Regional Roundup for Week of 5.17.19

EXSE FOCUS

Connected & Flowing: A Renewable Future for Rivers, Climate, and People–World Wide Fund & The Nature Conservancy With thousands of hydropower dams planned across the globe, a new report from WWF and The Nature Conservancy demonstrates how we can solve the world’s climate and energy challenge without sacrificing our remaining free-flowing rivers and the diverse benefits they provide to people and nature.// To meet the world’s demand for energy while tackling greenhouse gas emissions, it is time to mainstream renewables into the energy mix. Better technology and falling prices in renewables have allowed for power systems that are low carbon, low cost, and low impact.

Related: A Joint Statement by Civil Society Organizations on occasion of the 2019 World Hydropower Congress in Paris

Shipping plastic waste to poor countries just got harder-National Geographic It just got more difficult for rich countries to ship their plastic waste to poor countries. On May 10, more than 180 nations agreed in Geneva to add mixed plastic scrap to the Basel Convention, the treaty that controls the international movement of hazardous waste.// This additional to the Basel Convention is a step toward protecting developing nations from the harmful waste of developed ones. After China’s implemented its ban on importing non-industrial plastic waste, Southeast Asian nations experienced a significant increase in plastics that overwhelmed their capacities to process.

Laos Dam Collapse Blamed on Substandard Construction-Radio Free Asia Poor construction methods, with soil used in place of concrete, are now being blamed for a fatal hydropower dam collapse last year in Laos in what has been called the country’s worst flooding in decades.// This case exemplifies the repercussions that inadequate construction standards can have on the livelihoods of vulnerable downstream populations. The dam collapse caused flash flooding that killed 40 people and displaced thousands.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Myanmar to borrow more than 1.4 billion baht for more electricity-Myanmar Times The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw has approved the borrowing of 1.4 billion baht from Thailand’s Neighbouring Countries Economic Development Cooperation Agency (NEDA) to supply more electricity in Yangon Region.

Singapore surpasses China as Myanmar’s biggest investor-Myanmar Times Singapore has overtaken China as the country’s main source of foreign investment in 2019, according to data from the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations.

B100bn plan to boost links with 6 nationsBangkok Post  The government is now on track to turn Thailand into a transport hub for six countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), following a 100-billion-baht infrastructure development project in the Thai border provinces

SK Group to make $1bn push into Vietnam with Vingroup investment-Nikkei Asian Review South Korean conglomerate will become second largest shareholder.

Australia’s Labor plans foreign policy pivot to Southeast Asia-Nikkei Asian Review An expected win by the opposition Labor Party in Saturday’s general election is likely to bring about a pivot in Australia’s foreign policy to Southeast Asia and a softer line on China.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

In Indonesia, a flawed certification scheme lets illegal loggers raze away-Mongabay A massive series of seizures of timber from rare tree species has thrown into question the effectiveness of Indonesia’s existing mechanisms to tackle illegal logging.

The sad end of Lao’s elephants-ASEAN Post “Both populations are not sustainable and are actually declining. And the problems that each population faces are completely different,” said Anabel López Pérez, wildlife biologist with the Elephant Conservation Center.

Rolling blackout to continue until end of May: minister-Myanmar Times

The frequent power outages happening across Myanmar currently are due to electricity load reduction and the Ministry of Electricity and Energy says this will continue until the end of May.

Food Safety, Pollution Top Vietnam’s Latest Survey of Public Concerns-VOA The biggest worries among Vietnamese people are food safety, pollution, and corruption, according to a new survey that suggests not enough has been done about these issues since they were raised two years ago.

Mekong data and information system improvement receives Australian support-Mekong River Commission The Australian Government has provided funding of AUD 430,000 (approx. USD 300,000) to support the Mekong River Commission to implement its initiative in reinvigorating its data, modeling and information systems to provide enhanced and timely information to the public and MRC member countries.

Related: Can community research help address the Mekong water crisis?

Asian banks joining trend away from coal-Asia Times Asia has witnessed five major financial institutions announcing exit policies from coal-fired power plants over the last six weeks, signaling an acceleration away from coal financing into renewable-energy projects in the Asia-Pacific region.

CHINA

Southeast Asia and China’s Belt and Road Initiative–Diplomat A closer look at the dynamics behind the subregion’s continued management of the opportunities and challenges within the evolving initiative.

China To Revamp Cambodia’s Railway Systems-Investvine A team from China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) is in Cambodia and will soon begin a feasibility study on improving the country’s railways, Khmer Times reported on May 10.

Cambodia Downplays Criticism of Investment Amid Increased Crime by Chinese Nationals-Radio Free Asia Cambodia’s National Police published a report Tuesday which found that of 341 foreign nationals detained for criminal offenses occurring between Dec. 20, 2018 and March 19, 2019, 241 were Chinese nationals, followed by 49 Vietnamese, 26 Thais, four South Koreans, and three Americans.

Huawei to Supply Mandalay’s ‘Safe City’ Project with Cameras, Security Equipment-Irrawaddy Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei will provide surveillance cameras and other security equipment for use in Mandalay’s “Safe City” plan, according to a Mandalay regional government minister.

