Regional Roundup for Week of 4.5.2019

EXSE FOCUS

Policy gaps plague lower Mekong amidst hydropower backlash – Asian Power Countries along the famous river basin need to strengthen legislation and consider non-hydro alternatives amidst climate change threats, experts say. When the Se-Pian Se Nam Noi dam collapsed and killed dozens almost a year ago, the Lao government suspended the approval of new dams and begun carrying out impact studies for other dams that were in the pipeline.// Rapid economic development is placing pressure on Southeast Asian leaders to meet the burgeoning energy demand, and many of them are turning to hydropower for their needs. However, like Laos, many of these countries do not have enough safeguards to mitigate risks and prevent another fatal disaster.

Thailand’s Junta Targets Opposition Leader, Flexing System Rigged in Its Favor –  New York Times Thailand’s military junta is targeting a popular new pro-democracy party, accusing its leader of causing disorder that could lead to rebellion even as the seat allotments from last week’s parliamentary elections are being calculated.// Winning on a system built to favor the Junta, the Junta then targets the ‘Future Forward’ Party a popular new pro-democracy party.  Mr. Thanathorn, who has built a large following partly through social media, posted the summons on Facebook and Twitter and wrote: “When the dark power won’t leave Future Forward alone.”

Singapore Plans Law to Fight False News, but Critics Fear RepressionNew York Times Singapore introduced draft legislation on Monday that it said would combat false or misleading information on the internet, but critics said the measure could be used as a cudgel against the government’s critics.// Although the law would only target falsehoods, critics are concerned it is too broad and would give government ministers too much authority to determine what is true or false. The bill is widely expected to become law in the coming weeks because it has support from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s People’s Action Party, which has a supermajority in Parliament.

Why Hun Sen can’t keep the lights on – Asia Times Cambodia has been gripped by daily blackouts in recent weeks, leaving many parts of the capital Phnom Penh without power for most of the day. As temperatures spike during the region’s hot season, heated questions are rising about why the government can’t seem to keep the lights on.// Severe droughts have stifled the operation of hydropower dams in Cambodia exposing the major issues that can come from reliance on hydropower as a major source of energy.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Japan to bolster ASEAN trade by loaning out expertsNikkei Asian Review By expanding its influence in Southeast Asia, Japan sees an opportunity to establish a counterweight against U.S. protectionism and Chinese expansionism.

Southeast Asian ministers seek RCEP trade pact by year-endNikkei Asian Review Finance ministers and central bankers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will push to finalize an Asian trade megadeal by the end of this year, according to a draft declaration for their Friday meeting here obtained by Nikkei.

Global investors ditch Japan stocks but BOJ swoops inNikkei Asian Review Overseas investors sold off Japanese stocks by the largest margin in 31 years in the fiscal year ended Sunday, yet the Bank of Japan’s asset purchases absorbed all the bleeding, exposing the central bank’s outsize role in the market.

EXIM enables Thai investment in Vietnam’s renewable energyNation Multimedia EXIM Thailand has extended US$65 million in credit to Eastern Power Group Plc and Communication & System Solution Plc to finance the construction of two solar-power plants in Phu Yen, Vietnam, with a combined generating capacity of around 100 megawatts.

Duterte’s critics target China relations ahead of midterm elections Nikkei Asian Review Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s political opponents are zeroing in on his government’s dealings with China ahead of his visit to Beijing next month and crucial midterm elections in May.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Myanmar’s farmers fighting a losing battle – The ASEAN Post When the National League of Defence (NLD) won the general elections in 2015, paving the way for Myanmar’s first non-military president in over half a century, many farmers sensed a renewed hope for the nation. In fact, Aung San Suu Kyi’s pledge to tackle the issue of land grabbing and to protect farmers in the country was one of the reasons for her victory.

Environment Ministry and USAID launch Prey Lang projectKhmer Times The Environment Ministry and the United States Agency for International Development yesterday launched the Greening Prey Lang Project to promote sustainable livelihood and law enforcement in the Prey Lang community in four provinces.

