over the Mekong River Basin was apparent on the first day of a Mekong River Commission (MRC) summit on Monday, where cooperation between the MRC and the Chinese-backed Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) mechanism was floated. // LMC and MRC can become partners instead of competitors. Considering increasing influence of China in the region, exploring potential cooperation opportunity is more feasible than suspecting the intention of China with the LMC body.

Related: Mekong River conference hears of determination to work with LMC-The Nation

Kim Jong-un Met With Xi Jingping in Secret Beijing Visit–NYT North Korea’s enigmatic young leader, Kim Jong-un, made an unannounced visit to Beijing, meeting with President Xi Jinping weeks before planned summit meetings with American and South Korean leaders. The visit amounted to Mr. Kim’s international debut: It was the 34-year-old leader’s first trip outside North Korea since he took power in 2011, and his first meeting with another head of state. // It seems that North Korea wants to send a message that it will not compromise or shift its tendency toward the US, and China will still be a critical backing of North Korea.

    Related: North Korean Leader Visits Beijing Ahead of Summit–WSJ 

        Related: Did Kim’s Visit Just Hand China a Trump Card?–Foreign Policy 

Renewable Revolution Can Fundamentally Alter Energy-River Equation–Forbes The renewable revolution can bring low-cost, reliable electricity into balance with Mekong giant catfish, Irrawaddy dolphins, and the countless other species and people that depend on those healthy rivers.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

US Pacific Partnership 2018 Moves to Southeast AsiaThe Diplomat On March 29, this year’s iteration of the annual U.S.-led Pacific Partnership, the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission in the Asia-Pacific, moved to Southeast Asia beginning with Indonesia.

Mekong-Japan cooperation in the Indo-Pacific Strategy–Khmer Times Japan has taken a proactive approach in promoting a “free and open Indo-Pacific strategy”. The Mekong region is a new growth center and strategic frontier of Asia, and geopolitically it stays at the heart of the Indo-Pacific. Cambodia is well placed geographically to link Asean in the two frameworks. // Japan is a traditional development partner for ASEAN countries (and this region will keep playing a critical role in Japan’s ‘Indo-Pacific Strategy’), with the recent urge of high-quality infrastructure in the region from Japan’s Foreign Minister and the visit of Japan’s special advisor in Cambodia.

Related: Japan Links Mekong and ASEAN to Indo-Pacific Strategy-VOA Khmer                 

Related: Japan’s Indo-Pacific push galvanizes Mekong region– NIKKEI ASIAN REVIEW

Korea, Vietnam to upgrade relationsThe Korea Times Korea and Vietnam agreed to upgrade their bilateral strategic cooperative partnership into a more comprehensive one, President Moon Jae-in and his Vietnamese counterpart Tran Dai Quang said in a joint press announcement, Friday.

Singapore enforces UN sanctions and revokes North Koreans’ work permits–Southeast Asia Globe Magazine Singapore and North Korea have enjoyed relatively good relations in the past, with citizens of the DPRK able to enter the Southeast Asian city-state visa-free up until mid-2016. However, international sanctions have strained their relationship in recent years, and in 2017 Singapore announced that it was suspending commercial trade relations with North Korea in line with the UNSC’s demands.

Deciphering Jokowi’s Javanese card in ASEAN-Australia–ASIAN Correspondent Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said that “it is a good idea” for Australia to join the Association of Southeast Asian States (Asean) to increase political and economy stability in the region. This prompted speculation among political analysts. Some have interpreted Jokowi’s implied invitation to Australia as a “Javanese response” – giving an ambiguous answer to please others.

How Asia Could Circumvent US-China Trade War–The Diplomat The world’s two biggest economies have swapped tariff hikes in a tit-for-tat escalation that threatens a global trade war. As negotiations continue between Washington and Beijing, just how much China is willing to concede, and the United States is ready to accept, will keep the world guessing as the rest of the Asian region strives to avoid further fallout.

Related: U.S.-China Trade-War Crossfire Threatens Asia-WSJ

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Women key to Mekong’s future and prosperity–The Phnom Penh Post In the Mekong, women play important roles in the use and management of water and aquatic resources and are key contributors to local economies. Despite the multiple roles women play in water management, they remain under-represented or excluded from decision-making on how water resources are shared, developed and managed.

