Regional Roundup for Week of 5.10.19

EXSE FOCUS

Coal’s Future Is in the Hands of the People, Not Banks – Bloomberg Climate change is at the top of many American voters’ minds, as evidenced by a CNN poll last week that found “96% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say it’s very or somewhat important for a presidential candidate to promise aggressive action” on the issue.// Is coal a dying industry? In a study commissioned by think tank E3G that polled citizens from Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Africa, Turkey and Vietnam on their preferences for foreign investment in the energy sector found that renewable energy was the top choice in every country.

Over 500 days in prison: Myanmar frees Reuters journalists jailed for Rohingya coverage – The Straits Times Two award-winning Myanmar journalists who were jailed over their coverage of the Rohingya crisis were freed from jail on Tuesday morning (May 7) after a presidential pardon.// Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were among 6,500 prisoners who were freed under presidential amnesty, however over 300 others who were unjustly imprisoned remain in prison in Myanmar.

Related: Aung San Suu Kyi tries to save face with Myanmar release of Reuters reporters – The Straits Times 

Cambodia’s Dam Troubles, Power Woes Seen as Arguments For More Solar Power – Radio Free Asia When the lights literally went out in many parts of Cambodia in February and stayed off in some areas during the following months, people immediately pointed their fingers at Prime Minister Hun Sen.// Stimson’s Southeast Asia experts, Brian Eyler and Courtney Weatherby, provide commentary on how to bridge the energy gap in Cambodia. 

Two-thirds of Earth’s longest rivers no longer free-flowing – Mongabay A first-of-its-kind analysis of Earth’s longest rivers found that they have been severely degraded by human activities and suggests ways for countries to maintain and restore rivers around the world.// Hydropower and dam development play a major role in the obstruction of free-flowing rivers and with 60,000 large dams in the world already, and as many as 3,700 more large hydroelectric dams in the works it’s hard to remain optimistic.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

China, Japan to join EEC smart city plan – Bangkok Post The Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) smart city initiative is likely to be the second development project involving collaboration with China and Japan, following the high-speed rail network linking the three main airports of Don Mueang, Suvarnabhumi and U-tapao.

Belt and Road forum marks subtle shift in China-Myanmar ties – Frontier Myanmar When the Chinese embassy in Yangon posted a Xinhua article about State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s meeting with Chinese Premier Mr Li Keqiang to Facebook on April 26, the solitary comment below the post was, “How about Myitsone dam?”

Related: China’s Dynamic Grip on Myanmar – The Diplomat

Sweden pledges to help Vietnam in energy saving – Nhan Dan Linde made the pledge during her meeting with Vietnamese Minister of Industry and Trade Tran Tuan Anh in Hanoi on May 8, which took place within the framework of the visit to Vietnam by Crown Princess of Sweden Victoria Ingrid Alice Désiree

Japan-Vietnam Military Ties in the Headlines with Defense Minister Visit – The Diplomat Last week, Japan’s defense minister paid a scheduled visit to Vietnam. Though the trip was only one of a series of activities within bilateral ties, it spotlighted some of the ongoing activity in the Japan-Vietnam defense relationship, which both sides look to continue to develop into 2019 as well.

How Indo-US Development Cooperation Benefits the Entire Indo-Pacific Region – The Diplomat India-U.S. relations have achieved yet another milestone with the recent renewal of triangular development cooperation in Asia and Africa.

CHINA

China’s calculus after the INF Treaty – East Asia Forum It seems that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is coming to an end. The Treaty prohibits the United States and Russia from possessing, producing or testing land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500–5500 kilometres, including both conventional and nuclear-armed missiles.

What’s in China’s New Belt and Road Recalibration? – The Diplomat As expected, China’s hosting of the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) in Beijing, which lasted from April 25 to 27, saw Beijing deliberately seek to recalibrate how it is approaching the much-ballyhooed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a signature initiative of President Xi Jinping first unveiled in 2013, amid lingering concerns and challenges.

Belt and Road countries to China: clean energy, not coal-Southeast Asia Globe Citizens of countries participating in China’s Belt and Road Initiative strongly prefer clean energy over the coal projects that have become Beijing’s calling card, a new survey shows.

