Regional Roundup for Week of 4.12.19

EXSE FOCUS

Spreading Drought Adds to Risks for Thailand’s Cooling Economy – Bloomberg A spreading drought has emerged as a new risk for Thailand’s cooling economy in addition to domestic political tension and slower exports.// As Thailand faces export slowdown and sourcing confidence after its contentious election in March, drought adds to Thailand’s economic problems illustrating how climate change and environmental issues can magnify pre-existing issues.

Cheap coal swells in Southeast Asia, foiling global green push – Nikkei Asian Review Southeast Asian countries are turning to low-cost coal to satisfy their surging electricity demand as the West shies away from the fossil fuel under pressure from green-minded investors.// Despite energy shortages throughout the region, Southeast Asian Nations continue to invest in coal rather than making the leap to renewable energy sources.  Diversification of energy sources will be key to the future of energy and environmental security in the region.

Malaysia, China to sign new deal on ECRL project as Daim arrives in Beijing: Report Strait Times China has been accused of saddling countries with billions of dollars of debt by building rail lines, highways and other expensive projects overseas under its so-called Belt and Road Initiative.// The politically controversial project that was suspended last year is back on the table as costs are reduced by one-third.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

What Does the Pause in Singapore-Malaysia Airspace Tensions Mean? – The Diplomat On April 6, Singapore and Malaysia announced an end to tensions over airspace that have complicated ties since late last year.

New Military Facility Transfer Highlights Vietnam-Laos Defense Ties – The Diplomat The handover of a new office building spotlighted the developments underway in the capacity-building aspect of the defense relationship.

What’s in the First Vietnam Navy Vessel Visit to Myanmar? – The Diplomat Earlier this week, a Vietnamese naval vessel made what was characterized as the first such visit to Myanmar.

How Should Europe Handle Relations with China? – China File When Xi Jinping visited Europe in late March, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker portrayed the future of EU-China relations in mixed terms: “We are strategic partners, and yes, rivals,” he said, “but competition among us is a good thing.”

PM lauds Sino-Cambodian ties – Khmer Times Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday reiterated his commitment to the ‘One China’ policy and stressed the role China plays in the economic development of the Kingdom.

ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit – The Irrawaddy The Government of the Republic of Korea (ROK) recently announced that the ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit will take place in Busan from Nov. 25-27 2019. This will mark the culmination of the New Southern Policy initiated by ROK President Moon Jae-in, which aims at furthering and deepening the ASEAN-ROK Strategic Partnership based on the three pillars of “People, Prosperity and Peace”.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Water flow in Jinghong of China to decrease, but without significant impact downstream MRC The outflow of water at the Jinghong hydropower station in China will gradually decrease by almost half over a seven-day period in April, according to an official notification from China’s Ministry of Water Resources being copied to the Mekong River Commission Secretariat today. But no worrying trends are detected.

Huge potential for offshore wind power development in Vietnam – Nhan Dan The sea from Quy Nhon to Ho Chi Minh City is considered one of the areas with the greatest potential for offshore wind power production in the world, with average wind speeds of 7-11 metres per second, experts have said.

Farming production adapts to climate change – Vietnam Plus The agricultural production is in dire need of the international community’s assistance in dealing with climate change, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Le Quoc Doanh said.

Electricity Failure Leads to New Hydropower Projects in Cambodia  – News Skill Amidst the strain on the country’s electricity grid, which has led to nationwide electricity failure over a few weeks in the past, the Cambodian government on Friday approved the hydropower dam and solar energy plant projects in the country.

Myanmar farmers banned from planting crops near Chinese pipeline – Mizzima Myanmar farmers have been barred for five years from planting crops along the route of a Chinese oil and gas line and are protesting new requests by an affiliate of the pipeline company to take control of the adjoining land once restrictions end, according to an RFA report.

Indonesia creates three marine protected areas within Coral Triangle Mongabay The Indonesian government has established three new marine protected areas within the Coral Triangle, home to the highest diversity of corals and reef fishes anywhere on the planet.

Indonesia’s threat to exit Paris accord over palm oil seen as cynical ploy Mongabay Environmental activists have blasted threats by a senior Indonesian minister that the country will withdraw from the Paris climate accord over a European plan to phase out palm oil from renewable biofuels.