Laos launches charging stations, paving way for electric vehiclesNation Multimedia The Ministry of Energy and Mines is set to work with the private sector on the project as part of efforts to promote the use of EVs in Laos and support the government’s move to minimise the use of fossil fuels.

Defending Myanmar’s Remaining Environmental TreasuresThe Diplomat Despite being engaged in a civil war with the central government for most of the past 70 years, today the ethnic communities of Myanmar’s Karen state are protecting some of the last full-spectrum biodiversity in Southeast Asia, through a combination of traditional land practices, global partnerships, and contemporary technology.

Vietnam’s Empty ForestsNew York Times Despite long and tragic wars with the Japanese, the French, the Chinese and the United States during the last century, Vietnam is a treasure house. It is one of the world’s hot spots of biological diversity, according to the science research.

Vietnamese researchers repurpose plastic waste with world’s first PET aerogelVietnam News Assoc. Prof Dương Minh Hải and Prof Phan Thiện Nhân, have found a way to breathe new life into discarded plastic bottles – turning them into one of the world’s lightest material called ‘aerogel’ that has a wide range of applications, including heat insulation, sound insulation, and absorption of oil and other pollutants.

World Bank reaffirms support for Lao green growth initiativePhnom Penh Post The World Bank has reaffirmed its commitment to stand with the Lao government as it implements its green growth initiative, according to a senior World Bank official.

CHINA

How green is China’s high-speed rail? – China Dialogue China’s economic planning department has recently approved a flurry of new rail projects at a scale that Green New Deal advocates in the United States would envy. A total of 800 billion yuan (US$120 billion) will be poured into rail construction in 2019 as part of a plan to stimulate the domestic economy.

Manila raps Beijing for ‘swarming’ island in disputed seaThe Strait Times The military reported last week that it spotted more than 200 Chinese boats surrounding Thitu in January and last month, blocking access to sand bars and fishing grounds there.

Philippines’ Duterte calls China a friend amid South China Sea tensionsThe Strait Times “You know, Red China or Communist China just wants to be friends with us,” Mr Duterte said. He added that he wouldn’t confront China over the two countries’ competing territorial claims in the South China Sea because it would result in war.

Philippines hits out at China’s ‘swarming’ South China Sea shipsNikkei Asian Review The foreign ministry said in a statement that the vessels “have been present in large numbers and for sustained and recurring periods” near the Philippine-controlled Kalayaan Island Group in the Spratly areas of the water. “Such actions are a clear violation of Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction” under international law.

Minister Defends Chinese Development in Koh Kong, Seeks Stronger US TiesVOA Cambodia “It’s a Chinese private company that has received a land concession for tourism development. They’ve planned to invest billions of dollars for the development if the project goes well, which includes an airport and seaport.”

Electric vehicle charging: What can the US and China learn from each other? – China Dialogue Electric Vehicles (EVs) offer two main environmental benefits. First, they have no tailpipe emissions, helping clean the air in urban areas: a report last year found 45% of Beijing’s most dangerous air pollutants came from cars, bikes and trucks.

Chinese consumers ignore calls to eat less beef – China Dialogue Despite increasing prices and evidence that too much beef is bad for health and the environment, belief that eating red meat makes you strong persists in China, and consumption is accelerating.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Cambodia Reveals Economic Reform Strategy To Counter EU ThreatInvestvine It sets out plans to cut the number of national holidays, introduce financial incentives for tax and customs sectors, as well as promote and implement amendments to the Law on Investment and the Law on Special Economic Zones.

Malaysia PM: EU Risking Trade War Over Palm Oil BanInvestvine Mahathir, 93, said the EU’s increasingly hostile attitude towards palm oil, a commodity used in everything from chocolate to lipstick, was an attempt to protect alternatives that Europe produced itself, like rapeseed oil.M

Race, religion and rhetoric ramp up in ‘New Malaysia’East Asia Forum After recouping the Semenyih state legislative assembly seat, it comes as little surprise that the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) are finally formalising their cooperation. The implication of this is that political discourse will only regress further to the right. The hardening of racial and religious divides on the back of perceived Malay-Muslim victimhood is another consequence.

