JAKARTA — For a decade or so before the market for touchscreen smartphones took off around 2010, BlackBerry’s hand-held communication devices were ubiquitous among thumb-jockeying executives trying to keep in touch with the office outside working hours. After several recent failed attempts to launch new phones and operating systems to compete against Apple, Google and Samsung Electronics products, the company that “made the modern cellphone,” as BlackBerry’s CEO John Chen puts it, is hoping to become the main supplier of secure applications and software for the next generation of internet-linked devices — the much- touted “internet of things” — from web-connected self-driving cars to “smart” domestic appliances that are expected to take off over the coming decade. “It’s going to be very much driven by securing end-point communications,” Chen told the Nikkei Asian Review. “We want to be the number one secure communications in IoT. We have signed a deal with Ford for seven years to help them build their next generation cars.”
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.
JAKARTA — As Asia’s economies grow and its cities modernize, the region’s voracious appetite for construction materials has driven demand for sand — alongside illegal trade of the commodity — to unprecedented levels. With rapid urbanization and infrastructure expansion, some countries are mining surrounding seas and their river and lake beds at a pace that could have grave implications for the environment. Along with gravel, cement and water, sand is needed to make up the trillions of tons of concrete used so far in laying Asia’s new roads and constructing tens of thousands of urban buildings. Around a third of the world’s land area is classed as desert, but, rounded and smoothed by the heat and wind, desert sand grains are useless for construction. Sand also makes for a bulky, heavy cargo and the high transportation costs mean that sand is usually dug up or dredged relatively close to where it ends up being used. “International trade is limited, unless the two countries in question are close neighbors,” said Zoe Biller, an industry analyst
PHNOM PENH — As he described his search for funding for Khmerload, a digital media company touted as Cambodia’s version of BuzzFeed, chief executive Vichet In recounted an arduous struggle. “We sent an email to 10 [venture capitalists] — no reply. We talked to a few investors — there was no interest. They couldn’t believe we could do an expansion to another country.” Finally, U.S.-based investor 500 Startups, which describes itself as “a global venture capital seed fund,” came up with $200,000, cash that could help the company expand beyond Cambodia and Myanmar, where Myanmarload was launched in 2016. The websites churn out the kind of entertainment and celebrity gossip that was the foundation for the global success of U.S.-based BuzzFeed, a website that mixes entertainment, news and so-called viral content The 500 Startups deal, announced in March, was the first time a Silicon Valley venture capital fund had put its money into a Cambodian “startup,” a term for a newly-established business that nowadays usually refers to a tech, online or smartphone-related enterprise.
PHNOM PENH — Not so long ago, the backdrop in any photo of Phnom Penh landmarks such as the Royal Palace or Independence Monument would have been a low-rise panoply of four- and five-story townhouses. But in one of Southeast Asia’s more visually transformative building booms, dozens of apartment and office blocks have gone up around the Cambodian capital, sending land prices skyward. If not quite the cornerstone of the country’s economic growth, Phnom Penh’s construction boom has at least cemented Cambodia’s already rapid expansion, which has topped 7% most years for the past two decades.
JAKARTA — Southeast Asia hosts some of the world’s leading coffee growers and exporters, such as Indonesia and Vietnam, the world’s fourth- and second-biggest producers respectively. Neighbors such as East Timor, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand are home to smaller coffee-growing regions. Their beans have typically been for export. Many end up in cups in countries such as the U.S., the biggest importing country, and Italy, the third-biggest importer, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Italy is also the home of espresso, the strong and sometimes bitter caffeine shot that for many drinkers is the quintessential coffee pour. Now, coffee consumption is on the rise in what were mainly exporting countries of the region, and the race is on to see which kind of coffee will lure would-be local drinkers.
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.
JAKARTA — During a visit to Jakarta on April 21, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence diluted some of the anti-trade rhetoric espoused by his recently-elected boss, President Donald Trump, saying that his country and Indonesia “can and will do more to expand commerce.” “We seek trade with Indonesia that is free and fair,” Pence said, adding that “we seek to create a win-win trading relationship for both of our nations and all of our people.” His comments mark a change in tone from the zero-sum views on trade coming from the White House under President Trump, rhetoric that prompted Washington to compile a list of 16 countries — including Indonesia — that have trade deficits with the U.S. Pence, who was on the second day of a visit to Indonesia after stopovers in South Korea and Japan and before heading on to Australia, announced that American companies, including ExxonMobil, General Electric and Lockheed Martin, would sign “11 major deals worth more than $10 billion” in Indonesia.
JAKARTA — Indonesia and Malaysia, which produce more than 80% of the world’s palm oil, are resisting proposals by European parliamentarians that could limit their access to the second biggest palm oil market after India. Government ministers from Malaysia and Indonesia, along with some regional palm oil producers, met in Jakarta on April 11 to plan a response to a resolution approved on April 4 by European parliament members concerning “palm oil and deforestation.” The parliamentarians requested the EU to “introduce a single certification scheme for palm oil entering the EU market and phase out the use of vegetable oils that drive deforestation by 2020.” They hope for an EU-wide ban on biodiesel made from palm oil by 2020, claiming that the expansion of palm oil plantations, mostly in Southeast Asia, is causing “massive forest fires, the drying up of rivers, soil erosion, peatland drainage, the pollution of waterways and overall loss of biodiversity.” Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar called the EU proposals an “insult,” while the foreign ministry accused the EU of “protectionism” and of ignoring the rights of millions of Indonesian farmers whose main source of income is from small oil palm plots.
SINGAPORE — In contrast to the anguish and astonishment expressed in many national capitals, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen welcomed Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president in November. While the warm response augured well for Phnom Penh’s often troubled relations with Washington, prospects for improved bilateral ties have since faded. In January, the month of Trump’s inauguration, Cambodia pulled out of the “Angkor Sentinel” joint military exercises with the U.S. In early April Phnom Penh followed up that snub to Washington by halting a nine-year-old humanitarian program run by the U.S. military that involved building schools and maternity facilities in rural areas of Cambodia. These affronts were punctuated by testy exchanges between the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh and the Cambodian government, notably over a political parties law passed in February that will make it easier for the Cambodian courts to suspend or even dissolve opposition parties. “Any government action to ban or restrict parties under the new amendments would constitute a significant setback for Cambodia’s political development, and would seriously call into question the legitimacy of the upcoming elections,” the embassy said, referring to local elections scheduled for June and a national poll due in 2018. The law has been widely criticized in Cambodia, too. Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, described it as “an affront to the principles of liberal democracy, [which] effectively gives the ruling party a delete button which can be arbitrarily applied to their political opponents at any time.”