Lao Villagers Displaced by Nam Theun 2 Dam Say They Still Need Help Radio Free Asia Lao villagers moved by government order from their homes 10 years ago to make way for a showcase hydropower project have new houses, schools, and clinics in their resettlement areas, but are still left without access to fishing areas or adequate land to farm, sources in the country say.

Dispossessed: the human toll of Myanmar’s land crisis Frontier A highly centralised regime for governing “wasteland” is being expanded, with devastating effects on communities trying to reclaim their land after decades of war.

CHINA

Environmental NGO Urges Closure of Chinese Hotel ‘Spewing Raw Sewage’ on Cambodian Resort Island – Radio Free Asia An environmental watchdog on Thursday called on Cambodia’s government to shut down a Chinese-owned hotel and casino for pouring raw sewage into the sea off of the coast of the popular resort town of Sihanoukville, following the closure of another on the same island last month.

Panda Nation: The Construction and Conservation of China’s Modern Icon – China Dialogue China announced ambitious plans in 2017 to establish a series of large-scale national parks, some to become the world’s largest. The expressed purpose of several of these parks, distinct from national level nature protection reserves, is to target specific high-profile animal species on a grand scale.

Myanmar Villagers Protest Chinese Plans For Land Along Pipeline Route Radio Free Asia Burmese farmers barred for five years from planting crops along the route of a Chinese oil and gas line are protesting new requests by an affiliate of the pipeline company to take control of the adjoining land once restrictions end, sources in Myanmar say.

Myanmar Military Chief Backs BRI Projects in Talks With China’s Xi Irrawaddy China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) includes a host of projects that could benefit Myanmar, military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing told Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Wednesday, adding that Myanmar’s military was ready to cooperate on implementing them.

1,000 Filipinos protest against China ‘invasion’ Strait Times Protesters descended on the Chinese embassy in Manila yesterday to oppose the Asian superpower’s growing sway in the Philippines and as tensions rise over Beijing’s presence in the disputed South China Sea.

Related: Philippines Slams China’s South China Sea Flotilla The Diplomat

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Cambodia’s Opposition Chief Sam Rainsy Calls For Algeria-Style Overthrow of PM Hun Sen – Radio Free Asia Cambodia’s exiled acting opposition chief Sam Rainsy has called on the public to draw inspiration from a recent leadership change in Algeria and oust the country’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, saying he would throw his support behind a top-ranking ruling party official if he is willing to challenge the strongman.

Cambodia to Face Hardship if it Loses EU Trade Preferences, Interior Minister Says Radio Free Asia Cambodia will face severe economic hardship if the European Union proceeds with threatened plans to suspend beneficial trade preferences, Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng said Monday, calling the expected move a matter of “regret.”

Cambodia’s Government Defends Decision to Hire US Lawmaker to Lobby Congress – Radio Free Asia Cambodia’s government on Tuesday defended its decision to hire a U.S. state lawmaker to lobby on behalf of its interests in Congress, amid a low point in relations between Washington and Phnom Penh prompted by democratic rollbacks in the Southeast Asian nation.

Cambodian, Thai railroads to be linked this month Khmer Times The railway systems of Cambodia and Thailand will be linked later this month, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Friday.

Feasibility studies for monorail and metro system started – Khmer Times In a bid to reduce the city’s traffic woes, a group of Chinese experts has begun feasibility studies on a monorail project and a metro system in Phnom Penh.

Villagers told to occupy land granted to them – Khmer Times The Kratie provincial land management department yesterday warned citizens that if they do not live on land given to them by the government, their social land concession could be revoked.

Police rebuke corruption report – Khmer Times The National Police has issued a clarification letter regarding a Radio Free Asia broadcast reporting on the alleged corrupt practices of Major General Koeng Khorn, chief of Svay Rieng provincial police.

U.N. Expert: The Rich Get Richer in Lao PDR Radio Free Asia A United Nations rights expert recently traveled to Laos, where he met with government officials of various levels, village leaders, workers, farmers and tradespeople to gather information on their daily lives.

Malaysia to pump $2b into debt-ridden agency Felda Strait Times Malaysia announced yesterday that it would provide RM6.23 billion (S$2.1 billion) in financial aid for state-owned national land development agency Felda, as part of measures to revive the debt-ridden organisation.

Sumatran governor jailed over bribes to award infrastructure projects Mongabay A court in Indonesia has sentenced the governor of the Sumatran province of Aceh to seven years in jail after finding him guilty of corruption in connection with infrastructure projects in his region.

