Asia Pacific Focus

Malaysia positive about growth in the coming months
Asia Pacific Focus

Malaysia positive about growth in the coming months

Despite Malaysia struggling to keep its Covid-19 cases in check and failing at it, the PM’s office is confident it will be able to create a healthy investment environment in the country. Tourism is again off limits as of now.

There are intentions of encouraging existing investors to re-invest again in the country.  The Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was speaking over Malaysia’s growing business between them and Germany vis-a-vie investment in semi conductors.  Within the manufacturing sector, the electronics industry tops the chart as the main contributor, as partially reflected in investments from international companies in Germany into Malaysia.

It is going to be a rough ride for Malaysia that is being desperately trying to get its feet back on the ground post the pandemic led lockdown.  It has recently closed entry of foreign nations and its tourism industry has taken a major hit. But it is looking hopeful to reopening its borders to Singapore soon.  It would all be possible as the Malaysian health ministry looks at doubling the capacity for Covid-19 swab tests for travelers under the reciprocal green lane and periodic commuting arrangement schemes.

According to July indicators, the economy is showing signs of recovery. Exports increased by 3.1 percent year-on-year, while sales of passenger cars and commercial vehicles also rose by 27.3 percent and 44.8 percent respectively during the month compared to June 2020.  With the contraction of the GDP having gradually reduced 28.6 to 19.5 percent in May, signs of recovery are evident.

Anger grows against churches as second wave hits South Korea
Asia Pacific Focus

Anger grows against churches as second wave hits South Korea

A new outbreak traced back to small church groups in the country has led to backlash against them and arrest of a prominent sect leader.

Over the past three weeks, 4500 cases of the coronavirus have been reported in the greater Seoul area and almost a third of them have been traced back to church members and protestors who attended an anti-government rally mid-august. More than 300 congregations defied a ban on in-person meetings while 650 churchgoers and 7,700 protestors refused to get tested post the event.

There has been a severe backlash against these groups by mainstream church leaders and politicians from across the spectrum who accuse them of undermining the COVID-19 prevention work being done by the government, spreading fake news and wasting government resources at this time of crisis. Conservative opposition leaders especially are condemning these groups and distancing themselves from them in fear of losing the support of centre-right and independent voters ahead of the presidential elections in 2022.

 Joo Ho-young, the leader of the main opposition People Power Party, has called these church groups radicals and said their arguments make it seems like they are on the same page which makes it difficult of politically neutral people to support them. The party’s approval ratings which had surpassed that of liberal President Moon Jae-in fell after the August 15 rally.

Christian groups in the country have a long history of political activism and many of the megachurches have been instituted by those fled North Korean before and during the Korean War. There is now a grassroots radical conservative faction who are leading a movement against the president who they say is acting in a pro-North Korean manner while taking an anti-US line. This group is being led by Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon, the founder of the Sarang Jeil church.

He was arrested soon after the August rally as he had violated the bail conditions of an earlier indictment for breaking elections laws. He is seen as an important influence among other churchgoers from beyond his sect who are politicized and swayed by his anti-socialist rhetoric. But he has more detractors than supporters with mainstream church goers and liberals calling for his arrest, seeing him a reckless figure working against the government’s COVID-19 prevention efforts.

How China threw out Australian Press from its Region
Asia Pacific Focus

How China threw out Australian Press from its Region

Australia’s tension with China is getting at its peak, as two journalists feeling threatened by the probing and questioning by Chinese police, had to exit from the country. This has never happened in the diplomatic relations between the countries in the last 50 years.

With this sad exit, Australia has no media representation left in China. The diplomatic relations are going from bad to worse for the Australia-China.  To make matters worse, the latter is known to have already stopped taking calls from the Australian office.

The diplomatic standoff started when Bill Birtles (Beijing correspondent, Australian Broadcasting Corporation) and Mike Mike Smith (Shanghai correspondent, Australian Financial Review) were caught in a misunderstanding where another Australia journalist of Chinese origins Cheng Lei was also detained under suspicion of “engaging in criminal activities endangering China’s national security.”

