Regional Roundup for Week of 7.5.2018

For updates on cave rescue efforts in Thailand check the Guardian’s coverage here. This is a Mekong story folks with the cave about 30km from Mekong’s shores in the Golden Triangle. The Mekong’s monsoon season is making all sorts of trouble for rescue efforts.

This Week in Southeast Asian History

During this week in Southeast Asian history, Ho Chi Minh, leader of the Viet Minh, met with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai on the Sino-Vietnamese border from  July 3-5, 1954 to discuss the strategic situation in Southeast Asia. This helped build a partnership that lasted through America’s war in Vietnam until July 3, 1978 when China cut off its economic aid to Vietnam because of tensions between Vietnam and Chinese ally Cambodia.

EXSE FOCUS

Experts from Thailand, China clash over the damming of Mekong – The Nation CHINESE experts who insist that hydropower projects on the Mekong River will benefit all stakeholders met opposition yesterday when a Thai academic argued that locals lose more than they gain since dams impact heavily on every aspect of their lives. Academics and experts from China told a seminar on “The Sustainable Development of Water Resources” at Chulalongkorn University that hydropower development on the Mekong mainstream is sustainable and would bring overall benefits to all residents of the river basin.//China seems to believe engineering approaches can keep the Mekong’s robust environmental flows alive. If that were true, then we might find fish passages and sediment flushing gates on China’s Mekong dams in Yunnan province – unfortunately someone forgot to include them in the designs. 

ASEAN, China agree to pursue South China Sea code consultations –Philippine Star Senior officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China have agreed to move forward with consultations on the proposed Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC). The officials recently met in China’s Hunan province for the 15th Senior Official’s Meeting on the Implementation of the Declaration of Conduct of Parties (DOC) in the South China Sea. The Chinese government said that consultations on the COC will be based on the established framework so as to come up with a unified draft document. //Essentially an agreement to attempt to negotiate an agreement. Any substantive code of conduct will most likely not be agreed to in the near future.

Malaysia 1MDB: Ex-Prime Minister Najib arrested by anti-corruption officials – BBC Mr Najib, who has long been plagued by allegations of corruption, has been accused of pocketing $700m (£517m) from state development fund 1MDB. Billions of dollars are unaccounted for from the fund, set up by Mr Najib. He has been under investigation since his shock election loss in May. Mr Najib denies wrongdoing. According to a statement by the 1MDB special task force, Mr Najib was arrested at 14:35 local time (06:35 GMT) at his house in relation to matters dealing with SRC, a subsidiary of 1MDB.

Najib slapped with three counts of charges –Thai PBS Former prime minister of Malaysia Najib Razak was this morning charged with three counts of criminal breach of trust and one count of abuse of power for graft, Malaysian media reported. Under the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009, Najib was charged with criminal breach of trust involving RM27 (220 million baht), RM5 million and RM10 million in SRC International Sdn Bhd, a former subsidiary of 1MDB, the state fund which is at the centre of a major scrutiny, according to The New Straits Times.

Related: Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak arrested in corruption probe – Washington Post
Related: Najib Fighting for Freedom After Arrest in Malaysia 1MDB Probe –Bloomberg

Jokowi inaugurates first Indonesian wind farm in Sulawesi – Jakarta Post President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Monday inaugurated the 100-hectare Sidrap Wind Farm in Sindereng Rappang regency, South Sulawesi, the first wind power project in the country and the largest of its kind in Southeast Asia. The Sidrap Wind Farm, which will produce 75 megawatts (MW) of electricity and can power up to 70,000 households, is part of the 35,000 MW electricity program. //This is the first of several wind farms to be built in Indonesia.

Cambodia, Lao PDR to formalise a new bilateral cooperation framework on fisheries management –MRC
In order to cement the four-year-long bilateral efforts to address cross-border fisheries issues along the Cambodia-Laos border, the two countries have agreed to formalise a bilateral fisheries management body that would oversee collaborative activities to curb illegal fishing practices and increase fish stock in the Mekong-Sekong basin. The discussions took place in Pakse today at a workshop where fisheries experts from the two countries gathered to finalise a joint transboundary fisheries management plan and its implementation framework that address common fisheries issues such as illegal gear use and lack of law enforcement.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

South Korea’s Moon Jae-in to speak in Singapore on vision for peace on Korean Peninsula – Channel NewsAsia
South Korean President Moon Jae-in will visit Singapore from Jul 11 to 13, the Blue House announced on Monday (Jul 2). He will give a speech on his vision and policies for permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula as well as cooperation with Asian countries in the region.

