Regional Roundup for Week of 4.12.18

EXSE FOCUS

Analyst: The Mekong is a Chance for China to Improve Its Soft Power Footprint–VOA Khmer The VOA Khmer spoke to Brian Eyler, director of the Stimson Center’s Southeast Asia program, on the sidelines of the summit about the future prospects of the region’s iconic waterway. “I think the Chinese stakeholders driving the process are not looking to replace or supplant any major organizations, but rather are looking for a way to complement and fill gaps. The LMC is another chance, I guess, for China to improve its soft power position and to improve its investment footprints”, Eyler said.

Related: Mekong Eye’s GMS Sixth Summit News Roundup-Mekong Eye

Solar Surge Threatens Hydro Future on Mekong–VOA Thousands of megawatts of wind and solar energy contracts in the Mekong region of Southeast Asia have been signed, seriously challenging the financial viability of major hydropower projects on the river. Brian Eyler, director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Stimson Center, a nonprofit in Washington dedicated to enhancing global peace and security, said 6,000 megawatts’ worth of wind and solar contracts had been signed in Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos in the last six months.

Related: In the Mekong, questions arise over impact of favoring hydropower-devex

Related: Mekong River Commission Warned on Development Impacts to the River-Radio Free Asia

          Related: Mekong River leaders grow hushed on hydropower fears at summit–NIKKEI ASIAN REVIEW

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Japan, US and India team to fund Indo-Pacific infrastructure–NIKKEI ASIAN REVIEW Japan, the U.S. and India have agreed to work together on infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific region as the countries look to counter growing investment by China. They will focus on South and Southeast Asian nations such as Nepal and Bangladesh as well as Myanmar.// Southeast Asia is under the spotlight for regional initiatives including China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ and the US and Japan’s ‘Indo-Pacific strategy.’ Time to hedge and balance.

Tensions with US and China spur Seoul to deepen ties with Vietnam–The Straits Times Facing persistent trade tensions with China and the US, South Korea is deepening ties with Vietnam, which is on course to surpass the US as Korean companies’ second-biggest export market. South Korean President Moon Jae In is looking to expand trade with South-east Asia as one way for corporate giants such as Samsung Electronics Co. to diversify production bases and export markets.

Vietnamese, Japanese defence minister hold talks–Nhan Dan Vietnamese Defence Minister Ngo Xuan Lich and his Japanese counterpart Onodera Itsunori reiterated the importance of building a stable, free and open order in line with law in the Indo-Pacific region during their talks in Tokyo on April 10. Itsunori noted that Japan wants to strengthen partnership with Vietnam in an effort based on the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy. // Vietnam now seems to seek to deepen defense cooperation with both the US and Japan, though it still maintains close relations with China. Stay tuned.

Related: Japan treasures ties with Vietnam: Prime Minister Abe-Vietnamnet

Related: Japan-Vietnam Defense Relations in the Indo-Pacific Spotlight-The Diplomat

CPTPP and Leadership in the Global Trade System–The Diplomat The CPTPP represents a model for the trading system in which other states step up to new leadership roles – unexpectedly, Japan became the advocate of free trade and encouraged others to go forward with new rules as a counterpoint to the protectionist turn in the United States and state capitalism model of China.

Japan’s pragmatism in its diplomatic ties with Cambodia–Khmer Times Cambodia potentially can be a platform for Japan and China to build a synergy between the Japan-proposed “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” and the China-proposed “Belt and Road Initiative”, and the Mekong-Japan Cooperation with the Mekong-Lancang Cooperation mechanisms.

Related: Japan, Cambodia sign $90 million aid agreement-Reuters

Identity crisis: Australia seeks new allies amid US-China rivalry–NIKKEI ASIAN REVIEW As the U.S. and China vie for dominance in the Asia-Pacific region, Australia is looking for new partners to ensure its future affluence and security. In many ways, ASEAN is a natural focus for Canberra’s efforts to expand its pool of friends and partners. Taken together, the 10 ASEAN economies accounted for 100 billion Australian dollars ($76.9 billion) of Australia’s trade in fiscal 2016.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

New directions for the Mekong–Khmer Times Institutional reforms of the MRC must be more robust and its members agreed to contribute more funding to support the operation and functioning of commission in order to realise the vision that it would become financially independent by 2030. This in turn would strengthen the ownership and effectiveness of this inter-governmental body.// Eyes on the MRC to building new connections to the LMC.

Mekong Delta ready for fight against climate change–Vietnamnet As hot weather peaks this month in southern Vietnam, authorities in the Cuu Long (Mekong Delta) region are stepping up efforts to cope with forest fires and salinisation as a response to climate change.

Cambodia community shows power of connecting nature and humanity–Mekong Eye Mondul Yorn village is located in the Virachey National Park, in the northeastern Cambodian provinces of Ratanakiri and Stung Treng. Many villagers are rice farmers and live using the abundant resources from the O’Tabok River. The villagers are concerned because the water in the river has become lower than before. They are concerned that in the future, if the water level continues to get lower, boats will not be able to travel on the river and the local people will not be able to catch fish.

Cambodia has made great strides in health care but many challenges remain, says WHO coordinator–Southeast Asia Globe While Cambodia has had a lot of economic growth it is still not a rich country… the amount of money available for health care is not so large and so the challenge for Cambodia is how can it address all the services that people need and also make sure that people can afford health care with the resources that are available.

