Regional Roundup for Week of 5.3.18

EXSE FOCUS

32nd ASEAN Summit: Analysis and key takeaways–The ASEAN Post Leaders adopted the ASEAN Leaders’ Vision for a Resilient and Innovative ASEAN which sets forth the association’s goals for the year while also taking into account shifting geopolitical and economic realities. The issues discussed at ASEAN Summits can be categorized under three broad themes – current issues, ASEAN Community agendas and the chairman’s ambitions.// Although hot button issues like South China Sea tensions, the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, and recent developments on the Korean peninsula were key focal areas of  discussion, Singapore used its prerogative as this year’s chair to prioritize discussion of the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN). ASCN is a top item on Singapore’s agenda and is defined by a focus on sharing lessons learned and synergizing ASEAN’s urban development efforts around innovation, growth, and sustainable development.

                 Related: 26 cities to pilot ASEAN Smart Cities Network–Channel NewsAsia

                 Related: ASEAN Cybersecurity in the Spotlight Under Singapore’s Chairmanship–The Diplomat

North and South Korea Set Bold Goals: A Final Peace and No Nuclear Arms–NYT  The leaders of North and South Korea agreed on Friday to work to remove all nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula and, within the year, pursue talks with the United States to declare an official end to the Korean War, which ravaged the peninsula from 1950 to 1953.// Based on the surprisingly positive inter-Korea summit and recent thawing of tensions, people are eagerly awaiting the upcoming US-North Korea summit to see whether the summit can make historic progress on Korea issues that have long been viewed as intractable.

                 Related: Everything you need to know about the inter-Korean summit–The Guardian

                 Related: Commentary: Hasten thaw on the Korea Peninsula? Singapore and Southeast Asia have roles to play–Channel NewsAsia

Egat aims for revamp to tackle disruption–Bangkok Post The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) plans to revamp its organisational structure and administration to prepare for disruptive technology in the country’s energy sector. // EGAT’s governor provided three important takeaways in this interview: the first is yet another high-level confirmation that the utilities is making significant changes to the way it operates and invests in response to disruptions from distributed generation and the rapid price drop in solar and wind technologies. The second is that as a result of changes, EGAT is unlikely to invest in large-scale plants for the next 6-8 years. The third is that the Thailand’s updated master energy plan will be released in August of this year. Given the dual role that Thailand plays as both a financier of projects in Laos and also as a purchaser of the electricity produced from those projects, EGAT’s policy changes will potentially have significant ramifications for the future of hydropower development in the Mekong.

                 Related: BCBG driving an energy revolution in Thailand – World Finance //Includes an interesting exploration of blockchain technology as a potential game-changer for managing distributed electricity generation.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

U.K. Eyes Southeast Asia for Post-Brexit Trade Bursts–Bloomberg The lone non-Asian trade minister at last week’s Southeast Asian leaders’ summit in Singapore, U.K. Trade Minister Greg Hands had plenty of room to make the case that Brexit won’t interfere with his country’s ambitious plans in the region.

Japan partners with ASEAN countries on disaster insuranceNikkei Asian Review Japan will work with Southeast Asian nations like Laos and Myanmar to provide immediate financing after natural disasters so that recovery funds can be quickly distributed.// This is another instance of Japan stepping up its engagement in Southeast Asia and the Mekong region, partially in response to China’s BRI.

Germany grants Bt690m, will work with Thailand on climate change projects–The Nation Germany has granted Bt690 million for a four-year climate change programme intended to help Thailand achieve its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change.

Japanese backing pledged for EEC–The Nation The Japan Bank for International Co-operation (JBIC) has promised to provide soft loans to investors setting up business in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) and is ready to back investment in a high-speed link between three airports that underpins the flagship economic zone.

Korea, Thailand agree to step up cooperation on defense industry, culture–Yonhap News South Korea and Thailand agreed Thursday to enhance cooperation in the defense industry, culture and other sectors, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. The senior diplomats agreed to keep up their countries’ close collaboration in the defense and defense manufacturing sectors. They also pledged to expand cooperation in culture, tourism and language education. Tourist visits between the countries reached 2.2 million last year, they noted.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Beating Malaria in the Greater Mekong Subregion–Chiang Rai Times In Southeast Asia’s Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), the battle against malaria is advancing at a rapid pace. Between 2012 and 2017, reported malaria cases fell by a staggering 84%, with deaths from the disease down by 93%.

Fighting climate change with smart finance: Pakistan and Cambodia show the way in Asia–South China Morning Post In Cambodia, a similar “climate change financing framework” is allowing the government to estimate the economic impact of climate change and clearly map the cost of their response. Budget data is enabling the government to make a stronger case for international assistance to meet their climate goals.

World Bank backs Lao agriculture project–The Nation The World Bank has approved an assistance project to help Laos upgrade its agriculture productivity and produce crops for commercial purposes. The bank’s board of executive directors approved the Lao Agriculture Competitive Project last week as part of efforts to help the country increase agricultural productivity.