Regional media raises cooperation, tourism promotion to new level –Vientiane Times

Media organisations from the six Mekong-Lancang River countries have signed cooperation agreements to promote mutual benefits from media cooperation, enhance promotion for regional tourism and the development of new media.  Under the theme “Cooperation in the Mekong-Lancang Community for a bright future”, the 2018 Mekong-Lancang Cooperation Media Summit, which officially launched in Vientiane, brought together numerous of representatives of sub-regional media organisations to discuss about the future framework of media cooperation and other relevant fields.

What Does Mahathir’s Visit Mean for Indonesia-Malaysia Relations? –The Diplomat Last week, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad paid a two-day visit to Indonesia, the second overseas visit for the country’s longest-serving premier who just retook office in early May following a shock election victory. Though the visit saw the two countries praise the significance of bilateral ties and float a number of proposals, the initial encounter was unsurprisingly short on substance.

Deputy PM Hue active in Brazil to boost relations –Nhan Dan Online Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Vuong Dinh Hue met with President of Brazil Michel Temer and held working sessions with the host’s ministers during his official visit to the South American country from July 2-3 with the aim of boosting bilateral relations. At the meeting with the Brazilian President, Deputy PM Hue affirmed that Vietnam appreciates the role and position of Brazil in the international arena and attaches importance to its ties with the Latin American country, saying that the comprehensive partnership between the two has achieved important progress.


South Korean FM promotes ties to Thailand in visit with Prayut – The Nation South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha on Monday visited Thailand to promote South Korea’s New Southern Policy, aimed to step up the country’s ties with Asean countries on par with that it has with major powers. The policy includes seeking geopolitical support in the wake of robust developments over the Korean Peninsula and forging economic ties with Thailand, which lasted year shared trade valued at US$11.7 billion (Bt388 billion) with the republic. //Increased investment from countries like Korea can help Southeast Asia become less dependent on Chinese aid.

Thailand joins EU efforts for WTO action on global system –Bangkok Post Thailand has teamed up with the EU to push the World Trade Organization (WTO) into greater engagement for handling protectionist and retaliatory issues to curb a possible trade war. Auramon Supthaweethum director-general of the Trade Negotiations Department, said the latest meeting of the Thai-EU trade and investment working panel held on July 2-3 in Bangkok found both sides agreeing to ask the WTO to play a more active role in promoting the multilateral trade system.

 SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

What’s worse than palm oil for the environment? Other vegetable oils – Asian Correspondent Indonesia and Malaysia are the world’s biggest producers of palm oil, accounting for a combined 90 percent of global supply. However, the expansion of oil palm estates, particularly in Indonesia, has long been criticised for driving deforestation across much of the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, as well as stoking social conflicts over land and other resources with forest and indigenous communities.

Cambodia, China sign MoUs on environmental protection, biodiversity conservation –Xinhua Cambodia and China have signed three Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) on environmental protection and biodiversity conservation. The MoU included the establishment of the Cambodia-China Environmental Cooperation Center Preparatory Office, the donation of wastewater treatment equipment, and the pilot cooperation on biodiversity and ecosystem conservation.

Transboundary EIAs could reduce conflict over river projects –The Third Pole In the Mekong river basin, massive infrastructure projects – dams, road, high-speed rail and ports – are under construction. While these projects will improve connectivity between countries, harmful environmental impacts need to be minimised. National level environmental impacts assessments that ignore cross border impacts are likely to create conflict between countries, thus undermining the objective of improved connectivity.

Southeast Asian forest loss much greater than expected, with negative implications for climate –Mekong Eye
Researchers using satellite imaging have found much greater than expected deforestation since 2000 in the highlands of Southeast Asia, a critically important world ecosystem. The findings are important because they raise questions about key assumptions made in projections of global climate change as well as concerns about environmental conditions in Southeast Asia in the future.

CHINA

How China Can Make the Most of Its Solar Energy Boom –The Diplomat The successes and shortcomings of solar energy market growth in China highlight the potential advantages, but also the inherent risks, of top-down, government-fueled growth initiatives. How the central government manages current issues in the power sector will play an influential role in determining the future of the solar market?

China presses Europe for anti-U.S. alliance on trade –Reuters  China is putting pressure on the European Union to issue a strong joint statement against President Donald Trump’s trade policies at a summit later this month but is facing resistance, European officials said. In meetings in Brussels, Berlin and Beijing, senior Chinese officials, including Vice Premier Liu He and the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, have proposed an alliance between the two economic powers and offered to open more of the Chinese market in a gesture of goodwill.

