On 23 June 2022, the import of 100 megawatts (MW) of hydropower from Laos to Singapore through Thailand and Malaysia was hailed as a historic milestone. Part of a pilot project known as the Lao PDR-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore Power Integration Project (LTMS-PIP), this event represented Singapore’s first ever import of renewable energy, and also the first instance of cross-border electricity trade involving four countries from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
However, this development takes place amid rising concerns for the ecological future of the transboundary Mekong River and the millions of people who depend on it. A 2018 study by the Mekong River Commission concluded that further hydropower development on the river would negatively affect ecosystems, and would reduce soil fertility, rice production, fish yields and food security, while increasing poverty in the river basin.
The Indo-Pacific region is of significant importance to Canada. Home to more than two thirds of the global population, it is the fastest-growing economic region in the world.
As a Pacific nation, Canada recognizes that the Indo-Pacific region is critically important for the long-term prosperity, health and security of Canadians. Beyond our 25,000 km of Pacific Ocean coastline, Canadians share history, culture, and long-standing trade and development ties with the people of the Indo-Pacific.
In Southeast Asia, a region dominated for decades by “strongman” political leaders and where nostalgia for the Soviet Union persists in some quarters, Russian President Vladimir Putin has a strong following among social media users who are sympathetic to his invasion of Ukraine and find his macho self-image appealing.
We need only call to mind the first half of 2022 for an array of the extreme, energy-related global challenges we all face. Around the world, local versions of climate change effects—the temperatures, wildfires, droughts, storms, flooding—underscore how important it is for us to transition away from our overdependence on fossil fuels. And our energy sources don’t just have environmental implications but security ones as well. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is the latest rendition of the resource curse. At the heart of it all, fossil fuels are what enabled and amplified the murderous narcissism we see in Vladimir Putin and created a country with an unbalanced and unhealthy domestic economy able to profoundly destabilize energy flows and prices around the world.
The South China Sea (SCS) brings together its own assortment of these complex challenges and factors. Competing security concerns, resource needs, and nationalisms shape the motivations of the claimants. Much of the attention and conflict has centred on the oil and gas in the seabed. Estimates of SCS hydrocarbon volumes vary; only some of these resources are proven reserves that have been confirmed and measured, and are actually recoverable. But even in more generous assessments, the SCS only provides us with a small percentage of the global total of oil and gas reserves, and even less of the overall energy mix if we include non-fossil-fuel energy sources.
Beyond hydrocarbons, in a two-way tie with the adjacent Coral Triangle, the SCS has the highest level of marine biodiversity in the world. SCS fisheries feed and employ millions of people in the region. It’s true that conflict over these living marine resources also drives the territorial disputes in the region, and a wide variety of human activity degrades the SCS ecosystem. Yet drilling for hydrocarbons in the SCS threatens this vulnerable marine habitat even more, while also clearly contributing to geopolitical and security tensions in the region—and to climate change.
Given how destabilizing oil and gas pursuits have been for the SCS since the 1970s, we might ask ourselves whether we want to keep drilling for fossil fuels there. Do the costs and risks outweigh the benefits?
Download this 21-page report (button above) from Dr. Tabitha Grace Mallory, an inaugural John H. McArthur Research Fellow, an initiative of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, and the Founder of China Ocean Institute and Affiliate Professor, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington.
Below, explore the rich marine biodiversity of the South China Sea, one of the most hotly-contested maritime jurisdictions on the planet, in this original map created by the author and APF Canada graphic designer Chloe Fenemore, based on historical and contemporary maps cited in the full report.
Tabitha Grace Mallory is the Founder of China Ocean Institute and Affiliate Professor, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington. Dr. Mallory specializes in Chinese foreign and environmental policy. She conducts research on China and global ocean governance and has published work on China’s fisheries and oceans policy.
Dr. Mallory is an inaugural John H. McArthur Research Fellow, an initiative of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada launched in 2021 to provide research opportunities for exceptional, mid-career scholars who are working on programs and research areas with direct relevance to Canada and Canada’s interests in Asia.
While countries in Asia Pacific have made great strides in controlling bribery for public services, an average score of 45 out of 100 on the 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) shows much more needs to be done to solve the region’s corruption problems.
Some higher-scoring countries are even experiencing a decline as governments fail to address grand corruption, uphold rights and consult citizens.
The top performers in Asia Pacific are New Zealand (CPI score: 88), Singapore (85) and Hong Kong (76). However, most countries sit firmly below the global average of 43. This includes three countries with some of the lowest scores in the world: Cambodia (23), Afghanistan (16) and North Korea (16).
Among those with weak scores are some of the world’s most populous countries, such as China (45) and India (40), and other large economies such as Indonesia (38), Pakistan (28) and Bangladesh (26). A concerning trend across some of these nations is a weakening of anti-corruption institutions or, in some cases, absence of an agency to coordinate action against corruption.
LOS ANGELES – United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo hosted counterparts from the 13 Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) partner countries – representing over 40% of the global economy – at the first official in-person Ministerial meeting. The ministers had positive and constructive discussions, and announced a substantial milestone in their pursuit of a high-standard and inclusive economic framework.
“This meeting was a chance to deepen our partnerships and fill in the details about how we will work collectively to address the challenges and opportunities that will define the 21st century,” said Ambassador Katherine Tai. “After several days of intensive discussions, we have made real progress toward that goal and I am excited to continue developing this Framework, which will unlock enormous economic value for our region and serve as a model for the rest of the world to follow.”