China Expands its Global Military Footprint – Asia Sentinel China is using its Belt & Road Initiative to expand not only its economic, industrial and geopolitical clout but to join the world’s major arms exporters as a global power.

SUSTAINABILITY & RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Several small steps – Elephant calves caught on camera in Cambodia – Fauna & Flora International First, the good news. Footage from the 46 camera traps deployed by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains is giving us a privileged insight into the lives of the Asian elephants that roam through one of the continent’s last remaining forest wildernesses.

Cambodia’s sanctuaries under threat – The ASEAN Post Cambodia’s Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary is symbolic of the country’s poor forestry management. Around 2,000 square kilometres (sq km) – around three times the size of Singapore – is lost to illegal logging in Cambodia every year where wildlife sanctuaries – despite their name – are not spared.

Meteorologists get lessons in climate modelling – Vientiane Times Meteorological officials from Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia met in Vientiane on Tuesday to discuss and learn about advanced climate modelling.  

Maya Bay closed for at least another two years – The Thaiger Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Ley, closed last June to allow coral restoration and beach recovery, will now remain closed to visitors for at least another two years.

A Renewable Vision for Myanmar – The Irrawaddy Myanmar continues to experience a rapid increase in economic activity as it transitions into an open market system. With that, power demand continues to increase—for modern amenities like air conditioning and power for industrial factories.

Sand mining ‘mafias’ destroying environment, livelihoods – UN – TRT World Sand mining is eroding the world’s river deltas and coastlines, damaging the environment and hurting livelihoods from Cambodia to Colombia, as government regulation fails to keep pace with rising demand, the United Nations warned on Tuesday.

Northern Thailand was once a paradise. Now forest fires have made the air worse than Beijing’s. – Washington Post In mid-March, the city with the worst air pollution in the world wasn’t an industrial powerhouse populated by millions. It was Chiang Mai, the tourist-friendly cultural center in northern Thailand.

Jakarta, the fastest-sinking city in the world, Ho Chi Minh city ranked among top 5 – Vietnam Insider Not only Jakarta – the capital and largest city of Indonesia, many parts of Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City are sinking by 0.2-0.4 inches per year.

Govt raises concern on air quality around Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing – Myanmar Times The government has expressed concern over the elevated level of particulates in the atmosphere near the Letpadaung Taung copper project in Salingyi township, Sagaing Region, which has exceeded the prescribed level, a senior official of the Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Ministry said.

Indonesian group backs plastic bans amid judicial review-Strait Times A coalition of civil society organisations has challenged a judicial review petition on Bali’s ban on single-use plastics, which has been accused of violating other environmental regulations.

Pollution threatens 1 million Rohingya refugees: Study-Anadolu Agency Pollution has come to pose serious health risks for some one million Rohingya refugees at one of the world’s largest shelter camps in of Bangladesh, a new study indicated.

Jakarta citizens take legal action on air pollution – China Dialogue Earlier this year, citizens of Jakarta filed a lawsuit against the city government, the governors of West Java and Banten, and the central Indonesian government. Their demand? That elected officials address rising air pollution.

Mekong Delta pollution crisis, river turns black – Asia Times Severe pollution in southern Vietnam has caused water in a river in the Mekong Delta to turn black, killing fish and other marine life.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

No Dam: Images of devastation and determination – Mekong Eye As the Myanmar and Chinese governments continue to ponder whether after eight years to resume construction of the massive Myitsone Dam, the victims still fight for justice.

Govt to invite investors for poppy-substitute efforts – Myanmar Times The parliament was to discuss incentives that would entice private companies in poppy-substitute projects in the country in a bid to help reduce, if not eradicate the drug menace, a member of the parliament said. 

Are recovery efforts for the Lao dam collapse failing local communities? – ASEAN Today Last July, a dam at the Xe Pian Xe Nam Noy hydropower project in southern Laos collapsed, destroying 13 villages and displacing at least 7,000 people. The disaster killed 40 people and 31 are still missing, according to government reports.

CSOs’ participations key to development projects – Eleven Myanmar Civil society organisations (CSOs) have improved the quality of development projects and programmes by sharing their local knowledge and expertise over the years, according to Takehiko Nakao, president of Asian Development Bank.