SNUBBED IN WORLD’S BIGGEST WAR GAME, WILL BEIJING MAKE WAVES IN SOUTH CHINA SEA? –South China Morning Post  The resource-rich Spratly and Paracel archipelagos may be the main sticking points in the South China Sea territorial dispute, and this week the world’s two major powers were shadowboxing over the issue thousands of kilometres away in Beijing and the Western Pacific. On the Chinese side, the fresh missive came from President Xi Jinping as he warned the visiting US Secretary of Defence James Mattis that while Beijing – a claimant to the contested waters – was committed to peace, it would not yield “an inch” of ancestral territory.

Japan’s China Deals Are Pure Pragmatism –Foreign Policy Several analysts have recently argued that unpredictable and blunt foreign-policy moves by the United States under President Donald Trump have prompted Japan — America’s most important East Asian ally — to move toward China. An article in the Wall Street Journal was headlined “Trump Trade Fight Brings Japan and China Together,” dubbing them “strange bedfellows.”

Are recyclers ready for the coming glut of lithium-ion batteries? –China Dialogue By 2020, demand for lithium-ion batteries from the automotive sector is expected to overtake that of consumer electronics. By far the biggest driver of this increase is China, which plans to sell 35 million electric vehicles by 2025. Consider that in 2017 the entire global fleet of electric vehicles totalled just 3.7 million according to the International Energy Agency.

China’s ethanol push in doubt as U.S. trade dispute widens –Reuters China’s ambitious push to use biofuel in cars nationwide by 2020 is in doubt amid concerns about supplies of raw material such as corn, complicated by an escalating trade dispute with Washington, producers and analysts say. In September last year, the government outlined radical plans to roll out the use of ethanol in gasoline nationally by 2020, in part to digest its huge corn stocks.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Indonesia’s Regional Elections: A Look at West Java and North Sumatra –The Diplomat Indonesia’s simultaneous regional elections are no easy feat. Some 150 million voters will elect governors, mayors, and district heads across the country with the Election Commission (KPU) aiming for upward of 77 percent turnout.

Philippine economy under the spotlight in Duterte’s third year –Nikkei Asian Review President Rodrigo Duterte, who began his third year in office on Saturday, has touted the Philippines’ improved public security with his widely publicized crackdown on drugs. But his ambitious infrastructure program has made little headway as his strongman approach is discouraging foreign investment.

Cambodia restores rail connection to Thailand after 45 years –Investine Cambodia on July 4 reopened the final stretch of a railway running from the capital Phnom Penh to the border with neighbouring Thailand in Poipet, the first time the line has been operational in 45 years. The Asian Development Bank provided $13 million in 2009 to rebuild the missing link on the Western line which aims to slash travel time between the two countries and boost trade.

Spending cuts mulled to minimize budgetary tensions –Vientiane Times The government is contemplating a cut in budget expenditure to maintain financial liquidity following a revenue shortfall during the past four months of this year. Measures to reduce spending could be imposed, particularly in sectors and areas which expect to see a revenue deficit by the end of this year. The cabinet’s monthly meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith last week, highlighted the need to use the national budget effectively and efficiently, ensuring transparency and accountability in financial transactions. // Laos previously said it was not concerned about its debt. Suddenly Laos is starting to show some fiscal restraint.

Malaysia’s Belt and Road railway project suspended –Straits Times The project owner of Malaysia’s US$20 billion (S$27 billion) East Coast Rail Link has told its main Chinese contractor to suspend work, both companies said yesterday, raising uncertainty about the future of part of China’s Belt and Road plan. The 688km link would connect the South China Sea off the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia with shipping routes in the west and is a major part of China’s infrastructure push across Asia and beyond. //Is this part of a trend that will spread to other countries in the region?

Related: Chinese engineering firm told to suspend US$20 billion East Coast Railway Link in Malaysia –South China Morning Post

 

Cambodia’s New Online Media Directive Criticized as ‘Censorship’ –VOA  A group of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has criticized a Cambodian government working group set up to monitor and “control” online news. A statement signed by 117 NGOs condemns the creation of the group. It was formed through a “prakas” — a declaration issued by a government minister.

YUNNAN

New railway links Chinese tourist cities –Xinhua A new rail line went into operation in southwest China’s Yunnan Province Sunday, linking capital Kunming with Dali, a tourist city known for its scenery. The first bullet train left Kunming Railway Station at 8:12 a.m. The 328-km line allows trains to run at 200 km per hour, according to China Railway Kunming Group. The construction took more than five years. Travel time between Kunming and Dali has been cut from over five hours to less than two hours.//Eventually this rail line is to stretch into Myanmar.

This week’s news digest was curated by Kevin Rutigliano.

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