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.
KUALA LUMPUR — Southeast Asia is the region most vulnerable to the new coronavirus outbreak, which has killed 170 people in China and infected almost 8,000 since the turn of the year. Several dozen cases of the virus have been reported across the region, with 14 confirmed in Thailand — the most of any country outside of China — as of Jan. 28. By Jan. 30, 10 cases were reported in Singapore. Hundreds more people are under medical observation or in quarantine, pending confirmation of infection or a disappearance of symptoms. The number of cases in Malaysia rose to eight on Jan. 30. “It looks like the volume of airline travelers from cities in mainland China are highly correlated with the number of cases reported in affected countries,” said Shengjie Lai of the University of Southampton, co-author of an analysis of travel trends within and from China which aims to predict what places might be most at risk of further outbreak. Of the 30 most exposed cities outside China, 14 are in Southeast Asia, with Bangkok facing the highest risk globally. Singapore, Phuket, and Kuala Lumpur are among the 10 cities most at risk. Seven of the 14 countries deemed most vulnerable are in Southeast Asia, according to the study, which was published on Jan. 28.
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.
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.
KUALA LUMPUR — Indonesia has sent an armada of warships and fishermen to waters around its northern Natuna Islands in response to recent incursions by dozens of Chinese fishing boats and coastguard ships. China’s sweeping claim to most of the South China Sea overlaps with Indonesian waters around the Natunas, with the latest flare-up prompting the usually soft-spoken Indonesian President Joko Widodo to bluntly assert that “Natuna is Indonesia” during a visit to the contested region last week. Beijing’s claim to the South China Sea, through which between US$3-5 billion worth of trade passes most years, extends 2000 kilometers from the Chinese mainland and has angered neighbouring countries, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines, whose own smaller claims around the sea overlap with Beijing’s.
PHNOM PENH – With horror images showing fields of plastic rubbish bobbing on turquoise seas around the world, one could be forgiven for welcoming the sight of one of the world’s great rivers turning a fresh blue. However the azure hue seen in recent weeks along stretches of the Mekong is stirring concerns that dozens of hydroelectric dams, the biggest of which are in China, are interrupting the river’s natural flow and blocking sediment that should be carried to farmland downriver that helps feed 60 million people. Earlier this month the Mekong River Commission, a regional intergovernmental body, put the colour change down to “extremely low flow, slow drop in the river sediments,” after warning last month that the Mekong region could face serious drought over the turn of the year.
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.”
PHNOM PENH — Malaysia’s prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim is facing a sexual assault complaint that could derail a succession already shrouded in doubt by the apparent reluctance of 94 year old leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad to hand over as promised. Mr Anwar gave a statement to police on Thursday, promising “full cooperation” after 26 year old Muhammed Yusoff Rawther, a former researcher in Mr Anwar’s office, last week accused the heir-designate of making unwanted sexual advance, allegations that echo previous cases that saw Anwar jailed, including by Mahathir. Mr Anwar had already denounced the claims as “baseless slander” and “politics at its worst,” aimed at torpedoing a handover lined up since Dr Mahathir, then 92, won a sensational election victory in May 2018. When Dr Mahathir became Malaysia’s prime minister for the second time he was adamant that his return to politics would be short-lived: not only would he step down after two years, he would hand power to his one time protégé who became a bitter foe, 72-year old Mr Anwar. However Dr Mahathir, the world’s oldest prime minister, is pleading to stay in the job at least until after Malaysia hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in November next year. “Because Mahathir has not yet confirmed a handover date, Anwar supporters are assuming the worst,” said Ibrahim Suffian, head of Merdeka Center, a Malaysian opinion survey group.
PHNOM PENH — Despite Kem Sokha being freed from house arrest a month ago, it was later announced that he will face trial on January 15, a decision that is unlikely to bolster Cambodia’s case for avoiding sanctions. To Kem Monovithya, a leading opposition politician and a daughter of Kem Sokha, the decision to try her father shows “there is no good will from the CPP [Cambodian People’s Party] controlled court”. It is not just opposition leaders who have been targeted. Though most have since been freed, dozens of local opposition activists were rounded up in the weeks prior to Sokha’s release, as the government issued lurid jeremiads about a coup attempt allegedly being orchestrated by Sokha’s fellow opposition leader Sam Rainsy. “We are very concerned about the human rights situation there. The Cambodians now have one month to respond and we will make our final decision in Feb next year,” commented outgoing Commission trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom in a 12 November post on Twitter.
BANGKOK — The lead lawyer in the upcoming genocide hearings against Myanmar wants the United Nations’ International Court of Justice (ICJ) to push for investigators be allowed into the country. “We will be asking the court to order Myanmar to allow access to UN agencies that are duly authorized by the UN to gather the facts,” said Paul Reichler, head of International Litigation and Arbitration practice at U.S.-based law firm Foley Hoag. “We hope that the court will order Myanmar to allow access to its territory for this purpose.” Foley Hoag was hired by Gambia to lead its legal team at The Hague in the Netherlands, where the opening hearings in a case alleging genocide against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, will take place from Dec. 10-12. Myanmar will be represented by State Counselor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, who will “defend the national interest of Myanmar,” according to a government statement. Suu Kyi won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and was a political prisoner of Myanmar’s military junta for 15 years, during which she was admired internationally for her fight against dictatorship.