US VP Harris Announces $20 Million New Clean Energy Funding for Mekong Region

BANGKOK — U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris announced $20 million in new funding for clean energy projects in the Mekong region, during the last day of her tour of Thailand on Sunday following a regional summit.

 

She spoke to civil society and business leaders in Bangkok after the close of a meeting of the 21-member APEC bloc a day earlier.

 

“Bold climate action is not only necessary to protect the people of our planet and our natural resources, but it is also a powerful driver of economic growth,” she said.

 

In an earlier news release, she said the administration would request funding from Congress for the Japan-U.S.-Mekong Power Partnership (JUMPP), through which the two countries partner with regional nations to promote sustainable energy.

 

“In particular we know that the climate crisis presents a real threat to the communities who depend on the Mekong River. In Thailand, in Vietnam, Laos.”

 

Source: Voice of America

Chinese, US Officials to Attend Southeast Asia Defense Meeting

BEIJING — The defense chiefs of rival powers China and the U.S. will both attend next week’s expanded meeting of Southeast Asian security ministers in Cambodia, opening the possibility the two will hold face-to-face discussions.

 

China’s Defense Ministry said Gen. Wei Fenghe will attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus from Sunday to Thursday.

 

The Department of Defense said Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III will also attend following stops in Canada and Indonesia.

 

Both officials plan to meet with participants on the margins of the main gathering of ministers from the 10-nation organization known as ASEAN.

 

While no formal bilateral meeting has been announced, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Col. Tan Kefei appeared to hold that possibility open in a statement issued Sunday.

 

“China holds a positive and open attitude toward exchanges with the U.S. during the period of the ASEAN-Plus meeting and relevant departments of both countries are maintaining communication and coordination in this regard,” Tan said.

 

Their two countries are chief rivals for influence in the region, where China is seeking to smooth over disputes surrounding its determination to assert its claim to the South China Sea, including through the construction of artificial islands equipped with airstrips and other infrastructure.

 

The two countries are also at odds over Russia, which China has refused to condemn or sanction over its invasion of Ukraine, and the status of Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory and threatens to attack.

 

China’s Defense Ministry said Wei would address the assembly and meet with heads of other delegations to discuss “bilateral cooperation and issues of regional and international concern.”

 

It said he would also hold talks with civilian and military leaders of close Chinese ally Cambodia, with whom it is working on expanding a port facility that could give it a presence on the Gulf of Thailand.

 

China and four ASEAN members share overlapping claims to territory in the South China Sea, home to vital shipping lanes, along with plentiful fish stocks and undersea mineral resources. China and ASEAN have made little headway on finalizing a code of conduct to avoid conflicts in the area.

 

While China’s capacities are growing rapidly, the U.S. remains the region’s dominant military power and, while it doesn’t officially take a stand on sovereignty issues, it has refused to acknowledge China’s blanket claims. The U.S. Navy regularly sails past Chinese-held islands in what it calls freedom of navigation operations, prompting a furious response from Beijing.

 

The U.S. also has a security alliance with the Philippines and strong relations with other ASEAN members, except for Myanmar, where the military has launched a brutal crackdown since taking power last year.

 

The U.S. Defense Department said that Austin would hold an “informal multilateral engagement” with his ASEAN counterparts and meet with officials from Cambodia and partner nations “to bring greater stability, transparency, and openness to the Indo-Pacific region.”

 

At a previous defense forum attended by both U.S. and Chinese ministers in June in Singapore, Austin delivered a speech saying China’s “steady increase in provocative and destabilizing military activity near Taiwan” threatens to undermine the region’s security and prosperity.

 

Wei said at the same conference that the U.S. is trying to turn Southeast Asian countries against Beijing and is seeking to advance its own interests “under the guise of multilateralism.”

 

Source: Voice of America

COP27 deal delivers landmark on ‘loss and damage’, but little else

Countries adopted a hard-fought final agreement at the COP27 climate summit early on Sunday that sets up a fund to help poor countries being battered by climate disasters – but does not boost efforts to tackle the emissions causing them.

 

After tense negotiations that ran through the night, the Egyptian COP27 presidency released the final text for a deal and simultaneously called a plenary session to quickly gavel it through.

 

The swift approval for creating a dedicated loss and damage fund still left many of the most controversial decisions on the fund until next year, including who should pay into it.

