JAKARTA — Malaysia’s environment minister is sure that 2017 will not see a repeat of the choking, eye-watering smog that covered parts of his country, as well as Singapore and areas in Indonesia, for around two months in 2015. “We are very likely to be haze-free this year. Even if it comes, it will not be as serious as before,” said Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, Minister for Natural Resources and Environment, on March 2. Mostly caused by the burning of peatland and forests to clear land for plantations in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s haze has for three decades been a near-annual blight that makes air in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, two of Asia’s most dynamic cities, almost unbreathable and in turn, diminishes economic output. Prolonged bouts of the haze, such as in 1997 and in 2015, caused diplomatic ructions as Singapore railed against neighboring Indonesia over the impact of the pollution on its citizens and their livelihoods. But a new Indonesian government-backed alliance of farmers, businesses, environmentalists and concerned citizens aims to prevent more debilitating blazes in southern Kalimantan and western Sumatra, home to much of Indonesia’s lucrative palm oil and pulpwood sectors. “The Indonesian government is very serious on tackling the forest fires,” said Prabianto Wibowo, assistant deputy minister for forestry at Indonesia’s economic co-ordination ministry, speaking at the Responsible Business Forum in Jakarta on March 15.
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.
JAKARTA — One of the world’s leading university ranking systems has found significant improvement in Asia’s tertiary education institutions over the past year, although long-established Western bodies continue to dominate the field in most key academic subjects. QS Quacquarelli Symonds, a London-based group, published its 2017 rankings covering 1,127 universities from 74 countries across 46 subjects. Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, described as “perennial rivals” by QS, led all universities in the field in 15 and 12 subjects, respectively. But the prominence of Asian universities has been increasing in recent years. While elite U.S. and European institutions are likely to remain at the top of the rankings in the near future, more Asian universities nonetheless are moving up the list, as regional economies grow and education spending increases. “It seems certain that Asia’s leading institutions will continue to strongly displace the second tier of North American and European institutions,” said QS research director Ben Sowter.
DOONBEG — Every time President Trump rails against big “pharma” over the jobs that have been shipped overseas, his pledges to streamline regulations and lower taxes to lure them home prompt grimaces 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. More than 50,000 people are employed with pharmaceutical and medical device companies here in Ireland, with most of the companies refugees from America. Baxter, a medical equipment manufacturer based in Deerfield, Illinois, employs a thousand people in Ireland. Pfizer, Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson all have substantial Irish operations. Dublin’s Silicon Docks neighborhood earned its nickname after Facebook, Google, Twitter and other U.S. tech companies set up in glossy offices, often mammoth European headquarters, close to the River Liffey. They are among an estimated 700 U.S. companies which, attracted by Ireland’s low corporate tax rate and English-speaking work force, have helped drive a multinational invasion on the Emerald Isle that once turned it into the “Celtic Tiger” of Europe, employing around 170,000 people in all.
YANGON — The World Bank’s forecast on Jan. 30 that Myanmar’s economy will grow by more than 7% annually for the next three years appears optimistic in some quarters. In the latest issue of its Myanmar Economic Monitor, the World Bank said that while growth would most likely be around 6.5% for fiscal 2017 (ending March 31), it would then accelerate on increased investment in infrastructure and sectors such as hospitality. The adverse effects of floods in 2015 would wear off, particularly in the agricultural sector, which accounts for about 60% of the workforce and nearly 40% of the economy. In 2015/16, the final year of the previous administration headed by President Thein Sein, Myanmar’s annual growth was 7.3% — a significant increase from the 5.5% reached in 2011/12, the first year of Thein Sein’s presidency. “The World Bank forecast is somewhat at odds with the mood in the local business community,” said Stuart Larkin, a Yangon-based economic consultant.
