Fragile, uneven recovery

The world has entered 2022 facing numerous uncertainties. After two years of fighting the coronavirus pandemic, the emergence of the Omicron variant now poses challenges to economies even in countries where vaccination rates are high.

24 Jan 2022

NEWSPAPER SECTION: ASIA FOCUS

WRITER: NAREERAT WIRIYAPONG



Labour outlook troubling

The global labour market has suffered a setback from waves of the pandemic, with the recovery depending on each country's ability to contain and respond to coronavirus outbreaks, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

24 Jan 2022

The power and poison of modern monetary theory

When Democratic Senator Joe Manchin announced that he would not support the Build Back Better Act -- effectively dooming US President Joe Biden's signature legislative initiative -- he cited America's "staggering debt".

24 Jan 2022

Asean needs a Middle Path

Despite the economic downturn during the Covid-19 pandemic, China-sponsored infrastructure, trade and cooperation initiatives with Southeast Asian nations have been moving forward consistently -- amplifying the presence of Beijing in one of the world's fastest growing regions.

17 Jan 2022

AROUND ASIA

Buzz

More than two dozen generic-drug manufacturers have agreed to produce low-cost versions of the Merck Covid-19 pill, a key step in bringing virus-fighting tools to lower-income countries that have struggled to secure vaccines. Companies in Bangladesh, China, India, Kenya, South Africa, Vietnam and other countries signed pacts to supply more than 100 low- and middle-income nations, the United Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool said last Thursday. The latest development follows licensing accords announced late last year by Merck and Pfizer, which is introducing another antiviral pill. The expected treatments should be "rapidly available" in lower- and middle-income regions, said Charles Gore, the patent pool's executive director.

  • Philippines

    The Philippines again tops Southeast Asia in daily Covid-19 infections, with record cases last week prompting tighter restrictions, disrupting businesses and filling up hospitals. While the Omicron variant has been detected in most of the region, only the Philippines has suffered an exponential rise in infections. The government blamed the spike on complacency in mask-wearing and distancing during the Christmas holidays, when looser curbs to support a fragile economic recovery allowed families and friends to gather, even as the vaccine rate is among the region's lowest.

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  • Laos

    The new China-Laos Railway has carried over 1 billion yuan (US$157 million) worth of international freight since it opened, customs authorities in the southern Chinese city of Kunming said last week. As of Jan 17,153 freight shipments had been handled by customs, with total volume reaching 59,500 tonnes. Since the railway was opened on Dec 3, over 100 types of goods have been transported across the border via Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province.

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  • Malaysia

    Malaysia has lifted its suspension on the sale of flight and bus tickets to Singapore via its vaccinated travel lane. Quotas for ticket sales will be set at 50% of capacity, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said. Increasing ticket sales quotas will depend on the risk assessments of the Covid situation in both countries, he added. Travellers are also being asked to conduct self-tests for Covid on the second, fourth and sixth days after their arrival, and also have PCR tests on the third and fifth days after their arrival.

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  • Indonesia

    Indonesia's parliament on Tuesday approved the relocation of the country's capital from slowly sinking Jakarta to a site 2,000 kilometres away on jungle-clad Borneo island that will be named Nusantara. Home to more than 30 million people in its greater metro area, Jakarta has long been plagued by serious infrastructure problems and flooding exacerbated by climate change, with experts predicting up to a third of the city could be underwater by 2050. The new capital will cover 56,180 hectares in East Kalimantan province, with the shift of some government operations from Jakarta expected to begin in 2024.

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  • Myanmar

    The French company TotalEnergies has told a rights group that it backs the imposition of sanctions on its payments to the Myanmar junta from gas operations in the country and that it has asked the French government to put in place a legal framework for sanctions. The French energy giant's gas venture is one of the top sources of income for the junta and, along with other global companies, it has faced pressure from rights groups and a shadow civilian government to curb payments since the army seized power.

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  • Singapore

    Singapore tied Silicon Valley for second place as the world's most desirable data centre location, after placing fifth last year, according to a report by the global real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. Northern Virginia, adjacent to Washington DC, topped the table. The report ranked data centre hubs based on 13 factors, including market size and connectivity, as well as political stability and sustainability. Singapore topped the list for fastest fibre connectivity, lowest vacancy rate and best smart city, but came fifth for market size.

