Southeast Asia’s economies not immune to coronavirus contagion – dpa international

JAKARTA — In the latest warning that coronavirus could stall economic growth across Asia, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday that the city-state “could take a hit” with recession “possible” this year. Speaking during a visit to Singapore’s Changi Airport, Lee said the economic impact of the disease known as Covid-19 will likely top that of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). In 2003, the outbreak resulted in reduced commerce and travel across Asia and saw Singapore’s wealthy, trade-based economy shrink by 0.3 per cent during the second quarter. Lee warned on Friday that although Singapore was free of SARS within four months, the timetable for coronavirus “may not be so fast.”

Malaysia’s durian farmers fret over virus fallout – dpa international

Durian-flavoured ice-cream is becoming more popular in parts of Asia (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s hopes of exporting 500 million ringgit (120 million dollars) worth of durian a year to China could be stalled by the deadly coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than a thousand people. With much of central China under lockdown and commerce slow to revive after the Chinese New Year, Malaysian growers are noticing falling demand and prices. “People are not working in parts of China, people are not going out, not spending – demand is down,” said Jimmy Loke, owner of Jimmy’s Durian Orchard in the region of Pahang, east of Kuala Lumpur. Prices in the region have dropped by “around a quarter” since the outbreak, Loke said.

Singapore airshow has wings clipped by virus scare – dpa international

The Gardens By The Bay are one of Singapore's main tourist attractions (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — The Singapore Airshow, billed Asia’s biggest aviation event, started on Tuesday with attendances set to be down on previous years due to coronavirus concerns. Citing worries about the virus, whoch has killed over a thousand people in China and has infected over 40 people in Singapore, airshow organizers said ticket numbers were being “scaled down for the well-being and safety of all visitors.” The event will run until February 16 and will feature daredevil flying displays by fighter jets from the United States and the Chinese air force. An airshow conference featuring speeches from sector leaders, including the head of the US Federal Aviation Administration, was cancelled due to the concerns.

After Airbus bribery claims, Air Asia shares bumped by Mahathir – dpa international

Tony Fernandes of Air Asia at the World Economic Forum in Myanmar n mid-2013 (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Shares in budget airline Air Asia rebounded to 1.25 ringgit (0.30 dollars) after comments on Thursday by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad about recent bribery allegations involving aircraft maker Airbus. Mahathir, 94, said that it was “normal” in deal-making to ask for an “offset” and that such arrangements were not corrupt unless money was taken for personal use. “Whether you consider an offset as bribery, it is up to you,” Mahathir told reporters after a meeting at the Education Ministry. Shares in the Malaysia-based airline, a household name across Asia, dropped from 1.41 to 1.13 ringgit on Wednesday after it was caught up in allegations that Toulouse-based Airbus bribed its officials to secure aircraft sales.

In jab at India, Pakistan pledges to buy more Malaysian palm oil – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Pakistan plans to import more Malaysian palm oil to make up for losses incurred since India imposed informal restrictions on Malaysian imports last month. Speaking alongside visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan today, Malaysian Premier Mahathir Mohamad said Pakistan is “quite ready” to import more of the commodity from Malaysia. Khan in turn thanked Mahathir for speaking out against New Delhi’s policies in Kashmir, a disputed Muslim-majority region divided between India and Pakistan, and said his country will “try its best to compensate” Malaysia for India’s apparent retaliation. Mahathir has also accused the Indian government of discriminating against Muslims.

Malaysia’s trade with US up due to Chinese-American tensions – dpa international

Malaysia's Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Ong Kian Ming speaking a Feb. 4 2020 press conference to announce his country's 2019 trade statistics (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s trade with the US grew by 5.6 per cent to 164.45 billion ringgit (40 billion dollars) in 2019, government statistics released Tuesday show. The surge came despite an overall trade decline of 2.5 per cent during what Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Ong Kian Ming described as “a very challenging 2019”. Malaysia’s increased trade with the US was “to a large extent” a result of commerce being diverted from China because of trade tensions between Washington and Beijing, Ong told dpa during a press conference announcing the 2019 trade data. “E and E exports to the US increased significantly,” Ong added, referring to electrical and electronic goods, of which Malaysia is the world’s seventh-largest manufacturer.