JAKARTA – Many of Nepal’s ancient temples — which, along with its Himalayan scenery and trekking routes, have long been major tourist attractions — were damaged or destroyed in the earthquake. The famous white-domed Boudhanath temple in Kathmandu reopened in November, but the $2.1 million repair job was funded privately. Disputes over the introduction of a new constitution, intended to stabilize Nepal’s divisive politics, resulted in a damaging delay to the start of the National Reconstruction Authority, the government’s main post-earthquake rebuilding agency, which was not formed until early 2016. “Twenty-five years, 22 governments,” Chaudhary said, his usual steady baritone betraying a hint of exasperation at Nepal’s notoriously fractious politics and frequent changes of government. “Even to put in place the authority for reconstruction took a year — the parties were still fighting over who to put in charge,” said Chaudhary, who pledged $2.5 million of his own money toward the reconstruction of schools and homes.
JAKARTA — There is, it seems, a link between hard work and untimely death in Asia. Perhaps the most luridly tragic side effect of Asia’s push for growth is karoshi, a Japanese term describing death from overwork, often by suicides but also linked to exhaustion and stress. Japan saw compensation claims for karoshi and illnesses related to overwork rise to a record high of 2,310 cases in 2015. A government white paper published this October warned that almost a quarter of the workforce could be vulnerable to karoshi, with the benchmark set at employees who work more than 80 hours of overtime each month.
The suicide of Matsuri Takahashi, an employee of advertising agency Dentsu, in December 2015 seems to have sparked a more determined push for reform. The 24-year-old jumped to her death from a company dormitory after putting in more than 100 hours of overtime the previous month. On Nov. 7, Tokyo Labor Bureau officials raided Dentsu offices on suspicion of violating labor laws. The following day, Yasuhisa Shiozaki, minister of health, labor and welfare, said the ministry “will thoroughly investigate, eyeing the possibility of sending the case to prosecutors.”
JAKARTA – Kuok said there was a downside to the faddish “start-up” ambitions expressed by other students. “People just said they would like to do start-ups, but often did not know exactly what,” she told the Nikkei Asian Review. “But for start-ups it should be that there is a need for something. You see the need, you do it yourself.” Guiltless was the product of Kuok’s love of fashion and the online start-up culture she encountered at Stanford. But it also showed that the 26-year-old has her father’s nose for a business opportunity. “In Hong Kong you have much less space, and less wardrobe space. When I moved back I had such a lot of items,” she recalled. “I said to myself that rather than just throw these out — such a waste — I’d like to sell these items online, give the money to charity. But to my surprise none of the top 10 second-hand luxury sites accepted items from outside Europe or North America.”
JAKARTA — On the face of it, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his soon-to-be American counterpart U.S. President-elect Donald Trump could not be more dissimilar. Widodo, or “Jokowi” as he is known, is understated, self-effacing and wry, while Trump is abrasive, brash and loquacious. Before entering Indonesian politics, Widodo was a furniture exporter, while Trump, a real estate mogul, has long been one of the best-known U.S. businessmen. During a five-minute phone call on Nov. 28, it was reported that the two leaders hit it off. “It seems because both are lifelong businessmen they really connect well, there is good chemistry,” said Thomas Lembong, chairman of the Indonesia Investment Co-ordination Board, the government investment agency, speaking to media at the Forbes Global CEO Conference in Jakarta. “They had a very cordial telephone conversation,” added Lembong, who was Indonesia’s trade minister before a cabinet reshuffle in mid-2016. If true, the rapport between Trump and Widodo could offset any Indonesian disappointment over the incoming U.S. administration’s intention to ditch the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a far-reaching free trade pact between the U.S. and 11 other Asia-Pacific countries. Indonesia was not among the initial 12 signatories to TPP, but had wanted to join the bloc. In the wake of Trump’s announcement, Lembong said Jakarta would continue to try to liberalize its trading arrangements with other countries. “President Jokowi reaffirmed our commitment to free trade, to international investment. We are very committed to concluding our free trade agreements with the European Union, with Australia. Our economic agenda remains unchanged,” Lembong told the Nikkei Asian Review.
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.