Australia on its part had already warned the respective media agencies to extract their staff members from China, suspecting the latter might turn ruthless and rogue.

Somewhat like Iran, China does not seem to follow any law through a rule book.  Their diplomatic relations can turn around to suit the need of the government overnight.  Both Australian journalists were allowed to leave the country only after they were questioned and interviewed by China’s ministry of State Security about Cheng Lei.

Things have been going bad to worst between Australia and China since Canberra asked for investigation to be initiated in the origins of the corona virus pandemic through their own team.  China accused Australia for threatening its sovereignty and both have been at each other’s case since then. According to Canberra, a warning has already been sounded to Australians residing in China to be careful of being ‘arbitrarily detained.’

Tensions on the Ladakh border between India and China increase
Asia Pacific Focus

Tensions on the Ladakh border between India and China increase

Tensions on the Ladakh border between India and China have intensified since May. The Chinese Ministry of Defense, through the voice of the head of the department Wei Fenghe, informed his Indian counterpart, Rajnath Singh, that Beijing holds New Delhi entirely responsible for the escalation that has occurred in Ladakh in recent months:

“Border issues have had a very significant impact on relations between our countries and our armed forces recently. The causes and the real situation that led to the current tensions are clear: the Indian side is fully responsible for it.” Wei Fenghe reported earlier today. The official then reiterated that China, given the current situation, will defend its sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the country at all costs.

Fenghe then announced that the two ministers wished for a peaceful resolution of the current border dispute: “The parties must scrupulously abide by the agreements reached by President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They must insist on resolving problems through dialogue and negotiation,” Wei concluded, adding that it will now both sides have to ensure a rapid de-escalation. And that a situation of full stability can be returned as soon as possible on the Sino-Indian border.

“Border issues have had a very significant impact on relations between our countries and our armed forces recently. The causes and the real situation that led to the current tensions are clear: the Indian side is fully responsible for it.”

Wei Fenghe

In turn, Indian minister Singh stressed the importance of ensuring peace and stability on the border between the two countries and of keeping open a channel of dialogue between Beijing and New Delhi at all times. In the hours immediately preceding the joint declaration by the two defense ministers, the foreign departments of India and China also called for a rapid and peaceful resolution of the tensions.

The deterioration in relations between India and China in the Ladakh area occurred at the beginning of May, when several clashes happened between the soldiers of the two countries in the region close to Pangong Tso Lake. The parties subsequently consolidated their military presence on the effective line of control, a substitute for the unmarked border in Ladakh. A further tightening in relations took place on June 15 after a clash between the military of the two countries, in which 20 Indian soldiers died while the Chinese side did not disclose information about the victims.

In October 1962, tensions over control of the north-western part of Aksai Chin, the eastern part of Ladakh, led to the so-called Sino-Indian War, a short, but intense, conflict that killed at least 2,000 soldiers between the two sides belligerents. The outcome of the war was that China partially expanded its control over that region, but the exact border was never established or recognized by India. Since then, tensions and frictions on the uncertain border have never ceased.

Why is China picking an Australia Row?
Asia Pacific Focus

Why is China picking an Australia Row?

Australia is seeing its worst recession in the last three decades while China continues to mount trade pressure over bad relationship vibes between the two nations. China is hell bent to pick a row with Australia.

As per the Labor’s agriculture and resources spokesperson, Joel Fitzgibbon, the way things are tightening up with China is raising fears over Australian barley, beef and wine trade. Tension has been building up since Australia wanted to send off a specialized team to China to investigate the outbreak of the Corona Virus.  China, feeling offended over its sovereignty being questioned has responded back by sanctioning Australia.

The hilarious part is that the diplomatic relationship between the nations have been sent back to decades when the Australian counterparts could not get Beijing to pick their phone calls and settle the differences. Fingers have been pointed over Turnbull and Morrison governments for this leadership failure. Farmers across the board are starting to feel fearful of the outcome of the China Australia cold war.

