JAKARTA — Concern is growing in Asia about the spread of the Zika virus, with a recent outbreak in Singapore followed by cases in Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. There is no vaccine or treatment for the virus, which usually causes only mild fever, rashes and red eyes in infected adults but can lead to a birth defect called microcephaly if a pregnant woman is infected. The spread of Zika in Latin America has led to about 1,800 cases of microcephaly and resulted in several prominent athletes refusing to participate in the recent Olympic Games held in Brazil. In February, the World Health Organization declared Zika, which can be spread sexually but is mostly mosquito-borne, a global public health emergency. In Asia, the threat of the virus spreading around the region is causing concern for hundreds of millions of people already on guard against dengue, malaria and other conditions spread by the same mosquitoes that carry Zika. With almost 300 Zika cases reported in recent weeks in Singapore, a trade hub and city-state that is home to significant migrant worker populations from across Asia, the fear is that Zika will spread rapidly throughout the densely populated region.
JAKARTA – Unlike the imposing and often inaccessible buildings of the European Union in Brussels, ASEAN’s low-rise offices sit in the shadow of a partly constructed overhead railway in the southern part of Indonesia’s traffic-clogged capital. Nine months after the group’s 10 members established the ASEAN Economic Community, which aims to promote the free movement of goods, services, capital and labor, the headquarters symbolizes both ASEAN’s aspirations and its limitations. The EU was previously known as the European Economic Community, but ASEAN’s adoption of the “community” moniker does not mean it will emulate Europe’s radical, sovereignty-pooling measures, such as a common currency, central bank and free movement of labor. “The appetite to surrender sovereignty simply is not there,” said Jayant Menon, lead economist at the Asian Development Bank in Manila. “I don’t see a single currency coming into play in ASEAN, and I don’t see that as a bad thing.”
JAKARTA — Measures to boost Indonesia’s relatively small Islamic finance sector could help the government implement an ambitious infrastructure modernization program across the 13,000-island archipelago, according to the country’s recently appointed finance minister. A week after she was appointed finance minister by President Joko Widodo in a cabinet shake-up, Sri Mulyani Indrawati described Indonesia’s infrastructure development needs as “huge.” Indrawati was speaking at the World Islamic Economic Forum in Jakarta. After taking office in late 2014, Widodo pledged to improve Indonesia’s notoriously rickety infrastructure by building or improving dozens of ports, airports, power plants and roads. Total spending could reach around $500 billion — equivalent to more than half the country’s gross domestic product — an outlay that the government says it cannot fund alone. “I am sure there is the potential to develop instruments for financing based on Shariah (Islamic law), we will look at this, the need is there,” said Indrawati, who resigned from a senior World Bank role to rejoin the Indonesian government.
JAKARTA — Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Indonesia’s new finance minister, said on Wednesday that 133.8 trillion rupiah ($10 billion) will be cut from government spending this year in anticipation of a widening shortfall in tax revenue. The former World Bank Group managing director, who also served as finance minister from 2005 to 2010, was brought back into cabinet a week ago. “The President’s theme is strengthening credibility, confidence, and trust,” Indrawati told reporters on Aug. 3 following a meeting with President Joko Widodo and his economic ministers. A day later, speaking to reporters at the World Islamic Economic Forum in Jakarta, Indrawati said the finance ministry should use “all tools to improve the business climate”. “Job creation is not coming from the government — it is from the private sector,” the minister said.
JAKARTA — After deteriorating during the early part of President Maithripala Sirisena’s tenure, Sri Lanka’s relations with China appear to be on firmer footing as both sides continue to iron out differences over Chinese investments in the island country. “In most of the cases, we found we got better terms,” Kabir Hashim, Sri Lanka’s minister of public enterprise development, told the Nikkei Asian Review. He added that a few more Beijing-backed projects are currently under review. “In some cases we renegotiated the loans, in some cases the contracts had legal issues, which we cleared up,” Hashim said, without going into detail about specific projects. Under the previous president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka forged close relations with China as Beijing’s economy boomed and China’s overseas economic reach grew rapidly during Rajapaksa’s decade in office from 2005.