Mekong River dams ‘will harm food security’–The Nation Hydropower development on the Mekong River will aggravate food insecurity and poverty in the region and reverse the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a study says. Environmental and social specialists of Mekong River Commission (MRC) warned during the third MRC International Conference in Cambodia, that hydropower dam development in the Mekong River was expected to ravage the river basin with severe environmental and socioeconomic impacts.

       Related: Ongoing Mekong Dam Construction Puts Communities at Serious Risk: Advocates-VOA Khmer

What will Jokowi’s legacy be in climate change?The Jakarta Post Indonesia will have its next presidential election in April next year, which will also mark the end of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s first term. Climate talks, however, remain tragically absent, despite the fact that Indonesia is one of the largest greenhouse gas-producing countries in the world, largely due to deforestation, peatland degradation and forest fires.

Mekong: more dams, more damageThe Interpreter The great biodiversity and precious resources of the Mekong are increasingly endangered by the rush to dam one of the world’s great rivers. A total of 11 mainstream dams and 120 dams on tributaries are planned, which scientists warn will imperil the already fragile river system. Recent studies call for a suspension and review of future projects.

This small city in the Philippines is taking big steps to curb emissions–Eco-Business San Carlos City in Negros Occidental, the Philippines, was once home to one of the country’s biggest sugar mills. But as the growth of the sugar industry has slowed since the 1980s, the city has sought alternative means of generating revenue. It has harnessed one of its most abundant natural resources: sunshine. // This city conducted a community-level GHG emission inventory to calculate its carbon emissions, and we can think about how to expand this idea to another city in Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia Closes Island Beaches to Recover from Climate Change and Tourism–The Irrawaddy Magazine More popular Southeast Asian islands will be off limits to visitors this year as officials seek to protect eco-systems crumbling from warming seas and unchecked sprawl, despite the risk to tourism revenues and tens of thousands of jobs.

             Related: Profit vs. environment: Top Southeast Asia beaches close for clean-up–Investvine

Mekong River bird species threatened by dam discharges–The Nation The Mekong River ecosystem has been devastated from rising water levels during the dry season, as upstream dams in China discharge water to facilitate navigation in the river.

CHINA 

“China Steps Out: Beijing’s Major Power Engagement with the Developing World”: A Review–CFR President Xi Jinping has dramatically reshaped China’s presence and power on the world stage, touting a “new model” for developing countries to follow and advocating a “new type of international relations”; unlike predecessors such as Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, Xi openly promotes China as a model of development.

China ‘environment census’ reveals 50% rise in pollution sources–The Guardian Releasing preliminary results of an ongoing “environmental census”, China’s ministry of ecology and environment said the number of sources of pollution in the country stands at about 9m, compared to 5.9m in its first census, in 2010.  Ministry mentioned that factories break emission rues is the big problem.

Lancang-Mekong Cooperation driving force in building peaceful, prosperous community–Khmer Times During the first “Lancang-Mekong Week” (March 19-25), Prak Sokhonn told Xinhua in a joint interview that the Phnom Penh Declaration and the Five-Year Plan of Action (2018-2022) were two very important documents, which provided clear-sighted vision for the future development of the LMC.

China pollution sources up by more than half since 2010, environment official says–The Straits Times The number of pollution sources in China has increased by more than half in eight years, the environment ministry said on Thursday (March 29) as it embarks on a nationwide survey to determine the damage done by more than 30 years of untrammelled growth.

China needs more water- Using cutting-edge defence technology–Digital Journal China is testing cutting-edge defense technology to develop a powerful yet relatively low-cost weather modification system to bring substantially more rain to the Tibetan plateau, Asia’s biggest freshwater reserve.

Greens take on China’s Infrastructure projects in Southeast Asia–NIKKEI ASIAN REVIEW Rural communities in Thailand have been challenging Chinese companies with street protests, court petitions, and occasionally sorcery, to block environmentally-damaging projects in their back yards — and their call to action is being taken up across mainland Southeast Asia. // Increasing environment protest put pressure on China’s infrastructure projects in Southeast Asia, with success in blocking Pak Beng Dam and other projects. China needs to think about building more environmental-friendly projects in the region and select reliable local partners to establish a positive image.