 

Negotiators made no objections as COP27 President Sameh Shoukry rattled through the final agenda items. And by the time dawn broke over the summit venue in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday, the deal was done.

 

Despite having no agreement for tougher emissions reductions, “we went with what the agreement was here because we want to stand with the most vulnerable,” said Germany’s climate secretary Jennifer Morgan, visibly upset.

 

Delegates praised the breakthrough on setting up the fund as climate justice, for its aim in helping vulnerable countries cope with storms, floods and other disasters being fuelled by rich nations’ historic carbon emissions.

 

When asked by Reuters whether the goal of stronger climate-fighting ambition had been compromised for the deal, Mexico’s chief climate negotiator Camila Zepeda summed up the mood among exhausted negotiators.

 

“Probably. You take a win when you can.”

 

FOSSIL FUEL FIZZLE

 

The two-week summit has been seen as a test of global resolve to fight climate change – even as a war in Europe, energy market turmoil and rampant consumer inflation distract international attention.

 

Billed as the “African COP,” the summit in Egypt had promised to highlight the plight of poor countries facing the most severe consequences from global warming caused mainly by wealthy, industrialised nations.

 

The United States also supported the loss and damage provision, but climate envoy John Kerry did not attend the session after testing positive for COVID-19 this week.

 

Negotiators from the European Union and other countries had said earlier that they were worried about efforts to block measures to strengthen last year’s Glasgow Climate Pact.

 

“It is more than frustrating to see overdue steps on mitigation and the phase-out of fossil energies being stonewalled by a number of large emitters and oil producers,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in a statement.

 

In line with earlier iterations, the approved deal did not contain a reference requested by India and some other delegations to phasing down use of “all fossil fuels”.

 

It instead called on countries to take steps toward “the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies,” as agreed at the COP26 Glasgow summit.

 

“Too many parties are not ready to make more progress today in the fight against climate crisis,” EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said, describing the deal as “not enough of a step forward for people and planet.”

 

The text also included a reference to “low-emissions energy”, raising concern among some that it opened the door to the growing use of natural gas – a fossil fuel that leads to both carbon dioxide and methane emissions.

 

“It does not break with Glasgow completely, but it doesn’t raise ambition at all,” Norway’s Climate Minister Espen Barth Eide told reporters.

 

Small island nations facing a climate-driven rise in sea level had pushed for the loss and damage deal, but lamented the lack of ambition on curbing emissions.

 

“I recognise the progress we made in COP27” in terms of establishing the fund, the Maldives climate minister, Aminath Shauna, told the plenary. But “we have failed on mitigation … We have to ensure that we increase ambition to peak emissions by 2025. We have to phase out fossil fuel.”

 

The climate envoy from the Marshall Islands said she was “worn out” but happy with the fund’s approval.

 

“So many people all this week told us we wouldn’t get it. So glad they were wrong,” Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner said by email. Still, “I wish we got fossil fuel phase out. The current text is not enough.”

 

Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service

Two Thai women die during a mountain trek journey in Nepal

Two Thai female mountain trekkers died on Friday in Nepal, according to foreign news agencies.

 

The two victims, 49-year-old Pataya Philaisengsuri and 37-year-old Penny Aranlum, were among a group of 22 people, including 12 trekkers, 8 porters and 2 guides, who set out on the Annapurna circuit trek, from Besi Sahar in Lamjung to Tilicho Lake, starting on November 11th.

 

The group reached the lake on November 17th but, on the way back, the two Thai women fell ill, due to extreme cold and high altitude, and were injured. They died at the foot of Mesokanto La Pass, which is about 4,919 metres above sea level.

 

A helicopter flew their bodies to the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, for autopsy.

 

Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service

Xi steals the limelight at APEC, showcasing China’s regional clout

Even as host Thailand passes the APEC baton to its successor the United States, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been busy using the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to highlight China’s growing clout and push back against U.S. influence in the region.

 

Having secured an unprecedented third term as leader at the Chinese Communist Party’s Congress last month, Xi embarked on his first major foreign tour since the pandemic struck nearly three years ago – to the Group of 20 Summit in Bali, then the APEC Summit in Bangkok that ended Saturday.

 

The APEC summit was the third and final gathering of world leaders in Asia in the space of nine days. With U.S. President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin both absent from APEC, the Chinese president virtually had the stage to himself.