The other area of concern brewing since June this year is the dwindling Chinese coal imports as it moves towards self sufficiency.  The agriculture community on the other hand is worried as some of the major exports from Australia have found acceptance and profitability in China. Commodities of interest include wool, cotton, grain, dairy, seafood, and horticulture.

Tension has been exasperated over China accusing Australia for not meeting quality standards in its grain exports. This was later met with pointing fingers over wine in May too. On its part, Australia is clear that its grain exports meet the specific phytosanitary export requirements.

To make matters worse is the fact that the Australian government is expected to introduce legislation to parliament this week that will outline new powers to cancel state, territory, local government and university deals with foreign governments that are deemed to go against Australia’s national interest. China has already soured its trade relations with the US and India. It seems to be picking fights everywhere and choosing notorious allies that are more religious fanatics than balanced economies.

At least 10 people who left Hong Kong by boat and headed for Taiwan were arrested off the coast of China
Asia Pacific Focus

At least 10 people who left Hong Kong by boat and headed for Taiwan were arrested off the coast of China

Chinese authorities said they had intercepted and stopped, on Sunday morning, a boat carrying at least ten people that had left Hong Kong heading for Taiwan. The people have been stopped by the coast guard in Guangdong, in the Chinese region between Hong Kong and Taiwan, and according to some Hong Kong media, among those arrested was activist Andy Li. From the first information, it appears that people were trying to expatriate to Taiwan, which is hostile to China and recently very sympathetic to Hong Kong, on the sailing boat.

In recent months, Taiwan, an island of about 23 million inhabitants in the south of China, has been trying to gain international recognition by offering medical aid to various countries around the world. Among other things, Taiwan has donated 10 million masks to the United States and Europe, requested by many governments to curb the spread of the coronavirus epidemic. Taiwan’s efforts, appreciated among others by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, have been targeted by China, which has used harsh words against all those countries that have accepted aid from the ‘island.

Relations between Taiwan and China have been extremely tense for decades. In 1949 the Chinese defeated in the civil war by Mao Tse Tung took refuge in Taiwan, and even today, the Chinese government considers Taiwan its territory and refuses to establish relations with countries that have formal relations with Taiwan. However, the coronavirus pandemic has offered Taiwan new possibilities to create diplomatic ties with various countries around the world, thanks above all to the sending of medical supplies.

Relations with China are the reason why Taiwan has no longer been a member of the UN since 1971. So far, China blocked every request made by the Taiwanese government to be re-admitted into the organization. Taiwan is not even a member of the World Health Organization (WHO), a United Nations agency specializing in health matters and recently accused of being subordinate to China.

From 2009 to 2016, under the government of Kuomintang, a political force less hostile than other Taiwanese parties towards the Beijing government, Taiwan was a member of the World Health Assembly (AMS), the legislative body of the WHO, which meets every year. Since 2016, when the Progressive Democratic Party, more hostile towards China than the Kuomintang, won the local elections, things have changed, and Taiwan has also stopped being part of the AMS.

The strategic role of the Maldives archipelago between India and China
Asia Pacific Focus

The strategic role of the Maldives archipelago between India and China

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar has agreed with his Maldivian counterpart Abdulla Shahid for the financing and implementation of the GMCB (Greater Malé Connectivity Project). The money India will finance this project will be through a $ 100 million grant and a $ 400 million line of credit. The GMCB project is a bridge with an elevated link that will connect the Maldivian capital Malé with the neighboring islands of Villingili, Gulhifahu, and Thilafushi and will be 6.7 km long.

The project also includes other works like the construction of a port in Gulhifahu and an industrial area in Thilafushi. More than the bridge, it is the size of India’s loans, and it will play a role in the development of the Maldives that detracts from that of China. The archipelago has initiated projects for the construction of various types of structures using Chinese funds and building materials through the Belt and Road Initiative, a strategic Chinese initiative for the improvement of its commercial and transport links from Europe to Asia via land and sea.

