25 Nov [PREMIUM] Country Updates (11-24 Nov)
China-ASEAN summit held without a Myanmar representative; ASEAN invites Minister from Myanmar’s civilian government to climate conference (22 Nov – ongoing)
Following Myanmar’s absence at the ASEAN summit in October the virtual ASEAN-China summit also began on Monday, 22 November, without a representative from Myanmar. Reportedly, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei rejected China’s bid to include Min Aung Hlaing in the summit, taking the stance that only a “non-political” figure should represent Myanmar at ASEAN summits. Analysts have suggested that China’s push to include the general should not be taken as a sign that Beijing is warming to military rule in Myanmar, as the coup in Myanmar has been mostly disastrous for Beijing, threatening Chinese business interests, sparking a surge of COVID-19 cases, and reigniting old civil wars in border regions.
Notably, the United Kingdom will follow ASEAN’s lead for the upcoming in-person meeting between the G7 and ASEAN foreign ministers in London in December. The Myanmar military will not be allowed to attend in person, with only a “non-political representative” permitted via video.
On Tuesday, 23 November, ASEAN for the first time invited a minister from Myanmar’s parallel government to an international conference organized by the regional bloc. The move can be interpreted as ASEAN’s willingness to officially engage with the National Unity Government (NUG). Dr. Tu Hkawng, the NUG’s minister of natural resources and environmental conservation, joined the three-day Third Climate Smart and Disaster Resilient ASEAN conference, along with ministers from other ASEAN countries and international experts.
Myanmar civilian government’s bond sale raises over US$6m in under 12 hours (23 Nov)
At the start of November, Myanmar’s civilian government, the National Unity Government (NUG), announced that it would be selling bonds to fund the “revolutionary movement” against the dictatorship. This is in addition to two other initiatives including the sale of lottery tickets and collection of voluntary tax. Bonds went on sale on Monday, 22 November, to mainly Myanmar nationals overseas and within 12 hours, US$6.3 million was raised, with more than $2 million of that being raised in the first two hours.
Even though the bonds will generate no interest income for buyers, many participate in hopes of contributing to the revolution. Buyers of the bonds made payments via international transfers to an account in the Czech Republic The NUG targets US$1 billion to be raised in total but it has yet to disclose details of how the funds would be used.
Barisan Nasional coalition secures two-third majority at Melaka state election (20 Nov)
The Melaka state election saw a resounding victory for the Barisan Nasional coalition, which secured 21 out of the 28 seats. Opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan, won 5 seats while Perikatan Nasional, BN’s partner at the national level, won 2 seats. Voter turnout was low, with the Election Commission reporting a turnout of 61%.
Melaka had traditionally been an UMNO stronghold (the largest party in the BN coalition) but the state was lost briefly to PH during the 2018 general elections. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, mass campaigning was not allowed for the state election and parties had to rely on social media to galvanise support. Former Prime Minister, Najib Razak, played a key role in the party’s campaign and has taken credit for the victory. UMNO’s win in Melaka could signal the party’s comeback in the next general elections and Najib’s role in Malaysian politics. It also raises questions about BN’s alliance with its coalition partners, Bersatu and PAS, in the next general elections.
Malaysia and Singapore land VTL to be launched on 29 Nov (24 Nov)
Malaysia and Singapore have finalised the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) arrangements at the land border via the Causeway. A trial was conducted on 23 November to test the new protocols at the customs. Under the first phase, travellers will need to travel with a designated bus service and only citizens, PRs and long-term pass holders of the country they are entering will be allowed to use the land VTL. The daily quota for travel under the land VTL scheme is 2,900 travellers, or 1,440 each way.
The air VTL between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur will also launch on 29 November 2021. There is a daily quota of 10,000 travellers from all eligible countries via the VTL scheme. Prior to the pandemic, the crossing between Woodlands Causeway and Tuas Second Link was amongst the world’s busiest, with 415,000 people travelling through the border daily. Malaysia and Singapore aim to progressively expand the land VTL to include more travellers and reopen the Tuas Second Link in the coming months.
Thailand Sees Faster Economic Growth as Tourism Sector Reopens (21 Nov)
With the reopening of its key tourism sector, Thailand’s economy is expected to expand as much as 1.2% this year, exceeding an earlier forecast of 1% by the Finance Ministry. Finance Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith announced that the relaxation of border restrictions on 1 November has helped boost economic activities, and that in 2022, growth could reach 4.5%, exceeding an earlier forecast of 4%. While these estimates are aligned to the National Economic and Social Development Council’s, they exceed the central bank’s prediction for growth of 0.7% this year, and 3.9% in the subsequent 12 months.
In December, Thailand plans to add more countries to its current list of 63 countries eligible for quarantine-free travel. According to the Health Ministry, on Sunday, the number of active cases in the country fell to 87,271, its lowest since July 11. The average daily new cases has also dropped to 6,600 cases this week from a peak of more than 20,000. About 54% of the population has received two vaccine doses.