3 Vietnamese cities to be in Asean smart cities network–The Strait Times Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang in Vietnam will be part of the Asean network of smart cities being proposed by Singapore, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Vietnam incurs losses from pollution from agricultural production–Vietnam net Agricultural production is both the culprit and victim of pollution. It is the major cause behind soil, water and air pollution in intensive farming areas, while the use of polluted water for irrigation leads to a low yield of crops. Plant protection chemicals and fertilizer abuse has been poisoning the soil because it degrades the soil physically, chemically and biologically.

Human disturbances threaten conservation of cave bats in Cambodia, study says–The Phnom Penh Post Researchers in a new study say visitor activities in caves in Cambodia pose challenges for bat conservation, noting that human disturbance is often detrimental to populations, which in turn take substantial time to recover from declines.

CHINA

China, India and water across the border–The Third Pole When India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China’s President Xi Jinping held an informal summit on April 27-28, involving a cruise on Wuhan lake in Hubei province, did they talk about water?

                 Related: What the Modi-Xi Meeting Tells Us About China and India–TIME

                 Related: China’s Xi, India’s Modi seek new relationship after summit–Reuters

Yangon works with China to lay down development plan for new city project–Myanmar Times  New Yangon Development Company (NYDC) on Monday signed a framework agreement with China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) under which the two parties will carry out the necessary surveys and studies needed to develop and implement a new city in Yangon.

Xiaomi to sell smartphones in UK through Three–The Guardian ‘China’s Apple’ turns focus to west and is set to raise $10bn on Hong Kong stock exchange. The Smartphone maker Xiaomi will begin selling its smartphones in the UK under a partnership with Hutchinson’s Three as “China’s Apple” turns its attention to the west.

Indonesia seeks ways to speed up China high-speed rail project–The Strait Times Indonesia said on Wednesday (May 2) it is seeking ways to accelerate a US$5 billion (S$6.68 billion) high-speed rail project – being built by a consortium of local and Chinese state firms – which is facing obstacles from land ownership issues.

U.S. and China Dive In for Prolonged Trade Talks–WSJ Trade negotiators from the U.S. and China are digging in for the first round of what they expect to be recurring, difficult talks that don’t produce an immediate settlement.

China Agrees To Accept Filipino Workers, But Will They Go?–Forbes China has offered billions in investment aid to its developing neighbor the Philippines over the past 18 months. It’s paying for railways and weapons to resist rebels, among other things. The two sides are talking about joint undersea oil exploration, too.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Will the junta’s Eastern Economic Corridor project help Thailand escape from the middle-income trap?–Southeast Asia Globe While the junta has high hopes for the Eastern Economic Corridor, some consider the project little more than a stop gap measure that will ultimately fail to address the underlying symptoms of the country’s poor economic performance

What’s Next for Vietnam-Cambodia Border Cooperation?–The Diplomat Last week, Vietnamese and Cambodian military officials held another interaction focused around border issues. Though the engagement was just the latest in a series that continue to occur into 2018, it nonetheless reinforced the significance of border collaboration between the two neighboring Southeast Asian states within the context of their respective domestic and foreign policies.

Can a billionaire idealist and his new party challenge Thailand’s military rule?–Southeast Asia Globe Magazine Four years since the Thai armed forces seized power, the ruling junta has cemented its role in the nation’s polarised political scene through a handcrafted constitution . A new progressive party has promised to break the military’s grip on power, but can the young billionaire at its helm win the hearts and minds of Thailand’s rural majority?

Contenders Shaping Up for 2019 Indonesian Presidential Election–CFR Earlier this month, former Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto, who ran for president against Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, in 2014, announced that he will be a candidate again in 2019, setting up a possible presidential rematch.

Thailand openly airs hope to join TPP–Bangkok Post Thailand has expressed its hope of joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Japan’s minister in charge of the free trade deal said Tuesday. Japan has been hoping to increase the number of members while encouraging the United States to return to the free trade accord.

                 Related: Thailand wants to join TPP ‘as soon as possible’, says deputy PM–Nikkei Asian Review

Workers in Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia Call For Better Pay, Benefits–Radio Free Asia Hundreds of workers took to the streets in Myanmar on Tuesday to call for a living wage, while in Laos marchers asked for social welfare benefits and better protection for citizens working abroad, sources said. Meanwhile, in Cambodia, workers gathered but were forbidden to march, sources in the country said.

Cambodia Peacekeepers Prepare for New Deployment After Africa Attacks–VOA Khmer In the pouring rain on Thursday, hundreds of Cambodian troops and military engineers bid farewell to Cambodia at a ceremony as they departed for yet another United Nations peacekeeping mission in war-torn Mali and South Sudan.

Indonesia Digs In to Grab a Bigger Share of Its Resource Wealth–WSJ Indonesia is trying to capture a bigger share of the vast wealth from its natural resources by seeking more favorable deals and building state-owned firms into industrial behemoths, a strategy that risks alienating foreign investors and has already spooked Freeport-McMoRan Inc. shareholders.

TAIWAN

Foreign Laborers and Taiwan’s Evolving Democracy–The Diplomat Taiwan’s international space in multilateral forums remains stunted. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has sought to address this problem in part by advancing the “New Southbound Policy”(NSP) to expand economic and cultural linkages in Southeast Asia. While this external effort is well-considered, Taiwan’s future lies not just in how it relates to the outside world. Instead, the strength of Taiwan’s democracy at home is arguably its greatest asset.

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

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