In the small, secluded country of Bhutan, happiness is not just a traditional way of life – it is a national statistic.
Bhutan’s government introduced “Gross National Happiness” as a measure of the nation’s progress.
Opening the country up to international tourism has allowed for some development, but the weight of tradition still weighs heavily on the kingdom’s young generation. Not everyone gets to enjoy the perks of a modern lifestyle.
101 East explores the cost of happiness in this hermit kingdom.
foreignpolicy – This week, Uzbekistan has hosted two major summits with consequences for South Asia. The first was an international conference on Afghanistan held on Monday and Tuesday. And now, the foreign ministers from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)—a multilateral group that aims to promote stability across Eurasia—have gathered in Tashkent, the capital, for a meeting on Thursday and Friday focused on regional peace and security and global inflation.
By Tran Đinh Hoanh Tran Đinh Hoanh is an international litigator and writer in Washington DC.
[TĐH: I’ve tried to make this piece ultra-short, simple, and easy
to remember, with sufficient citations for those who’d like to dig
deeper into UNCLOS]
During China Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin’s Regular Press Conference on June 13, he responded to a Bloomberg question concerning the legal status of the Taiwan Strait. Asked about Chinese military officials’ contention that the Taiwan Strait does not constitute “international waters,” he said that Taiwan is “an inalienable part of China’s territory. …According to UNCLOS and Chinese laws, the waters of the Taiwan Strait, extending from both shores toward the middle of the Strait, are divided into several zones including internal waters, territorial sea, contiguous zone, and the Exclusive Economic Zone. China has sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait.”
He went on to say that calling the strait international waters is “a false claim” by “certain countries” searching for a pretext for “threatening China’s sovereignty and security.”
Demonstrators carry pictures of former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, during a protest in Karachi on Dec. 24, 2019. RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
This week brought news that the health of two former South Asian leaders has taken a turn for the worse. Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who ruled the country as a military dictator for nearly a decade in the 2000s, is hospitalized with a rare and incurable disease that causes organ damage. In Bangladesh, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who served two separate terms, had a heart attack.
That many South Asian leaders have reached old age speaks to the relative improvement in the region’s political stability, after decades when executions by coup or assassinations were not uncommon in some countries. Former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have each recently experienced health issues. India lost one former prime minister in 2018, and Pakistan has lost two formerleaders since 2020.
Responding to widespread criticism of the Biden administration’s paltry offer of funding for Southeast Asian partners at a recent summit, a wise friend offered a colorful metaphor: “If we’re dating and I sense that you’re being transactional, then I want you to take me to the best restaurant in town and get the priciest bottle of wine. If you want a long-term relationship, buy me a cheap bottle of Chianti and we can sit on the roof and watch the sunset.”
My friend is right: no amount of money will win hearts and minds in the vital Indo-Pacific region unless it comes with a credible demonstration of long-term commitment to the region.
In late May, the Joe Biden administration launched its first major trade initiative: the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). The IPEF is billed as an effort to expand U.S. economic leadership in the Indo-Pacific region. This was also the objective of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal that was negotiated during the Barack Obama administration. But President Donald Trump withdrew from the TPP in 2017, and the Biden administration has made clear that it does not intend to reenter that trade pact, which is now renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP.
If there was one common challenge to unite the Asia Pacific region, it would be corruption. From campaign pledges to media coverage to civil society forums, corruption dominates discussion. Yet despite all this talk, there’s little sign of action. Between Australia’s slipping scores and North Korea’s predictably disastrous performance, the 2015 index shows no significant improvement. Has Asia Pacific stalled in its efforts to fight corruption?
This year’s poor results demand that leaders revisit the genuineness of their efforts and propel the region beyond stagnation.
The public desire for change is huge. In India, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, we’ve seen a host of governments coming to power on anti-corruption platforms. As corruption continues to dominate media coverage across and beyond the region, increasing interest in the issue has sparked a raft of new research into both public and private sector corruption.
So why this picture of zero progress? Despite boastful efforts on petty corruption, Malaysia’s 1MBD scandal brought the crux of the challenge into sharp focus: is political leadership genuinely committed to fighting corruption throughout society? The Malaysian prime minister’s inability to answer questions on the US$700 million that made its way into his personal bank account is only the tip of the iceberg.
In India and Sri Lanka leaders are falling short of their bold promises, while governments in Bangladesh and Cambodia are exacerbating corruption by clamping down on civil society. In Afghanistan and Pakistan a failure to tackle corruption is feeding ongoing vicious conflicts, while China’s prosecutorial approach isn’t bringing sustainable remedy to the menace. This inability to tackle root causes holds true across the region – witness, for example, Australia’s dwindling score in recent years.
Malaysia’s 1MBD scandal brought the challenge into sharp focus: is political leadership genuinely committed to fighting corruption throughout society?
Reversing corruption is clearly not solely down to governments, but they’re the ones with the largest role and the power to create enabling environments for others. This year’s poor results demand that leaders revisit the genuineness of their efforts and propel the region beyond stagnation. They must fulfil promises, and ensure efforts aren’t undermined in practice. Anti-corruption commissions are a prime example here: while their creation across the region is commendable, ongoing political interference and inadequate resources has meant many are unable to fulfil their mandate. This has to be addressed.
In Tokyo on May 23, President Biden announced the formation of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF). The framework will bring together the United States and a dozen other Indo-Pacific countries. The agreement will cover both traditional and digital trade standards, decarbonization and infrastructure, supply chain resiliency, taxation, and anti-corruption.