SOUTHEAST ASIA 

Can ASEAN Economic Integration Succeed?–The Diplomat Later this month, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will host its 32nd summit. ASEAN’s themes for 2018, under Singapore’s chairmanship, are “resilience and innovation.” Both will be needed if the group’s members are to bridge their differences and meet their challenges.

Vietnam plans to hike fuel taxes in fight against pollution, debt–Reuters  Vietnam plans to raise taxes on fuels starting in July to reduce pollution and pay off public debt, the finance ministry said on Wednesday, though analysts caution the levy could increase inflation and hurt businesses in the country.

Myanmar Picks a New President, but He’ll Still Be No. 2–NYT The new president, U Win Myint, will succeed U Htin Kyaw, 71, who resigned last week after two years on the job. Mr. Htin Kyaw was widely regarded as an honest but powerless functionary who did the bidding of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate who has been condemned globally for her acquiescence to the military’s ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims.

        Related: Can A New President Pull Myanmar Out of the Quagmire of Conflict?–The Irrawaddy   Magazine

Philippines Urges Tougher Global Action on Cybersex Child TraffickingThe Irrawaddy Magazine Organizations such as the United Nations’ children’s agency (UNICEF) say the Philippines is the epicenter of a growing cybersex trafficking trade, with many children forced to perform sex acts, abused and raped by relatives in front of a webcam.

Vietnam’s most powerful man strives to put stamp on economy–Nikkei Asian Review Nguyen Phu Trong, the head of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party, appears to be borrowing from Chinese President Xi Jinping’s playbook. Like Xi, Trong is using an aggressive anti-corruption campaign to attack political foes and push his policy agenda. Can he tackle vested interests?

Thailand wants to join CPTPP trade pact this year: Somkid–Bangkok Post Thailand aims to seek membership in a landmark Asia-Pacific trade agreement this year, Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said on Thursday.

The Other Country Crucial to Global Climate Goals: Indonesia–The Diplomat  Indonesia, a country that, depending on the scale of its now-seasonal fires, can be the world’s third to sixth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has done little to implement policies that would enable it to meet its already weak Paris agreement goals.

Related: What will Jokowi’s legacy be in climate change?-The Jakarta Post

Uber to Sell Its Southeast Asia Business to Grab, a Regional Rival–NYT Uber, which for years spread across the globe with command-and-conquer rapaciousness, is pulling back from another major ride-hailing market. The company said on Sunday that it would sell its Southeast Asia ride and food-delivery businesses to Grab, a rival based in Singapore.

                    Related: Why Uber Needs To Retreat To Move Forward–The Forbes

Laos on a fast track to a China debt trap–Asia Times Laos is one of eight global countries considered of “particular concern” for a future debt crisis. The main cause of concern is the small poor country’s big rich plans for a US$6.7 billion high-speed railway that China is promoting as part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The project’s cost represents a quarter of Laos’ current gross domestic product (GDP). // Not only Laos but also other low-income countries in mainland Southeast Asia like Cambodia engage deeply in China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative.’

 Belt and Road could bring risks for Cambodia debt–The Phnom Penh Post China’s financing of Belt and Road Initiative projects in Cambodia could lead to increased debt distress, according to a recent analysis, though the Kingdom’s low overall debt makes it unlikely to default in the near future.

Vietnam May Soon Emerge As One of Southeast Asia’s Blockchain Innovation Hubs–Forbes During the past several decades, Vietnam has shown what the World Bank describes as a “resilient” economy, thanks to rapid GDP growth. Society-wide, overall health and education outcomes have risen in recent years and the rate of extreme poverty dropped to 3%. This year, Vietnam’s economic growth could reach 6.7%. However, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
YUNNAN

Mekong Dam Could Choke China’s Last Rainforest–Caixin Global A swath of tropical rainforest on the Xiaohei River in South China’s Yunnan province has been cut down to make way for the Huilongshan Hydropower Station.

 

TAIWAN

Taiwan’s role in transforming India’s northeast–Asia Times India’s Act East policy, launched in 2014, outlines a multifaceted approach that ranges from expanding cultural links to improving trade ties and transport connectivity. There are ample synergies between Taiwan’s New Southbound policies and Act East policies exist. // Taiwan’s government is developing a close alignment with other Indo-Pacific countries like India through New Southbound Policy.

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

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