Prabowo woos voters in Jokowi stronghold of Solo Strait Times A day after President Joko Widodo returned to his hometown of Solo in Central Java, invoking his ties to the city to endear himself to voters, it was his rival Prabowo Subianto’s turn to come knocking in a final push to gain ground in the province.

In Indonesia, an earthquake leaves devastation on land and under the sea Mongabay Few people knew about the luscious coral off Palu, in Indonesia’s Central Sulwaesi province, before an earthquake turned it into an underwater wasteland.

Indonesia preps for lithium battery production with low-grade nickel plant Southeast Asia Globe Indonesia’s first plant to produce battery-grade nickel chemicals is on track to start operations by 2020, though the project still needs an environmental permit that could take up to eight months to be approved, the developer told Reuters

Economy, infrastructure spending among hot topics in Indonesia’s final presidential debate – Strait Times Economic growth and physical infrastructure development would likely be among the hot issues discussed in Indonesia’s final presidential debate on Saturday (April 13), four days before almost 193 million voters go to the polling stations.

U.N. Condemns Violence in Western Myanmar  New York Times The United Nations expressed alarm on Friday about civilian deaths and other developing consequences from an escalating conflict between Myanmar’s military, which undertook a brutally violent military campaign against the Rohingya ethnic group, and an insurgent group in a western border region.

AA Kills 20 Soldiers in N. Rakhine’s Ancient Capital Mrauk-U Irrawaddy About 20 government soldiers were killed when the Arakan Army staged attacks on two Myanmar Army artillery bases on the outskirts of Mrauk-U in northern Rakhine State on Tuesday night, the armed ethnic group’s deputy chief claimed.

Myanmar’s Rakhine Government Bans Donations to Help War Refugees, as Fighting Wears On – Radio Free Asia Myanmar’s Rakhine state government has banned state employees from collecting donations to help thousands of residents displaced by hostilities between national forces and the rebel Arakan Army (AA), fearing that the funds are being diverted to the ethnic fighters, according to an internal memo issued by the state’s education department.

Collapsed Talks Lead Philippines to Seek New Approach with NPA Asia Sentinel Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to dissolve the government-appointed peace panel charged with negotiating an end to the five-decade insurgency waged by communist rebels comes after years of fruitless political wrangling and intermittent negotiations against a backdrop of escalating violence.

Support for Duterte soars back to record high ahead of midterms Nikkei Asian Review Public support for President Rodrigo Duterte soared back to a record high, giving him a boost ahead of key midterm elections next month even as he comes under fire over his ties with China.

Thailand’s New King Looms Large Amid Post-Election Uncertainty The Diplomat While the country’s political future still remains unclear, the monarch will continue to exert influence in how it is shaped.

Related: Thai Election Body Orders Redo in Places Over Irregularities – The Diplomat

Thai Junta Unsettled by Unexpected Youth Movement – Asia Sentinel The preliminary results of Thailand’s March 24 general election, marred by confusion, delays, alleged irregularities and lack of transparency, have produced an inconclusive outcome and portend deeper political and social polarization and an unstable government, be it pro-junta or pro-democracy.  There are also widespread suspicions of vote manipulation to keep the junta in power.

Thailand’s Groundhog Day – Foreign Policy For seasoned observers of Thai politics, the sense of déjà vu was undeniable. The election at the end of March was nearly a scene-by-scene replay of a highly contentious election 27 years ago.

PetroVietnam shaken as scale of overseas losses comes to light Nikkei Asian Review Pressure is mounting on Vietnam Oil and Gas Group, the country’s state-owned oil company, after a government report revealed massive losses on its overseas projects.

The Government continues to consult on high-speed rail projects – VN Express The Government Office has just announced the conclusion of Deputy Prime Minister Trinh Dinh Dung at the meeting on the plan to study investment in high-speed railway on the North-South axis.

The Risk of E-Commerce Provisions in the RCEP  – The Diplomat Every day there are stories about new technologies, services, and products that present unexpected possibilities and unforeseen challenges. There is potential to harness these innovations to revolutionize development across ASEAN, especially through regional initiatives that support its small and poorer members.

Singapore vexed by water dilemma as Malaysia seeks price hike – Nikkei Asian Review Singapore is stuck in a dilemma over its water supply as neighbor Malaysia demands higher prices while local water treatment company Hyflux faces liquidation.

This week’s news digest was curated by Anvy Tran.

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