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  • Vietnam

    Vietnam's leading renewable energy firm, Trung Nam Group, has launched its first offshore wind farm as the country steps up its drive to develop more clean energy. The 5-trillion-dong (US$220 million) site in the southern province of Tra Vinh has 25 turbines with installed capacity of 100 megawatts. Trung Nam also said it would raise the total capacity of its renewable power plants to 3.8 gigawatts (GW) and LNG-to-power plants to 1.5 GW by 2025. Vietnam is finalising a master power development plan with a focus on renewables to meet its target to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

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  • Cambodia

    Cambodia on Wednesday resumed the treason trial of banned opposition party leader Kem Sokha after a two-year delay due to the pandemic, in a case condemned by the United States as politically motivated. Kem Sokha was arrested in 2017 and his opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was banned ahead of a 2018 election that was swept by the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The CNRP has since been decimated, with many of its members arrested or fleeing into exile. "I hope … the court will decide to drop the charges against me so that we can reach national reconciliation and national unity to develop our country," Kem Sokha told reporters.

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  • Japan

    Japan and the United States will launch regular ministerial talks on economic and environmental issues in an attempt to strengthen bilateral cooperation amid China's rise, government sources said on Friday. The new framework, akin to the so-called two-plus-two security talks involving the countries' foreign and defence chiefs, was discussed by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and US President Joe Biden during their virtual summit, according to Japanese government sources. Japan and the US are promoting a "free and open" Indo-Pacific as China's growing economic and military clout has raised regional tensions.

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  • India

    Rising heat and heavier rains across South Asia, as the planet warms, are forcing home-based women workers to cut down on hours as their houses get hotter or are flooded often, resulting in a loss of income they cannot afford, researchers said on Thursday. In a survey of 202 women in cities across India, Nepal and Bangladesh, more than 40% said they were spending less time on their informal jobs and earning less, according to HomeNet South Asia, a regional network of groups representing home-based workers. Across South Asia, women home workers make up nearly a quarter of total female employment, as against only 6% for men, HomeNet said.

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  • China

    China has vowed to curb the influence of technology companies and root out corruption tied to the "disorderly" expansion of capital, a sign that authorities may expand a regulatory crackdown that erased more than US$1 trillion of market value last year. In a sweeping communique following meetings of the Chinese Communist Party's top anti-graft group, the government said it would break the ties between money and power, and tackle corruption in a range of industries. It also pledged to "show no mercy" to troublesome political factions and interest groups within the party, the official Xinhua News Agency reported last Thursday. "Efforts will be made to investigate and punish corrupt behaviours behind the disorderly expansion of capital and platform monopolies, and cut off the link between power and capital," the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said in a statement.

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  • South Korea

    South Korea unveiled a 14 trillion won (US$11.7 billion) supplementary budget on Friday to support the self-employed and small businesses that have taken a heavy hit from extended Covid curbs. Some 11.5 trillion won will be used to help small business owners and compensate their losses caused by virus-related measures, the finance ministry said. Another 1.5 trillion won is earmarked to secure Covid treatment pills for 400,000 people and 25,000 hospital beds. The other 1 trillion won will be used as contingency reserves should Omicron spread further and require more support.

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  • Australia

    Twitter executives on Friday sparred with a panel of Australian lawmakers investigating harmful material online and the social media platform's measures to stem abuse. Lucy Wicks, chair of the parliamentary Select Committee on Social Media and Online Safety, read out some of the abuse directed by Twitter users toward a prominent Australian female journalist. She questioned how Twitter policed offensive material when so much of it remained on the platform. "I don't understand why Twitter's hateful conduct policy does not apply to a degrading, dehumanising, demeaning phrase directed at any woman, at any individual," Wicks said.

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  • Hong Kong

    Hong Kong police will deal with pet lovers who try to stop people giving up their hamsters to be put down, or who offer to care for abandoned hamsters, authorities said, after they ordered a cull of the cuddly rodents to curb the coronavirus. Last Tuesday, officials ordered the killing of about 2,000 hamsters from dozens of pet shops after tracing a coronavirus outbreak to a worker at a shop, where 11 hamsters later tested positive for Covid-19. Thousands of people have offered to adopt unwanted hamsters amid a public outcry against the government and its pandemic advisers, which the office of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam called irrational.

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  • Taiwan

    Citigroup Inc, which has been shedding some of its retail banking operations as part of a global revamp, is in advanced talks with Fubon Financial Holding Co of Taiwan for the sale of its mainland China consumer business, people familiar with the matter said. Taipei-based Fubon has emerged as the most likely buyer after outbidding rivals, two sources said, adding the assets could be valued at $1.5 billion. A deal would help Fubon strengthen its foothold in the mainland, where it acquired a controlling stake in Shanghai-based First Sino Bank in 2014 and later changed its name to Fubon Bank China.