With an expected global economic recovery in 2022 and the pandemic seemingly under control, the government hopes to strengthen measures to boost consumption, exports, private investment, public spending and the recovery of businesses. It’s also considering accelerating the reopening of bars and nightclubs.
Protests return to Thailand amid calls for monarchy reform (15 Nov)
800 protestors returned to the streets of Bangkok on Sunday, 21 November, calling for reform of the monarchy. The protesters marched to the German Embassy in Bangkok’s business area as the king used to spend much of his time in Germany instead of Thailand, stirring controversy.
The protest was focused on opposing the King’s enormous power, as compared to protests in August 2020 which called for the exit of the government led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. Protestors vented their anger at the Constitution’s Court’s recent ruling on 17 November which ordered pro-democracy leaders to end all actions against the monarchy as they were an “abuse of the rights of freedoms and harmed the state’s security”. Rights groups warned this could pave the way for treason charges for protest leaders. Following the ruling, the website of the court was hacked and replaced with the music video for Guillotine by the hip-hop group Death Grips, while text was changed to read “kangaroo court”. Amid political disaffection, the King returned to his villa in Germany on 11 November, with an entourage of 250 people and 30 poodles.
Notably, a week ago, Thailand had defended its controversial “lese majeste” laws before the United Nations at a universal periodic review as member states including Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland expressed concern over Thailand’s rights record and arrests of youth protesters pushing for royal reforms since last year. Thailand’s “lese majeste” laws set jail terms of up to 15 years for anyone convicted of defaming, insulting or threatening King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his closest family but Thai officials argue that “its existence is closely linked to safeguarding the key national institutions and national security” and cited culture, history and protection of the monarchy as key reasons to retain the laws.
Indonesia to reintroduce movement curbs for the year end holidays (19 Nov)
Indonesia will be reimposing movement curbs during the year end holiday period from 24 December 2021 to 2 January 2022. The government has also prohibited public servants and employees in state-owned and private companies from applying for annual leave during the same period. The move impacts over 6 million Indonesians in both the public and private sector.
The level 3 restrictions (PPKM level 3), which are the second highest movement restrictions, will be applied nation-wide. Under PPKM level 3, large scale gatherings such as parades and fireworks are banned. Religious services are allowed to proceed at half capacity. According to Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy the movement curbs will aid in regulating public mobility and prevent another surge of infections. Indonesia is taking extra precautions to prevent another surge and avoid mass lockdown measures which could adversely impact the economy.
Indonesia considering a media bill to protect domestic news publishers from Big Tech (23 Nov)
Indonesia is considering imposing a regulation which would force news aggregator sites to pay publishers for displaying their content. The move is led by Indonesian media groups and aims to protect the domestic news industry. The proposed regulation is based on Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code, which was passed in February 2021, and requires companies such as Google and Meta to negotiate fees with news publishers.
Indonesia’s domestic media agencies have been losing out on advertising revenue to big technology giants and publishers have opposed saying that these tech giants have been benefiting from their content, without appropriate compensation. According to the Jakarta Post, the proposed legislation will include a mechanism for news agencies and technology companies to decide on fees and the responsibilities of platforms to filter online content. The draft bill has been sent to the Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister to deliberate on the next steps.
Vietnam strengthens bilateral relationship with Japan; signs cybersecurity agreement (22-25 Nov)
Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh made an official visit to Japan on 22 November 2021 accompanied by business leaders from 50 Vietnamese companies. He is the first foreign leader to be received by newly instated Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida. The two sides discussed further strengthening areas of economic cooperation especially during the pandemic. PM Chinh emphasised Vietnam’s commitment to creating favorable conditions for investments and official development loans from Japan. Other areas of focus for cooperation include transfer of medical technology, education and human resources training. Japan is Vietnam’s largest ODA contributor and an important economic partner.
Meanwhile, the defense ministers of Japan and Vietnam pledged to step up military ties and signed a cybersecurity agreement. Both sides also made a statement saying they “strongly oppose” unilateral attempts to change the status quo in regional waters, alluding to China.
Vietnam’s Phu Quoc resort island begins welcoming foreign vaccinated tourists (20 Nov)
Vietnam’s Phu Quoc began welcoming foreign visitors again on 20 November 2021 after a one month delay in reopening plans. 200 vaccinated tourists were able to enter the island without having to undergo a two-week quarantine. But travelers will be restricted to the mega complex resort Vinpearl and take two tests during their trip. Other Vietnamese destinations such as Hoi An and Danang are also opening up to international tourists. Tourism in Vietnam usually accounts for 10% of the country’s GDP. Foreign arrivals dropped to 3.8 million in 2020 from 18 million in 2019.