Prospects fade for ASEAN migrant worker deal – Nikkei Asian Review

Myanmar migrants discussing their struggles with people smugglers and traffickers on the outskirts of the Thai capital Bangkok (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — Official crackdowns on emigrants in Malaysia and Thailand have cast further doubt on over prospects that member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations can finalize a long discussed deal on migrant workers’ rights. In June and July around 100,000 mostly Myanmar migrant workers fled Thailand after the military government in Bangkok announced hefty new fines for undocumented workers and their employers. Then, starting July 1, Malaysia made a series of arrests of alleged undocumented migrant workers, affecting more than 3,000 workers and around 60 employers accused of giving work to illegals. These tough actions — though a reprise of previous years’ crackdowns — come as the region’s governments mull proposed enhancements to the 2007 ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, signed in Cebu in the central Philippines during one of Manila’s past tenures as the group’s chair. Two years after the Cebu declaration, ASEAN countries started moves toward a set of region-wide legal norms, but progress has been slow. With Manila again chairing ASEAN this year, there has been a renewed push to address migrant rights — an important social and political issue in the Philippines.

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Booming Southeast Asian vehicle sales drive urban congestion – Nikkei Asian Review/FT

As car sales increase in Myanmar, traffic jams are increasingly common in Yangon, the biggest city and commercial center of the country (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — Vehicle sales in Southeast Asia are set to outpace all other regions of the world during 2017, according to industry research, highlighting surging economic expansion in some parts of the region. But the growing number of new cars and trucks in urban centers is likely to worsen commerce-stifling traffic jams in major cities such as Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila — adding urgency to much needed transport infrastructure upgrades throughout much of the region. BMI Research — part of Fitch Group, a financial information company — has forecast that total vehicle sales in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will grow 8.1% in 2017, a marked increase in the combined 3.1% car sales growth the previous year across the 10 ASEAN countries, and more than double the sales growth rate of 3.7% projected for Asia as a whole in 2017. “Looking at passenger cars specifically, we expect Cambodia, the Philippines and Vietnam to be the best performing autos markets in the ASEAN region in 2017 with forecast growth of 20.4%, 19.2% and 18.0% in passenger car sales respectively,” BMI said in a recent report on the sector, citing “solid economic growth, strong private consumption and tax reform” as drivers of the car sales spike.

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Leicester lessons for Asia’s European soccer investors – Nikkei Asian Review

Football gamblers watching opening day of 2013-14 English football season in Tamwe, Rangoon (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — If Claudio Ranieri was in front of a television when English Premier League soccer champions Leicester City hosted five-times European club champions Liverpool on Feb. 27, the mild-mannered Italian might have been tempted into an uncharacteristic show of anger. The 65-year-old had been sacked as team manager three days previously by Leicester City’s billionaire Thai owner and chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, founder of the King Power Group chain of duty-free shops. After a series of tepid losses, the team had been dragged into a struggle with a half dozen rivals desperate to stave off relegation from the premier league to the less high-profile English Championship, where Leicester City had languished for a decade prior to 2014. But with Ranieri gone, the team rediscovered the verve that brought them success the previous year. Ranieri’s ex-charges followed their comfortable 3-1 win over Liverpool with a March 4 victory over Hull City by the same margin.

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Asia ponders whether Trump will walk the talk – Nikkei Asian Review/FT

Indonesian Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita Speaking to U.S. investors in Jakarta in Sept. 2016 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — After the most divisive election campaign in decades, tens of thousands of Americans have protested and rioted against the winner in cities across the country, prompting international concerns about an increasingly divided superpower. During his campaign, Trump called Mexicans “rapists,” appeared to mock a disabled reporter, threatened to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., and faced accusations of sexually assaulting women. Clinton was subject to an FBI investigation over her use of a private email account while working as secretary of state, while a foundation run with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, was suspected of soliciting cash from foreign governments in return for contacts in the U.S. government. China crowed over the debacle. “The innumerable scandals, rumors, conspiracy theories and obscenities make it impossible for a person to look away,” said state media outlet Xinhua News Agency. Alongside its unrivalled economic and military strength, the U.S. has relied on intangible “soft power” to influence other countries. Joseph Nye, the Harvard University scholar who coined the term, calls it “the ability to get what one wants through attraction rather than coercion or payments.” But Nye noted that American prestige in Asia has been undermined. “The lack of civility in the presidential debate and the nativist, xenophobic nature of a number of Trump’s statements have already had a negative effect on American soft power in Asia and elsewhere,” he told the Nikkei Asian Review.

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A long reign followed by a long succession – RTÉ World Report

Mourners at the Grand Palace in Bangkok on Oct. 17 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

BANGKOK — On October 13, shortly after 6pm, came the news that millions of Thais had long expected but prayed would not come. After 70 years on the throne, the king was dead. Aged 88, Bhumibol Adulyadej was the world’s longest reigning monarch. Éamon de Valera was Taoiseach when the young king was crowned in 1946, Harry Truman was in the White House, and it would be another 7 years before Queen Elizabeth II, the second longest serving monarch, was crowned. Scenes of mass grief followed the announcement of the death — both outside the Bangkok hospital where the ailing king had spent the past 7 years — and then the following day when hundreds of thousands black clad mourners lined the streets as the king’s body was taken to the palace where he will lie in state for up to a year before cremation. And then on into the following week, as tens of thousands of people visited the king’s resting place each day, and hundreds took days off work to hand out snacks and drinks and to help clean up around the palace. One volunteer, giving her name as Nittaya, was part of a group scraping a footpath clean — trowel in hand. “Our king served for 70 years, he was like a father, so we can do this small thing for him,” she said.

