KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong fears rising tensions between the US and China could undermine security and economic growth across Asia and called on both sides to pull back from confrontation. Lee flagged his concerns in an article titled “The Endangered Asian Century” published in the US journal Foreign Affairs, which has a history of running watershed essays by policymakers involved international relations.Fearing that smaller Asian countries could be forced to take sides if intransigence grows between the world’s two biggest economies, Lee called for cooperation between the US and China, even as tensions rise over the coronavirus pandemic, trade, the disputed South China Sea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. “The two powers must work out a modus vivendi that will be competitive in some areas without allowing rivalry to poison cooperation in others,” Lee implored.
KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s exports dropped 23.8 per cent year-on-year in April, the biggest fall for South-East Asia’s third richest economy since the height of the global financial crisis more than 10 years ago. The government’s chief statistician Mohd Uzir Mahidin said on Thursday that April exports tallied “the largest decline since September 2009,” a slump he put down to Malaysia’s economy largely closing from March 18 to May 4 during a strictly-enforced lockdown aimed at stemming a rise in new coronavirus cases. Malaysia’s total trade for April fell 16.4 per cent, which the Ministry for Trade and Industry said was due to “major disruptions to global supply chain” caused by the pandemic. Key sectors such as oil and liquefied natural gas shrank by over 20 per cent each as global demand receded and prices fell. Also down by a fifth were electrical and electronics exports, hit hard by disruptions to global supply chains.
KUALA LUMPUR — Commerce in Singapore hit a new low in May due to the coronavirus pandemic and worldwide lockdowns, going by a widely-cited business yardstick published on Wednesday. The IHS Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) – based on a survey of 400 businesses about new orders, output, employment, suppliers’ delivery times and stocks of purchases – dropped to 27.1 during May. Any reading below 50 suggests economic contraction. IHS Markit said that the decline was because “demand for goods and services plummeted at an unprecedented rate” due to the pandemic. The impact of a lockdown that ran from April 7 until Tuesday saw new orders collapse in May – when “firms remained firmly in retrenchment mode, reducing staff numbers and input purchasing.”
KUALA LUMPUR — Allegations of lavish contributions from Saudi Arabia re-emerged on Wednesday during one of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak’s ongoing trials over alleged theft of public money and related abuses of office. When lurid corruption claims were first levelled against Najib Razak in 2015, the then-prime minister said the largesse involved, said to be around 700 million dollars, was donated from the world’s biggest oil producer. In court in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, Najib’s defence team said that letters purportedly from Saudi royals meant Najib had no reasonable cause to question the source of money flowing into his bank account. The missives, the defence said, were shown to Malaysia’s central bank and anti-corruption commission before representatives of the latter travelled to Saudi Arabia to discuss the matter with several princes.”If the letters were not genuine, there would have been denial on the spot,” said defence lawyer Harvinderjit Singh, who added that he was not claiming the donations took place.
KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore on Tuesday began allowing activities that “do not pose high risk of transmission” to resume after two months of lockdown, despite reporting the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in East Asia. Some offices and factories resumed operations, children went back to school, while places of worship began to open their doors. Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday that the relaxation will likely prove “a big relief to all” but one that is “certainly not without its risks.” The wealthy city-state, an investment and trade hub whose seaport and airport rank among the world’s busiest, has diagnosed 35,292 cases of the new coronavirus, more than any country in East or South-East Asia except for China. Most of the cases are among foreign migrants confined to dormitories, though the related death toll, at 24, is one of the world’s lowest.
KUALA LUMPUR — Business and consumer activity in South-East Asia’s third-wealthiest economy is inching back towards pre-pandemic levels, going by data published almost a month after the end of a strictly-enforced lockdown. Monday’s IHS Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), a widely cited survey of businesses, showed manufacturing rising in May after a record low in April, when Malaysia was in lockdown. According to IHS Markit, the May rebound in business activity came “amid reports that some firms had restarted production following a partial lifting of lockdown rules.” However, the PMI survey showed the May bounce-back as “indicative of a further deterioration in manufacturing sector conditions” – as overall performance remained below the 50 mark, which Malaysia last hit in January. If the PMI reads below 50, it suggests businesses are cutting back.
KUALA LUMPUR — A “fast lane” for business and “essential” travel between Singapore and China will open next week, allowing some flights to resume between the two countries after a four-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to officials. A Singapore Foreign Ministry statement released late Friday said that travel will initially be allowed between Singapore and six Chinese cities and regions, including Shanghai and Guangdong. Though the two countries have reported the most coronavirus cases in East Asia, Singapore believes “the prevention and control of Covid-19 and the economic and social recovery” in both to have “entered a new phase.” While the majority of China’s 84,160 reported coronavirus cases were diagnosed early in the year – after the virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan before spreading around the world – Singapore’s caseload has increased 33-fold since April 1, with thousands of foreign workers infected.
KUALA LUMPUR — Wearing face masks at home can prevent pre-symptomatic transmission of the new coronavirus in households, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal. The findings, based on interviews with Chinese families carried out by doctors and academics in Australia, China and the United States, suggest that “precautionary [non-pharmaceutical interventions], such as mask use, disinfection and social distancing in households can prevent Covid-19 transmission during the pandemic.” The authors contend that the research shows wearing masks at home to be “79-per-cent effective at curbing transmission before symptoms emerged in the first person infected.” The work was led by the Beijing Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and involved the School of Public Health at the University of Nevada and the University of New South Wales’ Faculty of Medicine.
KUALA LUMPUR — In the latest twist to a turbulent six-decade career in politics, Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad was sacked on Thursday from the political party he co-founded in 2016. A statement from the United Indigenous Party of Malaysia, known by its Malay acronym Bersatu, said that 94-year-old Mahathir’s membership had been “revoked with immediate effect” Mahathir, who was party chairman, was fired along with four other parliamentarians for not supporting Malaysia’s government, which is headed by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the Bersatu president. The five lawmakers took to the opposition benches during a brief May 18 parliamentary sitting. Mahathir, who was first elected to parliament in 1964, was the world’s oldest government leader before he unexpectedly quit in February.
KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore will spend an additional 33 billion Singapore dollars (23.2 billion US dollars) to offset the economic impact of coronavirus, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced in parliament on Tuesday. The revised fiscal plan is the wealthy city-state’s fourth budget announcement since February and takes total spending pledges to just under 100 billion Singapore dollars – equivalent to almost 20 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Labelling the projected spending as a “fortitude budget,” Heng, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s deputy, said the outlay is necessary due to the “unprecedented uncertainty” caused by the pandemic. Earlier on Tuesday, Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry said that GDP shrank 4.7 per cent in the first quarter of the year – indicating that the pandemic ravaged the trade-dependent economy even before the lockdown was imposed in April.