Emerging dynamics of the China-Myanmar economic corridor-Observer Research Foundation At the second Chinese Belt and Road Forum (BRF) attended by Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi in April 2019, three MoUs were signed to strengthen cooperation on the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) integral to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This was the latest in a series of MoUs reached between China and Myanmar on the CMEC in recent years.

Related: China-Backed Muse-Mandalay Railway to Cost $9 Billion; Gov’t to Buy Electricity from China to Cover Shortfall; A Chinese Special Economic Zone is deepening conflict in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

Thailand To Get Hit By China-US Trade War, Vietnam To Benefit-Investvine Thai exporters will pay a heavy price due to the escalation of the US-China trade war, which will also have a negative impact on Thailand’s economy, according to experts.

Biofuel fails to make a difference in Vietnam, consumption drops-VN Express After being introduced as a more environmentally friendly option in late 2017, E5 biofuel consumption has fallen.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Indonesia elections: Prabowo alleges fraud, says he will reject official vote tally-Strait Times Presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto said on Tuesday (May 14) that he will reject the official vote count by the elections commission when it releases the result of the April 17 polls, setting the stage for a political standoff in Indonesia.

Indonesia proposes grand $564 billion plan to rebuild the country-Strait Times Indonesia is drafting ambitious plans for more than US$400 billion (S$547 billion) in building projects, from constructing 25 airports to developing new power plants, as the government seeks to stoke growth in South-east Asia’s largest economy, according to the country’s planning minister.

Indonesian President Says to Go All Out in Second Term to Boost Economic Reform-Reuters Indonesian President Joko Widodo pledged on Thursday to slim the government during his second term and cut red tape hampering investment to achieve an ambitious growth target in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy by 2045.

As Indonesia mulls moving the capital, indigenous groups fear another land grab-Mongabay In the wake of Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s announcement that he intends to move the nation’s capital from Jakarta, some have expressed concerns that the plan could result in the seizure of lands belonging to indigenous communities.

Lao Government Vows to Enforce Ban on Concessions for New Banana Plantations-Radio Free Asia The government of Laos has vowed to enforce a ban on the granting of land for new banana plantations and punish local officials who violate it, amid a controversy over the illegal overuse of pesticides that residents say are causing pollution and destroying their livelihoods.

Global investors have little patience with Malaysia, with equities worst hit-Strait Times A year after Malaysia’s historic election, public euphoria surrounding the new government has evaporated. And investors are losing patience too.

Malaysia’s economy slows as US-China trade war hits exports-Nikkei Asian Review GDP expanded 4.5% in first quarter, while growing tensions darken outlook.

Suu Kyi opposed release of Reuters reporters: Envoys-Strait Times The biggest obstacle to releasing two imprisoned Reuters reporters in Myanmar was not the country’s military, diplomats and others say, but its de facto civilian leader, Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate and former political prisoner herself.

Parliament Approves $40M French Loan to Upgrade Hydropower Plants-Irrawaddy The Union Parliament approved on Thursday a €35.7-million (US$40 million or 60-billion kyats) loan from Agence Française de Développement (or the French Development Agency) to be used for major upgrades to five hydropower plants in four regions as Myanmar experiences country-wide waves of regular power cuts.

Nearly 20 Injured as Police Fire Rubber Bullets, Tear Gas at Protest of Myanmar Cement Plant-Radio Free Asia Nearly 20 people were injured Wednesday after police in central Myanmar’s Mandalay region fired rubber bullets and tear gas into a crowd protesting construction at a coal-powered cement plant that is operated as part of a joint venture between a local firm and a Chinese partner.

Philippines Recalls Its Ambassador to Canada in a Spat Over Trash-New York Times President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has recalled his country’s ambassador to Canada after Ottawa failed to take back tons of rubbish it had dumped in the Southeast Asian country, the Philippine foreign secretary said Thursday.

Philippine midterm polls marred by vote-buying-Strait Times Nearly 62 million Filipinos voted yesterday in midterm elections seen as peaceful but marred somewhat by vote-buying and faulty counting machines.

Duterte allies crush opposition in Philippine midterm elections-Nikkei Asian Review Senate candidates backed by President Rodrigo Duterte are on track to take over most of the 12 seats contested in the Philippines’ midterm elections, resulting in a crushing defeat for the country’s opposition.

Wheezing Thailand needs a clean-air act, government told-The Nation Environment campaigners have urged the government to approve a clean-air act to solve the country’s chronic smog problem and honour citizens’ right to breathe clean air.

Vietnam to Mobilize Military in Fight Against African Swine Fever-Reuters Vietnam said it will mobilize its military and police forces to help combat the outbreak of African swine fever that has already resulted in the culling of about 4 percent of the country’s pig herd.

Vietnam Intensifies Crackdown on Online Dissent: Amnesty Report-Reuters Vietnam has stepped up its imprisonment of political activists, Amnesty International said in a report on Monday, intensifying a crackdown that has seen the number of prisoners of conscience increase by almost a third since last year.

Long-awaited bridge in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta to be inaugurated this weekend-Tuoi Tre It is now only a few days to the inauguration of a long-awaited bridge in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, whose construction lasted more than five and a half years due to repeated delays.

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

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