 

During his tour, Xi has for the most part struck a conciliatory tone during his encounters with other heads of states – including U.S. president. The Biden-Xi meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 went some way to tamping down months of rising U.S.-China tensions.

 

“It certainly appears that Xi Jinping and China’s propaganda enterprise are trying to set a softer tone and appear less overtly antagonistic during the G-20 and APEC summits,” said Drew Thompson, visiting senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.

 

While in the Thai capital, Xi met with a host of regional leaders including key U.S. allies. He held bilateral talks with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Singaporean Premier Lee Hsien Loong and Philippine President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr. on a wide range of issues including economic cooperation and security.

 

Xi also met with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha — although their initial photo op went viral on social media for the wrong reasons because of the appearance that Xi had snubbed Prayuth’s offer of a handshake.

 

“President Xi certainly wants to be a major player,” said Ja Ian Chong, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore, noting the Chinese leader’s confidence in having unscripted interactions with other leaders – like when he chastised Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over alleged leaks of diplomatic conversations at the G-20.

 

But Thompson observed: “The underlying differences between China and its neighbors and trading partners remain deeply entrenched and there are no signs that China is adapting its foreign policy approach and how it pursues its interests.”

 

Chinese leadership

 

Gao Zhikai, vice president of the Beijing-based Center for China and Globalization, said Xi’s attendance at APEC accentuated China’s growing leadership role in stark contrast with the U.S.’s “diminishing relevance.”

 

Biden did in fact attend the G-20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Cambodia that preceded it – a meeting Xi skipped – in an effort to signal U.S. commitment to the region.

 

But when it came to APEC, which focuses on economic cooperation – an area of Asia policy in which Washington is generally perceived as trailing China – Biden had returned home for a family event.

 

“The fact that Biden is not at the meeting shows that the U.S. doesn’t care much about APEC,” Gao told RFA.

 

“Of course, the whole world is aware that his granddaughter is getting married,” said the academic who served as a translator for late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and sometimes acts as de-facto media spokesman for the Chinese Communist Party.

 

“But if there was interest, the U.S. would know how to show it,” he added.

 

‘Proud Pacific power’

 

That’s obviously not the narrative conveyed by Washington, which now takes over the rotating chair of the 21-member APEC bloc, which was set up in 1989 to promote free trade.

 

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, who was in Bangkok in Biden’s place, told the summit that her country is “a proud Pacific power” and that “the United States is here to stay.”

 

Harris had a brief meeting with Xi in which she urged the Chinese leadership to “maintain open lines of communication to responsibly manage the competition between our countries.”

On the theme of economic cooperation, Harris said the Indo-Pacific serves as the market for almost 30 percent of American exports and U.S. companies invest $1 trillion a year in the region.

 

She vowed that the U.S. “will uphold the rules of the road” and “will help build prosperity for everyone.”

 

Her statement clearly struck a chord with some participating nations which want to avoid being caught up in big-power competition between China and the United States.

 

Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc said his country supports “all regional and multilateral cooperation frameworks which are based on international principles and regulations.”

 

Harris appeared to draw a contrast between the U.S. initiative and China’s Belt and Road Initiative that has invested large sums of money in infrastructure across the world, but which critics say can leave recipient countries in heavy debt to Beijing.

 

Xi said that China is considering holding the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in 2023.

 

Reinvigorating APEC

 

Gao contended that Harris’ main purpose at APEC was actually to promote the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

 

The Biden administration launched the IPEF in May as the center of its economic strategy for the region, and the U.S. vice president said the grouping now represents some 40 per cent of the global gross domestic product and is “dedicated to equitable growth and high environmental and labor standards.”

 

It does not include either Russia or China.

 

Gao said he suspects “the U.S. is hollowing out APEC for the benefit of IPEF,” which he described as an “artificial, ill-designed” grouping.

 

“But APEC will remain APEC, a natural, coherent forum of cooperation for all countries in the region,” he said.

 

Ja Ian Chong at the National University of Singapore said “China has been talking up the emptiness of IPEF and also suggesting the provocative nature of the U.S. for a while now.”

 

“That, I suppose, suggests a degree of competitiveness with which Beijing views Washington,” he said.

