04 Mar [Premium] Country Update: 17 Feb– 3 March 2021
At least 18 killed in bloodiest day of Myanmar anti-coup protests (28 Feb)
On 28 February, across various locations throughout the country, police and military forces confronted civilian demonstrators with lethal force. Official sources record at least 18 people dead and over 30 wounded. Police started to shoot and even fired live rounds after stun grenades, tear gas and shots in the air failed to break up crowds. Soldiers also reinforced police.
Sunday’s police action came after state television announced that Myanmar’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Kyaw Moe Tun, had been fired for betraying the country. Kyaw Moe Tun had asked the United Nations to use “any means necessary” to reverse the military’s takeover.
ASEAN Ministers Special Meeting on Myanmar (3 Mar)
ASEAN foreign ministers held an emergency meeting on the afternoon of 2 March to discuss Myanmar’s fluid and fast moving political crisis. The bloc called on the Tatmadaw to stop using force against civilians and seek dialogue. Myanmar was represented by Wunna Maung Lwin, who was appointed foreign minister after the military’s takeover on 1 February. The bloc also proposed solutions: Notably, Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein asked Myanmar to consider proposed visits to the country by the ASEAN secretary general and a representative of Brunei (ASEAN’s 2021 Chair), with them being given access to all parties involved. Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan proposed that UN secretary general’s special envoy on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener also be allowed to visit as soon as possible to meet all key stakeholders, including ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
As of present, some member states such as Singapore have taken a stronger tone in condemning the violence in Myanmar. However, it is unlikely that ASEAN will intervene in more punitive ways. At the meeting, leaders of member states continued to stress that the bloc is governed by central principles of non-interference and acting through consensus.
Three Cabinet ministers convicted in 2013-14 ‘insurrection’ case (26 Feb — ongoing)
A Thai court has found three incumbent Cabinet ministers guilty of insurrection during protests against the Yingluck Shinawatra government that culminated in the May 2014 army coup. They have been handed jail terms ranging from five to seven years. The three were among 26 leaders of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) who were convicted and jailed. PDRC leader and former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban has also been jailed for five years. The defendants have pleaded not guilty to all the charges and are planning to appeal. They have been granted bail by the court.
Under the Thai constitution, Digital Minister Puttipong Punnakanta, Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan and Deputy Transport Minister Thaworn Senneam have been stripped of their Cabinet posts. Their departure has triggered widespread speculation about a major reshuffle and possible redistribution of ministerial quotas among government coalition parties. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has said he will appoint next week acting ministers for the three positions, before deciding on a reshuffle after talks between the ruling Palang Pracharat Party and its coalition partners. While the coalition parties may propose changes to their cabinet line-ups, Prayut has stressed that he has the final say.
Water cannon, tear gas used as protesters and police clash outside barracks containing Thai PM’s residence (28 Feb)
An estimated 2,000 demonstrators were embroiled in a confrontation with Thailand’s riot police guarding the entrance of the military barracks containing the Thai prime minister’s residence on Sunday, 28 February. Scuffles broke out and officers used water-cannon trucks and let off tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowd.
This marks the first use of non-lethal force at a Bangkok rally for several months. Youth protests have lost steam in recent months following a second wave of COVID-19 infections in the country. However, the recent detention of four prominent protest leaders on lese majeste charges has prompted fresh protests.
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin said election would be held once the pandemic is over (1 March)
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said he would advise the King to dissolve parliament once the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Muhyiddin’s comments were made at a speech, marking the first anniversary of his takeover as Prime Minister. In his televised address, he emphasized that his government’s main priority was “to steer this country clear of the double whammy of health and economic crises”.
His comments come as Malaysia’s King said Parliament can convene during a state of emergency, which could bring a vote of no-confidence against Muhyiddin. In January, a state of emergency was declared by the King till 1 August, and Parliament was suspended. MPs are now set to meet as early as June following the recent statement from the King. Muhyiddin holds a slim majority in Parliament again, after two opposition lawmakers left Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and pledged their support for Muhyiddin.
