Regional Roundup for Week of 4.26.18

EXSE FOCUS

China’s Belt and Road poised to transform the Earth, but at what cost?–Mongabay China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the largest infrastructure project ever embarked upon in world history. While BRI poses new and grave environmental threats, if managed properly and responsibly it could also offer extraordinary opportunities for green growth. Mongabay interviewed Courtney Weatherby, Research Analyst for the Southeast Asia Program at the Washington DC-based Stimson Center, on how environmental impacts from projects under China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ could be mitigated if Chinese actors adhere to international best practices, including the implementation of high standards for social and environmental impact assessments (EIAs), consultation with impacted communities, and good-faith efforts to address impacts.

                 Related: The Risks of One Belt, One Road for China’s NeighborsThe Diplomat

Goldman environmental prize: top awards dominated by women for first time–The guardian The world’s foremost environmental prize has recognized more women than ever before, reflecting the increasingly prominent role that women are playing in defending the planet.// Congratulations to all of this year’s winners! Our readers may recognize one of them: Khanh Nguy Thi, founder of GreenID in Vietnam, was recognized for her extensive and collaborative work with the Vietnamese government to minimize coal and increase renewable energy in the national power development plan.

                 Related: Meet the winners of the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize–Mongabay

                 Related: Q&A: Goldman Environmental Prize Winner Khanh Nguy Thi on Vietnam’s Energy Transition–The Asia Foundation

Singapore to host ASEAN summit this week–The Strait Times Regional leaders will gather in Singapore from today till Saturday for the 32nd ASEAN Summit and related meetings, during which they will discuss the grouping’s top priorities, programs, and challenges.

Threatened Cambodian river dolphins making ‘historic’ rebound–The Strait Times The population of Cambodia’s critically endangered river dolphin is growing for the first time in decades, conservationists said on Monday (April 23), hailing a major turnaround for the freshwater species. But conservationists and officials warn that significant threats, including major infrastructure projects, still endanger the animals’ fragile recovery.// The jump in the local Irrawaddy dolphin population is a positive sign, but the construction of dams upstream—along with overfishing—continue to threaten the population.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Singapore welcomes ‘important step’ in ratification of FTA with EU–Channel News Asia The negotiation outcomes of a free trade agreement between Singapore and the European Union have been presented to the European Council, a development hailed by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) on Friday (Apr 20) as an “important step” in the ratification process of the trade pact.

PM Lee Hsien Loong holds first formal meeting with British PM TheresaThe Strait Times Singapore’s colonial past and Brexit were discussed yesterday when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and British Prime Minister Theresa May held their first formal meeting. Both leaders agreed to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the founding of modern Singapore with a new and substantive partnership.

Japan drafts Thailand to sell Trump on TPP–Nikkei Asian Review Japan’s point person on the Trans-Pacific Partnership will visit Thailand in early May as the Southeast Asian nation looks to join the sweeping trade pact, with Tokyo hoping that fresh entrants will help bring the U.S. back on board.

Indonesia can play key role in mediating US-China tensions: experts–Nikkei Asian Review Indonesian experts highlight Indonesia’s potential to mediate U.S.-China trade friction and other political and economic conflicts. Indonesia is expected to become the world’s fourth-largest economy by purchasing power parity in 2050, according to consultancy PwC. Its role in shifting the power balance between global superpowers such as the U.S. and China will only grow.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Laos: New Hydropower Dams, Old Mekong Worries–The Diplomat Laos has not been reluctant to let the world know about its ambition to become the largest energy exporter in the region, or the “Battery of Asia.” As part of efforts to realize its goal, the landlocked communist country has pushing for building more hydropower plants over the years, in spite of the current and projected impacts on the future of the Mekong River, one of the world’s longest, largest, and resource-rich rivers.

Southeast Asian Nations Make Efforts to Reduce Plastic Waste, But They Are Still Not Enough–Radio Free Asia Southeast Asian nations are taking measures to reduce pollution from plastic waste and to promote the recycling of plastic products in keeping with the focus of this year’s Earth Day on April 22, but efforts in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar are falling short.

Related: What we can do to ‘live greener’ and offect change, according to experts–Southeast Asia Globe

               Related: ‘Mountains and mountains of plastic’: life on Cambodia’s polluted coast–The Guardian

Rice And Poverty In The Greater Mekong Sub-Region (GMS)–Thailand Business News The Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) is a major global rice producer and exporter but its population suffers from serious levels of poverty and malnutrition. Spanning six countries – China, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam – the region is home to 334 million people. Nearly 60 million of them are involved in rice production, growing collectively over 44% of the world’s rice. All of the countries except China are net exporters of rice.

Preserving Indonesia’s marine paradise as tourists flock to West Papau islands–Southeast Asia Globe Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago is the most biodiverse marine environment in the world. But as word of its magnificence gets out, and visitors swoop in, locals and expats alike are striving to protect their little piece of paradise.