Brunei’s Controversial New Shariah Laws Are Now in EffectThe Diplomat New Islamic criminal laws that took effect in Brunei on Wednesday, punishing gay sex and adultery by stoning offenders to death, have triggered an outcry from countries, rights groups, and celebrities far beyond the tiny Southeast Asian nation’s shores.

Thailand’s general election: By-elections to be held, ballots to be recounted in some areasThe Strait Times The announcement came amid numerous allegations of voting irregularities, such as reports of mismatched numbers, unqualified voters found among the list of eligible voters, and repeated delays in announcing election results.

Indonesia launches three economic zones, eyes $10.5 billion investment The Strait Times The government aims to attract 110 trillion rupiah (S$10.5 billion) investment in the SEZs – in East Kalimantan, North Sulawesi, and North Maluku – and create 120,000 jobs by 2025, according to a statement from the coordinating ministry for economic affairs.

Indonesia to invest $115m in Batam portThe Strait Times News of the Pelindo I investment follows hot on the heels of Malaysia’s plan to develop a multi-million-dollar project off Johor’s Port of Tanjung Pelepas to enable ships to transfer their cargo to other vessels without having to dock at the berths, in a bid to enhance shipping flexibility and cut costs for shippers.

ADB Forecasts Myanmar’s Economy to Resume Growth This Year The Irrawaddy The Asian Development Bank (ADB) expects Myanmar’s economy to resume growth this year and continue to expand in the next thanks to more foreign investment and a positive response to the government’s economic and policy reforms.

Myanmar Media Outlets Threatened over Rakhine CoverageThe Irrawaddy An email sent to Eleven reads: “AA is not a terrorist organization but fighting for the Rakhine fatherland. Media outlets have to stop [spreading] wrong information that could lead to misunderstandings between the AA and Rakhine, and other ethnic people. If it does not, news outlets will face damage. We can’t guarantee the safety of media houses and their reporters. If there [appears] anything bad about AA despite our warnings, we will blast your organization.”

Vietnam’s gas station leader hedges bets with EV chargersNikkei Asian Review Vietnam’s state-controlled Petrolimex, the top distributor of gasoline to the country’s more than 40 million motorbikes, aims to diversify operations ahead of a projected long-term slowdown in demand for the fuel.

Vietnam’s economy gains as companies flee China in trade war Nikkei Asian Review The U.S. trade war with Beijing continues to boost the Vietnamese economy as companies dodge tariffs by relocating production here from mainland China, fueling a sharp increase in exports to America.

UN finally tells the truth about Laos Asia Times “Many interlocutors suggested to me that the UN in Lao PDR has largely failed to be a voice for the vulnerable, let alone for human rights, and that it has promoted an overtly optimistic picture of the country’s successes while sidestepping most of the many issues that it and the government deem to be ‘sensitive’,” Alston wrote in his report.

Thailand doubles down on biggest port as free trade hubNikkei Asian Review A local unit of Hong Kong’s CK Hutchison Holdings has been taking some big steps to put the Thai province of Chonburi in position to reap the benefits of at least three free trade zones.

Hundreds hold protest at ministry over land disputeKhmer Times About 200 people from Kampong Speu province’s Thpong and Oral districts yesterday gathered to protest again at the Land Management Ministry, asking it to expedite a resolution for their land dispute with the Phnom Penh Sugar Company.

Brunei: Huawei’s Foothold in Southeast AsiaThe Diplomat “Getting a foothold in any Southeast Asian country — albeit a smaller country — gives Huawei an opportunity to showcase what it can do and what is acceptable to the region,” observed Edward Tse, chief executive of the consultancy Gao Feng Advisory Company and author of China’s Disruptors: How Alibaba, Xiaomi, Tencent, and Other Companies Are Changing the Rules of Business.

Thai CP Group nears deal on high-speed link to 3 airportsNikkei Asian Review Thailand’s largest business group, Charoen Pokphand Group, is in late-stage talks to construct a high-speed rail line connecting three of the country’s major airports, the railway authority said Thursday.

This week’s news digest was curated by Anvy Tran

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