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  • New Zealand

    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday that restrictions will be tightened across the country if there is any community transmission of the Omicron variant but she ruled out lockdowns. A "red" traffic light setting would be imposed, which would mean mandatory masks and limits on public gatherings. New Zealand's borders have been shut to foreigners since March 2020 and plans for a phased reopening were pushed back from mid-January to the end of February fearing an Omicron outbreak, as seen in Australia. People arriving have to apply for a place at state-managed quarantine facilities. The government last week stopped issuing any new slots amid a surge in the number of people arriving with Omicron.

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IN NUMBERS

Nareerat Wiriyapong

COMMENTARY

Chinese policies hold back growth

When I first heard a Moody's economist discuss the cooling Chinese economy late last year, it caught my interest but not much. As we have been living with a pandemic for two years, an economic slowdown seems unavoidable, even in the country that has been the world's engine of growth for years.

READ MORE >

Other News

24 Jan 2022

Chinese policies hold back growth

When I first heard a Moody's economist discuss the cooling Chinese economy late last year, it caught my interest but not much. As we have been living with a pandemic for two years, an economic slowdown seems unavoidable, even in the country that has been the world's engine of growth for years.

24 Jan 2022
17 Jan 2022

'Out with man haters', cry Korean anti-feminists

SEOUL: They have shown up whenever women rallied against sexual violence and gender bias in South Korea. Dozens of young men, mostly dressed in black, taunted the protesters, squealing and chanting, "Thud! Thud!" to imitate the noise they said the "ugly feminist pigs" made when they walked.

17 Jan 2022 11
17 Jan 2022

Hun Sen's Myanmar gamble

I'm not a fan of Hun Sen, the strongman who has ruled Cambodia for more than 38 years. A co-premier from 1993-97 before seizing power in a 1997 coup, the Cambodian leader has won all subsequent elections while political rivals have been jailed or exiled and critical media crushed. His legacy appears secure now that his Cambodian People's Party has endorsed his eldest son, 44-year-old army commander Hun Manet, as "future prime minister".

17 Jan 2022
17 Jan 2022

Searching within

At first sight, Anthony Tan doesn't look much like his publicity photograph. His grey hair is short and in the stage of growing back after having been shaved. So are his eyebrows. The explanation? He recently spent some time ordained as a monk.

17 Jan 2022
10 Jan 2022

Not so festive, no-travel New Year

Welcome back to the real world. We may have just finished our countdown to New Year 2022 but it seems the bad dream from 2021 continues to haunt us.

10 Jan 2022
10 Jan 2022

Where To Next?

The world has entered its third year of living with a global pandemic. We have witnessed almost 300 million Covid-19 cases with 5.47 million lives lost, yet the toll might have been much worse but for an almost superhuman global effort to develop effective vaccines in record time.

10 Jan 2022
10 Jan 2022

Trading up

Ravaged by the fallout from Covid-19, countries in Asia and the Pacific are hoping to revitalise their pandemic-hit economies as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) takes effect to create the world's largest trade bloc.

10 Jan 2022
10 Jan 2022

Pakistan a hub for South-Central Asian integration

Kyrgyzstan has become the latest country to formally express its desire to join the multi-billion-dollar China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) linking Western China with the Pakistani deep seaport of Gwadar at the mouth of Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf.

10 Jan 2022
3 Jan 2022

Restarting tourism, recharging life

November 1 was the official start of Thailand's open-border policy to once again welcome tourists on a large scale. The success of domestic vaccinations against the coronavirus was one factor that helped make the reopening possible, with about 69% of the population now having received at least two doses.

3 Jan 2022 2
27 Dec 2021

Year of Turbulence

Pandemic drags on recovery: In the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, many Asian countries had enviable success, avoiding large-scale outbreaks and mass deaths. But the arrival of the more transmissible Delta variant this year and sluggish vaccine rollouts compounded by low availability sent cases surging. Combined with poor monitoring and easy movement among countries, often unofficially, Southeast Asia became a virus hotspot. The ballooning health crisis collided with churning political discontent in the case of Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia. Economically, the new wave of infections, and attendant restrictions imposed to curb the spread, stalled recoveries. After nearly two years of strict border controls, many countries started to loosen up and live with Covid. But the rise of the Omicron variant now threatens to scuttle those tentative reopening plans and usher in a third year of economic anxiety.

27 Dec 2021