We’re not the world’s rubbish bin, Malaysian minister says – UCA News

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s environment minister Yeo Bee Yin announced on Jan. 20 that her country has returned almost 4,000 tonnes of plastic rubbish to mostly Western countries in recent months. “We do not want to be the garbage bin of the world,” the minister said, warning would-be sending countries to “dream on” if they expect Malaysia to recycle their rubbish for them. The cost of repatriating the rubbish from Malaysia will be borne by sending countries and shippers, Yeo said, echoing her counterparts in the Philippines and Indonesia, countries that have also reacted furiously to the trade in foreign plastic rubbish and sought to make senders pay for shipping their garbage back to where it came from. Since China banned the import of plastic waste for recycling in 2017, Southeast Asia has become a magnet for the largely-illegal trade, while images of fields of plastic rubbish bobbing on turquoise seas and of stinking plastic-engorged landfills have fueled concerns about a worldwide “plastics crisis,” with China, estimated to be the world’s biggest source of plastic pollution, becoming the latest country to ban single-use plastics on Jan. 19. This stern “polluters-will-pay-a-price” message is the subject of a new study by the World Economic Forum and PwC, one of the world’s “Big Four” accounting firms. Not only are polluters likely to see their good names tarnished or face financial sanctions, businesses and governments are shooting themselves in the foot by damaging the environment upon which some commercial activity depends.

Southeast Asia remains an investment magnet as Singapore gains from Hong Kong’s troubles – The Interpreter/CNA

KUALA LUMPUR — Despite more than a year of tit-for-tat tariffs in the US-China trade war and anxiety about its cost to the world economy, foreign direct investment into Southeast Asia continued to grow strongly last year, even as global levels flatlined. Newly-published estimates from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) suggest that, out of a global FDI spend of US $1.39 trillion in 2019, member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations received $177 billion, breaking the region’s 2018 record of $155 billion. While Southeast Asia’s 2019 total was substantially less than European Union’s $305 billion or the United States’ $251 billion, its inward FDI is increasing while the EU’s dropped 15% and the US’s stayed the much the same. 

East versus West battle looms over 5G rollout – Asia Times

PHNOM PENH – Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei predicted in late December that the number of 5G connections worldwide would jump from around 20 million in 2019 to over 200 million by the end of 2020. Nowhere will the corporate and geopolitical contest to lead that rollout be more hotly contested than in Southeast Asia. Since a successful launch of commercial 5G services last April in South Korea, where around 3.5 million people have signed up for more expensive high-speed 5G and are using three times the data of 4G subscribers, mobile network providers across Asia could be set to cash in if the technology is made widespread soon. If those millions can soon become tens or even hundreds of millions, 5G, which promises download speeds between 20 to 100 times faster than the current leading 4G system, could revolutionize fields from public transport to healthcare to manufacturing, a potential that Dutch bank ING suggests could be “an economic light-bulb moment.”

There be dragons, and a visit could cost US$1000 – The Times

Sunset over islands in East Nusa Tenggara. (Simon Roughneen)

BANGKOK — In a hint that Indonesia could be tiring of the drunken antics of young Western visitors to the holiday island of Bali, President Joko Widodo said he wants only “super premium” visitors to nearby islands that are home to the Komodo dragon, the world’s biggest and deadliest lizard. “Don’t mix with the middle lower ones,” Widodo told a conference in capital Jakarta, implying that Labuan Bajo, an island in eastern Indonesia that is the gateway to Komodo, one of the handful of islands where the eponymous reptiles can be seen, opt for well-to-do tourists. Local officials have touted a US$1000 “annual membership” fee to visit Komodo for a look at the lizards, which hunt deer and buffalo, packing a venomous bite that can kill an adult human.