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After venerated king’s death, prince’s succession up in the air – Los Angeles Times

Mourners, many bearing images of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, have been gathering in front of the Grand Palace in Bangkok to pay respects  (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

BANGKOK – Since the king’s death Thursday at age 88, Thais have lined up by the hundreds of thousands to pay their respects at Bangkok’s Grand Palace. “I want to come here to give something for the father,” said Nattapsorn Juijuyen, a volunteer who helped distribute food and water to the swelling crowd Monday. Thousands of Thais lined up outside banks overnight to pick up commemorative currency notes in honor of Bhumibol. Across Bangkok, shops are running out of black clothing as well as photographs and paintings of the late monarch. Books about him also are in short supply. “We have nothing left,” said a staff member at the Kinokuniya bookstore in one of the city’s many glossy malls. “We only have books about the other kings from the past.”

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Thailand grieves for its late king, and wonders when its crown prince will take the throne – Los Angeles Times

Thais clad in black walk past an image of the late King Bhumibol Adulyedej on one of Bangkok's main streets (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

BANGKOK – An afternoon downpour did not deter tens of thousands of black-clad Thais from converging on the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha on Sunday as they continued to mourn the loss of their late king, Bhumibol Adulyadej. They could have a long time to grieve before Bhumibol’s eldest son and heir, 64-year-old Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, becomes king. In a surprise announcement, Vajiralongkorn said he will remain as crown prince until he has had time to mourn. Just how long that will take is not clear. But it could be as long as a year before Bhumibol is cremated, and there has been speculation that his son will wait until then to take the throne.

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Asian cities set to surge up retail hub rankings – Nikkei Asian Review

Shoppers walking around the recently opened Aeon mall in Phnom Penh, the rapidly-growing Cambodian capital (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — Asia is home to more than half the world’s most dynamic retail hubs, according to new research that reinforces images of the region’s mall-strewn megacities. The research, by professional services and investment management company JLL, says 12 of the fastest-growing retail cities are in Asia, with eight in China alone — another indication that global economic growth is increasingly driven by the Asia-Pacific region. JLL lists Dubai as the world’s fastest-growing retail destination, with Shanghai second and Beijing third. Places 9 to 13 are occupied by Bangkok, Chengdu, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Manila, respectively. Only two European cities make the top 20 — Moscow and Istanbul — with none from Africa. Mexico City is the sole city from the western hemisphere, sitting at number 19.

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Choking on growth – Nikkei Asian Review

PHNOM PENH — The skyline of Phnom Penh is changing as fast as that of any Asian city. Yellow cranes gleam in the sun after late-afternoon squalls, towering alongside green-netted scaffolding wrapped around dozens of new high-rise apartment blocks going up across the city. These are, literally, the green shoots of a building boom that made up a sixth of Cambodia’s economic growth last year. They are a sign of a transformation underway in the capital as Cambodia tries to catch up with its more prosperous neighbors. But the rapid changes also highlight a challenge that has faced many cities across Asia in recent decades: with 200 million people having moved from countryside to city in East and Southeast Asia since 2010, how can cities manage large-scale urban growth in a way that facilitates economic growth without increasing pollution and traffic jams. In BKK1, an upmarket part of the city, “the roads are too narrow, the area is not ready for so much construction, many small builders don’t talk to the municipality, there is no coordination,” said Sebastian Uy, co-owner of real estate agency Le Grand Mekong Property.

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Zika poses a threat to Asian economies – Nikkei Asian Review

Singapore General Hospital (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

SINGAPORE — More than 300 people have been diagnosed with the Zika virus in Singapore this year, while the figure for Thailand has reached 200. Though the numbers of Zika cases in other Asian countries remain in the single digits, outbreaks in these two trade and tourism hubs could take a heavy economic toll. Such impacts are already being felt in Latin America. The spread of Zika there has resulted in around 1,800 cases of microcephaly, and the World Bank estimates that Zika could result in losses of around $3.5 billion to Latin American economies, or 1% of gross domestic product in tourism-dependent ones. In Asia, the main impact is likely to be felt in Singapore, which will host a Formula One Grand Prix race from Sept. 16-18. The event attracts not only regional motor sports fans but also corporate guests attending business meetings during the race week. The current Zika outbreak is the first ever in the city-state. Though it has not sparked any panic yet, the rapid spread of infection has reminded many residents of the SARS crisis of 2003, which saw economic activity contract 4.2% in the second quarter of that year. China, Singapore’s biggest source of tourists, issued an alert on Sept. 7 urging visitors to Zika-affected countries to take precautions against mosquito bites.

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