 

The political scientist said that Xi Jinping’s articulation of policy from the 20th party Congress “seems robust, with repeated emphasis on struggle”, suggesting that Xi’s diplomacy may carry some real toughness behind the seemingly conciliatory tone.

 

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at the Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, told RFA that in his opinion, APEC is still relevant and effective, even if just for the APEC travel card that allows business executives to benefit from easier immigration clearance within the grouping.

 

“The APEC host’s theme of resilience, sustainability and inclusiveness are part and parcel of the climate agenda and post-COVID recovery.”

 

“It’s meant to cultivate collective action on both climate and sustainability as well as overcoming the pandemic,” the political analyst said.

 

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VP Harris Meets Xi at APEC in Bangkok Ahead of Philippines Visit Near Disputed Spratly Islands

BANGKOK — U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris met briefly with Chinese President Xi Jinping Saturday on the sidelines of the of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok.

 

“The Vice President noted a key message that President [Joe] Biden emphasized in his November 14 meeting with President Xi: we must maintain open lines of communication to responsibly manage the competition between our countries,” a White House official said.

 

The message may run counter to her visit to the Philippine island of Palawan Tuesday, which Beijing would likely see as a rebuke. The Palawan island chain in the South China Sea, just 330 km east of the Spratly Islands is claimed entirely by China and partly by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

 

Harris will be the highest-ranking American official to visit Palawan.

 

While many in the region fear an invasion of Taiwan, Chinese militarization is most acutely felt in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. Since 2013, China has engaged in unprecedented dredging and artificial island-building in the waters, creating 1,295 hectares of new land in the Spratlys, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. China, Taiwan and Vietnam each claim all of the Spratlys, while some of the chain s claimed by Malaysia and the Philippines. Brunei claims an exclusive economic zone over the Spratlys.

 

Trillions of dollars’ worth, or approximately one-third of, global maritime trade passes through the strategic waters of the South China Sea every year. Harris will engage with locals in the fishing community in Palawan and emphasize “U.S. commitment to freedom of navigation,” a senior White House official told VOA during a Friday briefing with reporters.

 

The official said Harris will also underscore “the consequences of illegal unregulated and unreported fishing.” Known as its acronym, IUU is a big problem for regional countries with China listed as the worst offender, according to the latest IUU Fishing Index which maps illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in 152 coastal countries.

 

In May the U.S. launched a maritime initiative aimed at monitoring territorial waters, called the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness, during Biden’s Tokyo summit with leaders of Japan, India and Australia — the group known as the Quad. The four countries’ informal grouping is seen as a counter to China.

 

US-Thailand

 

In her bilateral with current APEC chair, Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, Harris discussed expanding bilateral cooperation on areas including climate resilience, clean energy transition, and promoting sustainable development, as well as the escalating political violence in neighboring Myanmar since last year’s military coup against the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

The pair focused on strengthening the alliance between the U.S. and Thailand. Bangkok has been a U.S. treaty ally for nearly 50 years, since the 1954 Manila Pact, a Cold War-era collective defense treaty among Western nations, the Philippines, and Thailand.

 

In 2003, Washington announced Thailand as a major non-NATO ally, a designation given to close allies that have strategic working relationships with the U.S. military but are not NATO members.

 

APEC 2023

 

The U.S. will be the next chair of APEC and will host the summit next year.

 

“I’m happy to hand over the chairmanship to U.S. We are ready to conduct a seamless cooperation with them,” Chan-ocha said, handing to Harris a “chalom,” a woven bamboo basket used to carry goods and gifts in Thailand that this year’s APEC symbol.

 

Harris announced that San Francisco will be the host city for next year’s APEC.

 

“There is no better place to host APEC 2023 than California, a state known for economic innovation,” she said.

 

APEC Leaders issued a summit statement condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

 

“Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy,” it said.

 

The statement, agreed by all APEC members including Russia, was word-for-word exactly the same as the declaration released Wednesday at the end of the G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, between the world’s 20 largest economies. Indonesian President Joko Widodo characterized the negotiations as “tough.”

 

Harris ends her day with a visit to the Wat Ratchabophit Buddhist temple with second gentleman Doug Emhoff. On Sunday she hosts a roundtable discussion with local environmental leaders to discuss the impacts of the climate crisis before heading to Manila, in the Philippines.

 

Source: Voice of America