JAKARTA — With investigations ongoing in several countries into the international financial activities of scandal-plagued state development fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak slammed “foreign intervention” as a threat to stability in peaceful Muslim-majority countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. “We have seen the devastating results of foreign intervention in the Muslim world, often based on incomplete, wrong or partisan information,” Najib said, citing the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Arab Spring a decade later, a series of anti-government uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Tunisia, some of which had U.S. support. Najib has been under pressure over allegations that around $731 million received from 2011 to 2013 was diverted from 1MDB into his personal bank account in 2013 — a charge that Najib has denied, saying the money came from an unnamed Saudi Arabian donor.
JAKARTA — There is a sense of urgency in Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s appointment of new members to his Cabinet — notably in the selection of the high-profile managing director of the World Bank, Sri Mulyani Indrawati. Indonesia’s economic growth has been slower than expected, infrastructure development — intended to leverage the economy — has been sluggish, while tax revenue is falling short of ambitious targets. Poor coordination among ministries has been partially blamed for hampering many important infrastructure projects. In the meantime, Widodo’s new flagship policy to boost tax revenues to finance development projects — a tax amnesty — is progressing very slowly. It is against this background that Widodo announced on Wednesday his new Cabinet lineup — which includes major changes in the economic team. “I want all the ministers, all heads of government institutions to work faster, to work more effectively, in a team that is solid and is supportive to one another,” Widodo told a Cabinet meeting less than two hours after nine new ministers were sworn in.
JAKARTA — bad penny keeps turning up, as the old saying goes. And so it goes for Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has spent more than a year trying to fend off allegations that around $700 million was stolen from troubled state development fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad and diverted into his bank account. The prime minister first said he did not take money “for personal gain,” then said he received a $681 million donation from Saudi Arabia — the latter claim eventually backed in April by the Saudi foreign minister. Malaysian law enforcement agencies ruled that Najib has nothing to answer for, but foreign counterparts are hunting for billions of dollars of 1MDB money allegedly laundered through jurisdictions such as Singapore, Switzerland and the U.S.
JAKARTA — The international tribunal decision against Beijing’s claims to much of the South China Sea has provoked a mixed response in the region, with indications that it may tone down some rivalries while sharpening others. Most revealingly, after years of acrimony with China over rival claims in the disputed waters, the Philippines initially took a conciliatory tone, inviting China to bilateral talks over the matter. Despite a jubilant reaction from his countrymen following the July 12 ruling, which was overwhelmingly in favor of Manila, the normally strident new President Rodrigo Duterte said he would not “flaunt” the decision. Instead, he reiterated his desire to improve relations with China, his country’s biggest source of imports. “War is not an option,” Duterte said. “So, what is the other side? Peaceful talk.” Despite Duterte’s muted response, China has refused to compromise — insisting that any talks must exclude mention of the tribunal’s verdict. The tribunal, convened at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, suggested that Chinese naval maneuvers in waters around islands near the Philippines are illegal. Yet Beijing has continued to block Filipino fishermen from working around Scarborough Shoal, 190km off the Philippine coast and 800km from mainland China.
TOKYO/JAKARTA — China’s claims to historical rights in the South China Sea have no legal basis, an international tribunal at The Hague ruled on Tuesday. In the first international ruling on artificial islands and military facilities built by Beijing in the disputed waters, the tribunal sided with the Philippines, flatly denying China’s historic claim to the “nine-dash” line, which encompasses most of the sea. A panel of five judges at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in the Netherlands also noted that no maritime feature claimed by China along the Spratly Islands constitute a fully entitled island, and therefore cannot generate an exclusive economic zone or a continental shelf. The tribunal, established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, said there was “no evidence” China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters in the South China Sea or its resources. Moreover, the tribunal said any historical rights “were extinguished” when the U.N. convention established EEZs.