09 Dec [PREMIUM] Country Updates (25 Nov- 8 Dec)
Ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi gets jail sentence (7 Dec)
On Monday, 6 December, Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to four years jail for inciting dissent and breaching Covid-19 rules. However, she had her jail sentence reduced from four years to two years after a partial pardon by the military. This is the first court verdict in a series of charges levelled against her by Myanmar’s military regime, including charges on corruption, breaching the official secrets law, sedition and possessing walkie-talkies illegally. The verdict in another case against her is expected next week. Aung San Suu Kyi would serve her sentence where she is being detained currently, instead of being sent to prison.
Ousted President Win Myint, who was similarly detained like the State Counsellor after the coup and charged with incitement was also sentenced to four years in prison on Monday on the same charges Ms Suu Kyi faced. Likewise, his sentence was halved following the military’s pardon.
Junta official visits Cambodia after Suu Kyi’s sentencing; Hun Sen to visit Myanmar in January (7 Dec)
On Tuesday, 7 December, a day after the junta drew global condemnation for sentencing deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi to jail for incitement and breaching pandemic rules, Myanmar’s military-appointed foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, met Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh. Both reportedly discussed bilateral relations, ASEAN issues and ways to re-establish good relationships within the bloc. Hun Sen also accepted the foreign minister’s invitation for a visit to Naypyidaw from Jan 7 to 8, making him the first government leader to visit Myanmar since the coup.
Cambodia’s relations with Myanmar will be closely observed as it will chair ASEAN next year. Notably, in light of the military’s lack of commitment to end the political turmoil in Myanmar, Myanmar’s junta chief, Min Aung Hlaing, was not invited to a virtual summit of ASEAN leaders in October. But Hun Sen, at the start of this week said that junta officials should be invited to the bloc’s meetings. Following Hun Sen’s statement, the junta’s minister of investment and foreign economic relations, Aung Naing Oo, shared with the media that he was optimistic the junta chief would be able to join future summits.
Myanmar focusing on recovery, says junta’s top economic minister (7 Dec)
While gearing up for elections in August 2023, Myanmar’s authorities say they will prioritise recovery and stemming the flight of foreign investors. On 7 December, the military regime’s Minister of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations (MIFER), Aung Naing Oo, disclosed that discussions were under way to minimise investment losses. For example, attempts will be made to explore alternative investments with Indian port operator Adani Group, which scrapped plans to build a container terminal in Yangon in October; plans to transfer the country’s telecoms operations to Lebanon’s M1 for US$105 million will be considered following the exit of Norway’s Telenor. In coming weeks, MIFER is expected to announce an economic recovery plan that would focus on ramping up growth and provide incentives for foreign investments until 2024.
Mr Aung Naing Oo shared that investments in the country’s three special economic zones were ongoing and that legislation, such as the Myanmar Investment Law and Special Economic Zone Law that guaranteed foreign assets against nationalisation, was in place. He added that there remains interest in Myanmar, with the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration having received 30 inquiries since June from investors in Russia, China, Singapore and Hong Kong. The most attractive sectors are energy and power, followed by manufacturing, transport, telecommunications and real estate. Since 2 February, a day after the military seized power in Myanmar, 18 foreign projects valued at US$3.3 billion have been approved.
Source: Straits Times
Malaysia’s appeal court upholds Najib’s 12-year jail sentence (8 Dec)
Malaysia’s Court of Appeal has ruled to uphold former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s guilty charge from the 1MDB trial, with a judge calling his crimes a “national embarrassment”. The appeal court maintained that Najib was convicted of all seven charges linked to the IMDB case. Following the verdict, Najib requested for a stay of execution, which would allow him to stay out of jail, as he appeals to the Federal Court. Najib also faces 2 other criminal court cases linked to the 1MDB scandal, which are currently pending.
The judgment is a blow to Najib, who has spent the last few years trying to restore his image and proclaim his innocence. He has been playing a larger role in UMNO’s campaigning activities as of late, and is rumoured to be seeking re-election. Najib’s appeal could take up to a few years and possibly enable him to run in the next general elections, due to be held by 2023.