National strategy on forest conservation out this year–Myanmar Times The government of Myanmar will come up with a national strategy to stem forest degradation this year as part of the country’s efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. In Myanmar, the potential for mitigation of climate change through reducing deforestation and forest degradation is comparatively high, as the country’s deforestation rate is one of the highest in the world.

CHINA 

Ozone pollution worsens in north China–The Straits Times Concentrations of hazardous ground-level ozone have worsened in northern China despite country-wide efforts to tackle air pollution, according to a Peking University study. Ozone rose throughout the region, with concentrations up 40 per cent or more in 10 northern cities from 2014 to 2017, the study said. Cuts in other forms of pollution are believed to have contributed to the rise.

IMF’s Lagarde says Belt and Road progressing but warns of debt risks–Reuters International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde said on Thursday China’s Belt and Road initiative is showing signs of progress but warned of potential debt risks for partner countries involved in joint projects.

ADB sees Asia’s 2018 growth at 6 percent, but warns of trade risks–Reuters  The Asian Development Bank raised its 2018 economic growth estimate for developing Asia to 6.0 percent from 5.8 percent, citing solid export demand, but said U.S. protectionist measures and any retaliation against them could undermine trade. The ADB now expects China’s economy to grow 6.6 percent this year, faster than the bank’s prior estimate of 6.4 percent made in December, and by 6.4 percent in 2019.

Tariffs On Chinese Solar Products Hurt the U.S Rather Than Help It–Here’s Why–Forbes President Trump recently imposed tariff increases on Chinese solar cells and modules, important components in solar energy generation. But in fact, the move may end up hurting the U.S. more than it does China, as it puts solar jobs at risk.

China Shines Bright as Solar Leads Record Renewables Investment–Bloomberg Solar investments eclipsed all other forms of electricity generation in 2017 as China’s green boom accelerated. Investors worldwide plowed a record $161 billion into solar energy last year, more than half the investment in all renewables apart from large hydroelectric projects. Total investment in renewables rose 2 percent to $280 billion.// China can play a more active role in investing solar power plant in Southeast Asia instead of keeping building dams that threaten regional water resources. 

China has built the world’s largest water-diversion project–The Economist The South-to-North Water Diversion Project—to give the structure its proper name—is the most expensive infrastructure enterprise in the world. It is the largest transfer of water between river basins in history, and China’s main response to its worst environmental threat, which is (despite all the pollution) lack of water.

SOUTHEAST ASIA 

Vietnam calls for tougher measures on cryptocurrency deals amid alleged scam–Reuters  Vietnam urged greater vigilance against cryptocurrency transactions and investments, as officials in its economic hub asked police to investigate what could prove to be the country’s largest cryptocurrency fraud.  Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc told the State Bank of Vietnam, the Ministry of Public Securities and other bodies to tighten the “management of activities related to bitcoin and other cryptocurrency”, the government said.

Heavy Facebook Use Exposed Southeast Asia to Breaches of Personal Data–VOA Facebook users in Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, were especially exposed to recent data privacy breaches due to high user numbers and the popularity of an app at the core of the problem, analysts believe.

Malaysia’s Upcoming General Election: What to Expect–CFR Malaysian prime minister Najib tun Razak dissolved parliament and called a general election, which will now occur no more than sixty days after April 7, the day of dissolution. Najib and other leaders of the governing coalition likely set this timetable in part so the election would be held while the longtime opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, remains in jail.

Thailand’s Lesson for Democratic Regression: A Review of ”Owner of the Map”–CFR It may be hard to believe now, as blustery generals run Thailand, the army busts up gatherings of political opponents, and junta rule—in one form or another—seems like it might never end, but the country was once touted as an example of democratization.

ADB Sees More Growth for Myanmar Economy, Pushes for Reforms–The Irrawaddy Myanmar’s GDP growth rate jumped from 5.9 to 6.8 percent last year on the back of a strong agriculture sector, export growth and robust private consumption, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said in its Asian Development Outlook 2018.

Vietnam weighs law for coast guard to open fire to protect sovereignty–Channel NewsAsia Vietnam wants to give its coast guard more flexibility to open fire at sea, amid tension in the busy South China Sea waterway. The draft law, expected to be voted by lawmakers at the end of this year, would allow greater assertiveness in disputed waters by the coast guard, now armed with modern U.S. and Japanese patrol boats, in a policy likely to alarm neighbouring China.

Indonesia seizes alleged ‘slave ship’ wanted by Interpol–Channel NewsAsia Indonesia seized an alleged “slave ship” following a dramatic high seas chase sparked by an Interpol alert after the vessel escaped capture in China and Mozambique. a vessel with a notorious maritime rap sheet, would be entering the Southeast Asian nation’s waters with authorities concerned the crew were being forced to work.
YUNNAN

In interview, Yunnan Party chief stresses ending poverty–GoKunming China’s President Xi Jinping has declared that the country will rid itself of “absolute poverty” by the end of 2020. With just a few years to go, Yunnan province has considerable work to do. The term absolute poverty is typically used to describe people living on less than US$1 a day, the equivalent of about 6.30 yuan.

TAIWAN

U.S-China trade war proves New Southbound Policy right: Taiwan President–Taiwan News The New Southbound Policy was designed to wean Taiwanese business off its heavy reliance on investing and manufacturing in China, and to turn them into the direction of Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Australia and New Zealand. As the U.S. slaps sanctions against products “made in China,” a number of products manufactured by Taiwanese companies in China might be hit.// The New Southbound policy plays a key role for Taiwan to decrease reliance on China and deepen relations with Southeast Asia.

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