Previously under former President Abdulla Yameen, the Maldives obtained loans from Beijing and contracted infrastructure projects to Chinese companies. India and many other countries have accused China of exploiting states such as the Maldives through unsustainable debts.A court sentenced Yameen to a five-year prison sentence for money laundering, which began in February of this year.The former president was found guilty of awarding construction contracts to Chinese companies at inflated prices.

The Maldives are near the major shipping routes. Including the east-west shipping route, which transports much of the oil across the Asian continent. The strategic role of this archipelago of 1,192 coral islands has attracted the attention of the great powers, especially India and China.The Indian government has exerted a strong influence on the Maldives government for decades, and it was only after Abdulla Yameen became president in 2013 that the archipelago began to move out of the Indian sphere of influence and into the Chinese one.

India has been trying to regain diplomatic influence over the Maldives since President Ibrahim Solih assumed power after defeating Yameen in the 2018 presidential election. The president in the Maldives is directly elected by an absolute majority of the popular vote in two rounds if required for a five-year term and he can run for a second term.With Ibrahim Solih, the Maldives tried to restore relations with India in an attempt to weaken the archipelago’s dependence on China.

To understand how strong Chinese influence is on the Maldives, you have to think that the Chinese Exim Bank has asked the Maldivian government to repay it 10 million dollars. If this debt is not paid, it will amount to a default with an impact on its trade and foreign exchange reserves. The economy of the Maldives also depends on tourism, and China is one of the main sources of tourists who go to the archipelago to spend their holidays.The government of Ibrahim Solih to try to reduce the dependence of his country on China is trying to diversify the economy beyond tourism and fishing, reforming public finances, increasing job opportunities, and fighting corruption.

China ignores Vietnamese disgruntle to move closer to Paracel Islands
Asia Pacific Focus

China ignores Vietnamese disgruntle to move closer to Paracel Islands

China seems to be testing Vietnamese patience. Beijing is said to have sent fighter jets and at least one bomber to the Paracel Islands or the Xisha Islands. This is a disputed archipelago in South China Sea comprising some 130 small coral islands and reefs.  Because the archipelago is equidistant from People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Vietnam.

It is a controversial island cluster which is claimed ownership over by China, Vietnam and Taiwan too.

In 2016, it was reported that the largest of this cluster of islands, known as Woody Islands by most was hosting surface-to-air missiles owned by China. China has been systematically building an infrastructure there in order to continue to hold its claim. It has claimed the South China Sea for the longest time.

Strangely, while the other claimants are busy fighting their war against corona virus, China is gradually moving towards claiming its ownership on property that is being equally fought for by Vietnam, Philippines and Taiwan too.

According to an official statement made by the Vietnamese ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang, “The fact that relevant sides sent weapons and bombers … not only violates Vietnam’s sovereignty but also jeopardises the situation in the area.” Ms. Hang was referring to PRC.

Earlier in the month also, China was questioned over the movement of the sea warfare to which it continues to hold the same stance of military exercise in progress, while the US has also commented over the deviousness of China’s action where it tends to indulge in military exercise without inviting any other nation to participate with it.

Usually, nations are seen carrying out military training exercises in tandem with other nations in order to learn and collaborate.

Reports of take-offs and landing exercises, long distance strikes and the hitting of targets above the surface of the sea have been reported. There are reasons for Vietnam to feel jittery. Since the beginning of 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, China has strategically moved ahead to show gradual control of the islands. It has deployed survey ships, along with coastguard vessels, to waters off Vietnam and Malaysia. Recently, China’s coastguard vessel, Zhongquo Haijing 5204, was seen around Block 06.1, an oil and gas extraction area within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone that cover a periphery range of approximately 200 nautical miles.