Malaysia delays endemic transition (1-7 Dec)
Malaysia will hold off its plans to further loosen movement restriction measures due to the emergence of the Omicron variant. In a press conference, Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the Cabinet decided to pause Malaysia’s transition towards endemicity until more information is available about the variant. Hishammuddin said Langkawi’s international tourism bubble and the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) arrangement with Singapore will proceed as planned, with a tightened testing regime put in place. Travellers entering Malaysia through the land and air VTLs will be subjected to daily COVID-19 tests for the first 6 days of their travel. Malaysia is looking at setting up other tourism “bubbles”, similar to the one in Langkawi and opening up other air VTLs routes.
Indonesia’s court rules omnibus bill as “permanently unconstitutional” (25 Nov)
Indonesia’s constitutional court has ruled the Omnibus Bill on Job Creation as “legally defective” and has ordered President Jokowi to amend sections of the bill. The court ruled that the passing of the bill did not meet the standard lawmaking methods specified by the constitution. The changes to the bill have to be made within two years, or the entire bill will be void. In the interim, the judges ruled against cancelling the law and allowed the law to be in force until the revisions are made.
The Omnibus Bill on Job Creation was introduced by the Jokowi administration in 2019, and passed in October 2020, as a way to simplify over 70 laws to attract foreign investment and create jobs. The bill has been mired in controversy as critics argue that it fails to protect workers and the environment. The court’s ruling cannot be appealed and the Jokowi government has indicated that they will obey the ruling and amend the bill.
Indonesia cancels year-end movement curbs (7 Dec)
The Indonesian government has cancelled its plans to impose movement restrictions during the year-end holidays. According to Coordinating Minister for Maritime and Investment Affairs Luhut Panjaitan, who is overseeing the pandemic response, the government will not impose the second-highest level of restrictions (level 3) across the country, but will instead order different curbs depending on the situation in individual cities and provinces. Travel remains limited to those who are fully vaccinated. The government credits the decision to cancel the restrictions to higher vaccination rates and testing capabilities.
Sentiments register eight-month high in November (6 Dec)
The Thailand Industry Sentiment Index (TISI) in November rose to its highest in eight months, at 85.4 points, based on a survey of 1,381 entrepreneurs across 45 industries. The Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) has said that this was helped by the country’s reopening, ongoing stimulus packages and export expansion which boosted confidence among large and small manufacturers. The country also relaxed border restrictions, allowing fully vaccinated foreign tourists to enter without quarantine from November. Notably, in October, the index stood at 82.1 points.
However, negative factors, including Covid-19, high energy costs, expensive freight rates and a shortage of workers in manufacturing and construction sectors, are still concerns. The Chairman of the FTI stressed that the business sector does not want the government to impose lockdown measures to control the pandemic again because it will affect the domestic economy.
Source: Bangkok Post
No need to panic over first Omicron case, says PM (7 Dec)
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha has called on the public not to panic over the emergence of the Omicron Covid-19 variant in the country but remain on their guard and to get vaccinated if they have not done so. The case was reportedly an American business traveller who arrived in Thailand from Spain, via Dubai, on November 30. Health officials will continue to conduct tests of people who had been close contacts and check for more Omicron cases in the country. Apart from its ban of travellers from eight African countries including Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe at the start of December amid concerns about the Omicron variant, Thailand currently has no plans to reintroduce tougher restrictions.
Economists call for financial support to aid Vietnam’s recovery (6 Dec)
Economists in Vietnam say that the country needs special support programmes including fiscal and monetary stimulus packages, in order to recover from the pandemic. Suggested amounts for an aid package range from 5.5% to 8% of GDP for Vietnam to realise its five year economic development targets. Vietnam appears to be better poised to offer a stimulus package as the state budget deficit and public debt are better controlled. Previously, Vietnam’s Deputy Head of the Central Economic Commission has alluded to a package focusing on investment, export, domestic consumption and digital transformation. The General Statistics Office predicts growth this year to be at 2.5%, while growth forecasts for next year stand at 4-4.5%.
Vinfast plans 2022 listing, sets up Singapore-based holding company (4 Dec)
Vietnam’s largest conglomerate, Vingroup JSC, is planning to list its car unit in the US in the second half of next year. Vingroup’s 51.52% stake in VinFast will be transferred to a Singapore subsidiary in order to aid the IPO process. The company is eyeing a $60 billion valuation in its public offering, with expectations to raise at least $3 billion. Vinfast is Vietnam’s first fully local automobile manufacturer and has diversified from gasoline-powered models to battery-powered cars. The automaker aims to roll out electric SUVs in the US, Canada and Europe next year. VinFast also has plans for a US factory plant by the end of 2024.