CHINA

China taking direct aim at US with Indo-Pacific trade strategy, expert says–South China Morning Post Beijing’s plan to open up “China’s Hawaii” as a gateway for Indo-Pacific investment and economic ties is an attempt to counter the United States’ efforts to form alliances against China in the region, analysts say. The Hainan plan, unveiled by President Xi Jinping in Haikou, the provincial capital, on Friday, will have “genuine value” for China’s trade with countries in the Southeast Asian and Pacific regions.

When Modi and Xi Meet, Indian Elections Will Set the Tone–NYT When the leaders of the world’s two most populous nations meet on Friday in the Chinese city of Wuhan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India will be pushing to get less from President Xi Jinping of China. Analysts say Mr. Modi is fixated on winning next year’s election in India. And it is a measure of the fraught relationship between China and India right now that he is seen as needing Mr. Xi’s help to do that.

Related: What Does the Modi-Xi Summit Mean for Sino-Indian Relations?–The Diplomat

China’s ivory sales ban shows need for Asia-wide strategy–China Dialogue Ivory carvings have disappeared from view at Beijing’s liveliest antique market. “China no longer allows trading in ivory goods,” traders said on a visit in March. Some who previously specialised in ivory have switched to selling still-legal mammoth ivory carvings; others have shut down.

Asian Companies Are Working To Protect Against Climate Change, But Will It Be Enough?–Forbes Asia’s success over the last quarter-century in export-oriented manufacturing has powered extraordinary growth and made Asia a key player in the world economy. When there is a supply chain disruption, be it with Apple iPhones or Toyota automobiles, it impacts the world. Yet Asian companies and their extended supply chains are particularly susceptible to climate risk and resource constraints, notably from water.

China may avoid 94,000 deaths with climate policies: study – Channel News Asia China could avoid nearly 94,000 premature deaths and save a whopping US$339 billion in health costs over the next 12 years by honouring its carbon reduction commitments under the Paris climate accord, a study showed on April 23. The country has pledged to reach peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 at the latest and to cut carbon emissions per unit of economic output (GDP) by 60-65 per cent compared to 2005 levels.

US sanction on ZTE spur China call for self-sufficiency–Mobile World Live The Chinese government responded strongly to tough US trade sanctions imposed on China-based ZTE, with officials saying the ban highlights the need for the country to reduce its reliance on non-domestic technologies, particularly those from the US.

Related: Chinese tech company Huawei investigated for violating Iran sanctions by US Department of Justice–South China Morning Post

SOUTHEAST ASIA

ASEAN must be innovative, adaptive to stay relevant–The Business Times The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) faces increasingly complex strategic challenges. These include competition between super-powers, trade friction, terrorism, cyber-threats and natural disasters. The digital revolution has also fundamentally disrupted the way we live, work, play, communicate, mobilise and organise our societies. Asean needs to be innovative and adaptive to remain united and relevant in the face of these challenges.

Indonesia urges Southeast Asian economies to bargain together on TPP–Reuters Indonesia’s trade minister said on Friday it is urging Southeast Asian countries that have not signed up for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact to consider joining and that these economies could collectively negotiate accession terms.

Indonesia targets to conclude RCEP negotiations this year–The Jakarta Post Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita has said that the government is planning to finish negotiations over the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) this year, as progress in negotiations currently stands at about 80 percent

Alibaba to invest $320 million in Thailand, as rivals boost presence–Reuters Alibaba is investing $320 million in Thailand as the e-commerce giant aims to tap Chinese consumers’ appetite for the Southeast nation’s agricultural goods and for its tourism market amid growing competition from rivals.//

The Truth About the New Laos Minimum Wage Hike–The Diplomat After months of deliberation, Laos’ Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith announced this week that the country’s minimum wage will increase from 900,000 kip ($108) to 1.1 million kip per month. This rise is set to take effect from early next month. The development needs to be put into proper perspective to ascertain its true impact.

Human rights at risk for ASEAN citizens–The Jakarta Post As the 10 heads of state from ASEAN gather for the group’s latest summit in Singapore this week to discuss security, trade, and tensions in the South China Sea, the state of human rights and democracy in the region will once again be sidelined.

YUNNAN

Yunnan lifts 250,000 people out of poverty through relocation–Xinhua Southwest China’s Yunnan Province has lifted about 253,000 people out of poverty by relocating them from poverty-stricken communities to more developed areas, according to the provincial development and reform commission.

TAIWAN

Taiwan Water, ITRI to target Southeast Asian market with water tech–Focus Taiwan Taiwan Water Corp. and the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) signed a letter of intent on Wednesday to cooperate on targeting the Southeast Asia market with a technical solution that improves water supply, delivery and sewage treatment. // Taiwan is improving cooperation with Southeast Asia across a wide swath of sectors under the New Southbound Initiative.

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

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