Malaysia eases Movement Control Order restrictions in most states as it ramps up inoculation exercise (2 March)
Malaysia will relax its COVID-19 restrictions from 5 March, a week after the start of its mass vaccination campaign. Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said Selangor, Johor and Penang along with the Kuala Lumpur federal territory will exit the Movement Control Order (MCO) and enter the mid-tier Conditional MCO (CMCO). Malaysia will relax restrictions for other areas of the country, including Melaka, Sabah and Putrajaya being placed under the recovery movement control order (RMCO). Travel between states will still be banned to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The easing of restrictions come as Malaysia grants conditional approval for the AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines.
Nongsa D-Town launched in Singapore-Indonesia tech park (2 March)
Nongsa D-Town, a new digital hub, was launched on 2 March at a virtual event officiated by Singapore and Indonesia’s economic ministers. Located in Batam, the 62-hectare development aims to digitally bridge tech companies and talents in Singapore and Indonesia. It will have the capacity to house 8,000 tech talents when completed. Nongsa D-Town builds on the existing Nongsa Digital Park, which currently houses around 1,000 tech workers from over 100 companies. The development is the outcome of bilateral discussions to develop Batam as a digital bridge between Singapore and Indonesia. Companies will be able to leverage the complementary strengths of Singapore’s and Indonesia’s tech ecosystems. Indonesia has designated the park as a Special Economic Zone for digital economy and tourism.
Grab collaborates with Indonesian government in vaccination campaign (28 Feb)
Technology giant, Grab, is working with the Indonesian government to help vaccinate Indonesians. Grab has set up a drive-through vaccination centre and is prepared to dispense 840 shots a day, for a total of 5,000 vaccinations in a week The programme started on Sunday, 28 February, in Bali and is the first of its kind in Southeast Asia. More drive-in vaccination centres are expected to open in various cities in Indonesia, according to Grab. Indonesia has made it compulsory for all citizens to be vaccinated from COVID-19. The country plans to vaccinate 70 million people by August 2021.
Vietnam begins COVID-19 vaccinations; continues domestic vaccine developments (3 March – ongoing)
Vietnam will begin COVID-19 vaccinations in the first week of March after receiving its first batch of AstraZeneca doses from South Korea. 117,600 doses were delivered on 24 Feb, with the rest of the 30 million doses ordered from AstraZeneca to be shipped over the coming months. Priority groups to receive the vaccine include frontline workers, the military and police, teachers, diplomatic personnel, those working in essential services like transport, and people aged 65 and above.
The government that has approved the use of Moderna and Sputnik vaccinations is in talks with the U.S. and Russia to procure more doses. Vietnam needs a total of 150 million doses to cover 70% of its population. Vietnam Vaccine Joint Stock has been set up to handle vaccine import and distribution in the country.
Meantime, Vietnamese pharmaceutical company Nanogen is moving on to its second phase trials to develop its own vaccine. Approval for emergency use is expected in May. Vietnamese have been using the contact tracing app Bluezone to help mitigate community transmission, especially since the outbreak at the end of January. 30 million downloads were recorded so far as of March.
VinFast looks to expand electric car footprint in the U.S. (2 March – ongoing)
Vietnamese automobile group VinFast plans to open an automobile factory in the U.S. and aims to sell electric vehicles in 2022. The company set up a research office in San Francisco and regulators have approved a license to test autonomous vehicles on public streets. VinFast has ambitions to become a global smart electric car company but will face competition against North American heavyweights Ford and General Motors.
VinFast is part of Vietnam’s largest conglomerate Vingroup under chairman Pham Nhat Voung who is also Vietnam’s richest man. Vingroup began as a real estate developer in the early 2000s before expanding to hospitals in schools. The company then moved into cars and smartphones in 2017-2018 with VinFast, VinTech and VinSmart. Within Vietnam, VinFast plans to begin delivery of its electric vehicles by December this year.