How can Vietnam avoid becoming China’s dirty industrial backyard? – South China Morning Post Vietnam has become awash with Chinese investment in the last decade as businesses from its northern neighbour spread their wings abroad in a push for new markets.

What Did Suu Kyi’s First Cambodia Visit Achieve? – The Diplomat Last week, Myanmar’s de facto leader and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi paid her first visit to Cambodia in her current capacity.

How Can Indonesia Manage Its Concerns About BRI Investments? – The Diplomat On April 26, Indonesia’s Minister of Maritime Affairs Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan signed 23 memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with China while attending the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Forum in Beijing.

Indonesia War on Illegal Fishing in the Headlines with New Sinkings – The Diplomat Last weekend, Indonesia conducted another round of sinking of vessels deemed to be illegally fishing within the country’s waters.

Cambodia To Extract And Export Its Own Crude Oil – Investvine After nearly two decades of discussions and proposals, Cambodia has announced it will begin to extract oil for the first time later this year, exploiting a potential rich new source of energy for state revenue.

Brunei will not enforce death penalty for gay sex-Strait Times But critics of the country’s newly enacted Islamic laws said several other harsh punishments remain on the books, including whipping and amputation, and they have called for continued opposition until the laws are completely revised.

Massive base metals mine in Myanmar to start production in 2021– Mining Australia-based Myanmar Metals (ASX: MYL) said Monday that its 51%-owned Bawdwin polymetallic project in Myanmar could kick off production as early as 2021, based on a prefeasibility study into a starter pit.

The Struggle Continues for Myanmar Migrants in Thailand-Irrawaddy Myanmar migrant workers and advocacy groups in Thailand have called for their rights to minimum wages, safety at work, better accesses to social security and smoother work permit and visa extension application processes on International Labor Day, or May Day.

Vietnam objects to China’s unilateral fishing ban in East Vietnam Sea-Tuoi Tre Vietnam opposes China’s unilateral decision to ban fishing in the East Vietnam Sea from May 1 to August 16, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang said in a press meeting on Saturday.

Asean stocks end weaker as Trump threat jolts markets-Bangkok Post Southeast Asian stocks closed lower on Monday after US President Donald Trump threatened to hike tariffs on Chinese goods this week, rekindling trade tensions between Washington and Beijing, with Singapore leading the losses in the region.

Thailand’s Election Commission endorses most polls results, but probes continue – The Straits Times Thailand’s Election Commission (EC) on Tuesday (May 7) endorsed the majority of results in the March 24 national ballot, but warned that it was still investigating allegations of wrongdoing that might affect the final tally.

Related: Prayut 2.0 may not last long in Thailand – Asia Times

Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project back on track, says Indonesia’s investment chief – The Straits Times Indonesia’s investment chief Thomas Lembong is optimistic that the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project is back on track after years of mismanagement, but the concern over how long it will take to recoup the costs of the ambitious joint venture still remains.

Malaysia’s new government slow on reforms, rights groups say – The Straits Times Malaysia’s new government has failed to deliver on most of its human rights reform promises in its first year in power, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said on Wednesday (May 8).

Second BRI Forum Roundup—How Myanmar Fares – The Irrawaddy Despite global concerns about the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) causing unsustainable debt for countries involved, China managed to attract no less than 40 heads of state and delegates from 150 countries and 90 international organizations from around the world to Beijing for the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in late April.

Women’s Participation in Politics Undermined by the NLD – The Irrawaddy A lack of political will and interest in promoting women leadership at national level is being compromised by the competing agendas of the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government.

One year on, Mahathir’s grip starts to slip – Asia Times One year ago today (May 9), Malaysians from all walks of life went to the ballot box seeking change. Victory for Pakatan Harapan, a reform-oriented multi-party alliance led by 93-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, stunned observers and brought six-decades of rule by the once-formidable Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition to a jubilant end.

Philippines: Duterte to Enforce Court Order to Protect South China Sea, Spokesman Says – Radio Free Asia Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will enforce a Supreme Court order directing the government to protect and rehabilitate the marine environment in three areas the country claims in the disputed South China Sea, his spokesman said Monday.

Asean must embrace digitisation for development – Asian Correspondent ASEAN needs to put a stronger focus on digital literacy to enable the full potential of an Asean digital economy and society by 2025.

This week’s news digest was curated by Kathryn Hundley.

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