Australian government closes deal to secure Oxford University potential Covid-19 vaccine for “free”
Asia Pacific Focus

Australian government closes deal to secure Oxford University potential Covid-19 vaccine for “free”

A deal has been attained by the Morris government with AstraZeneca, the British pharmaceutical giant to supply the potential Covid-19 vaccine by Oxford University to Australians once it clears the clinical trials, for ‘free’. A $24.7m contract with the medical tech and equipment company Becton Dickinson is also part of the vaccine agreement to ensure adequate supply of needles and syringes for vaccine administration to all the Australians once the vaccine rolls out.

The Australian PM Scott Morrison clarified for the pursuing of the Oxford vaccine as it is “one of the most advanced and promising in the world.” But the government hasn’t ruled out the possibility of any other potential vaccine to ultimately win the ‘race’ and hence the negotiations are underway with all other vaccine manufacturing companies, Morrison said. To seal the deal the government is to sign a letter if intent with AstraZeneca and also establish a consumables contract with Becton Dickinson. The deal can be in billions of dollars.   

PM Morrison said, “There is no guarantee that this, or any other, vaccine will be successful, which is why we are continuing our discussions with many parties around the world while backing our own researches at the same time to find a vaccine.”

Government has clarified that the deal agreement includes vaccine development, production and distribution, as well as commitment to produce the vaccine locally in the country. The final price would be included in the subsequent deals with the production and distribution of locally produced vaccine. CSL, Australia’s largest biotech company has confirmed of its deal discussions with AstraZeneca and the government regarding local production of Oxford vaccine, along with continuing the ongoing work on vaccine candidate at University of Queensland. The company has however clarified that UQ vaccine remains its priority. CSL also said that it is assessing with the government the logistics support in place to support Oxford vaccine local production while providing full support to the UQ vaccine.

Labor Party has said on the deal that Morris government must increase funding to the Australian researchers for Covid-19 vaccine development. Chris Bowen, the shadow health minister said, “There absolutely should be more commonwealth funding, and $5m to the University of Queensland is not enough when you consider that the government of Queensland is putting $10m.”  

“The state government is putting in double what the national government has done and there are other vaccines under development in Australia with zero government support and funding for Covid-19. Some of those may work”, he added.

Morris has been saying in public that countries who are working on Covid-19 vaccine must share it once successful and are rendered safe through clinical trials. Without singling out any country, the Australian PM said that if any country does not make the successful vaccine available across the world would be “judged terribly by history, and that’s certainly Australia’s view.”

Coronavirus: Japan witnesses the worst economic contraction since World War II
Asia Pacific Focus

Coronavirus: Japan witnesses the worst economic contraction since World War II

On Monday, Japanese government released the data showing the highest fall in the country’s economic growth. Its gross domestic product shrank by 7.8% in April-June from the previous quarter, or 27.8% on an annual basis, hitting the the worst contraction since World War II. The data showed how the economy has been struggling to surviving amidst the recession sparked by the global pandemic.

Recession hit the Japanese economy earlier this year, after two successive quarters of economic contraction. The economy churned negative growth of 0.6% in the January-March quarter, and shrank 1.8% in the October-November period last year. Besides, during the April-June quarter, Japan, an export dependant country’s, exports plummeted at a whopping annual rate of 56%, while private consumption fell at an annual rate of about 29%.

It was not only the pandemic which crushed the Japanese economy but its timing as the world’s third largest economy was already scrambling for growth before the deadly virus hit the country. The Covid-19 outbreak caused the worst slump in its economy, by pulling down demand, consumption, and trade to the lowest levels, hence bringing the economy to a standstill. The last worst slump witnessed by the Asian nation was during the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. Analyst believe that Japanese economy would soon bounce back, given $1 trillion stimulus package announced by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, gradual reduction in the rate of infection, its sound health care system and increasing chances of a Covid vaccine. But the real chances of Japanese recovery are dependent on the Chinese economy, which bounced back in the April to June period, with growth of 3.2%. China, the world’s second biggest economy, and one of the biggest importer of Japanese goods offers some day of hope to the currently doomed nation.

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