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Asian cities set to surge up retail hub rankings – Nikkei Asian Review

Shoppers walking around the recently opened Aeon mall in Phnom Penh, the rapidly-growing Cambodian capital (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — Asia is home to more than half the world’s most dynamic retail hubs, according to new research that reinforces images of the region’s mall-strewn megacities. The research, by professional services and investment management company JLL, says 12 of the fastest-growing retail cities are in Asia, with eight in China alone — another indication that global economic growth is increasingly driven by the Asia-Pacific region. JLL lists Dubai as the world’s fastest-growing retail destination, with Shanghai second and Beijing third. Places 9 to 13 are occupied by Bangkok, Chengdu, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Manila, respectively. Only two European cities make the top 20 — Moscow and Istanbul — with none from Africa. Mexico City is the sole city from the western hemisphere, sitting at number 19.

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China’s Xi reinforces warm ties with Hun Sen’s Cambodia – Nikkei Asian Review

Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen at the ASEAN and related summits in Kuala Lumpur on Nov. 21 2015 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — China and Cambodia reaffirmed their solid relationship during a two-day visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Phnom Penh, which ended on Oct. 14. Xi’s meetings with Cambodian government leaders yielded 31 agreements, including one that doubles Cambodia’s quota for rice exports to China to 200,000 tons a year. Cambodia’s rice sector has been hit by falling prices, affecting farmers and millers, and the government has been scrambling to offset the damage, which could undermine ruling party support among the country’s rural majority ahead of local elections in 2017. Cambodia’s long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen recently visited China, where he pushed for an increase in the rice quota. “About 80% of our people are farmers,” Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers told the Nikkei Asian Review. “This agreement is very important to the rural economy.”

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Phnom Penh building boom prompts pride and puzzlement – Nikkei Asian Review

Construction taking place on the sand at Boeung Kak, a former lake in the centre of Phnom Penh (Photo by Simon Roughneen)

PHNOM PENH — The plush office building on Phnom Penh’s riverside was meant to showcase one of the dozens of new high-rise apartments being built all over the Cambodian capital. But the place was empty, save for an elaborate model of The Bay, a proposed $500 million multipurpose real estate project being developed by Singapore’s TEHO International Inc. Ltd. “Sorry mister, we are closed, the project is under review,” said the sole staff member inside the building, adding that the office will be rented to new tenants soon. TEHO declined to answer questions about the project’s future, but on Aug. 26 said that while the hotel planned for the complex would go ahead, the residential part was being put on hold due to “a heightened risk of oversupply.” In one of Asia’s most remarkable building booms, dozens of new multistory residences are under construction — towering over what was historically a low-rise city and standing as symbols of the country’s long economic expansion.

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Choking on growth – Nikkei Asian Review

PHNOM PENH — The skyline of Phnom Penh is changing as fast as that of any Asian city. Yellow cranes gleam in the sun after late-afternoon squalls, towering alongside green-netted scaffolding wrapped around dozens of new high-rise apartment blocks going up across the city. These are, literally, the green shoots of a building boom that made up a sixth of Cambodia’s economic growth last year. They are a sign of a transformation underway in the capital as Cambodia tries to catch up with its more prosperous neighbors. But the rapid changes also highlight a challenge that has faced many cities across Asia in recent decades: with 200 million people having moved from countryside to city in East and Southeast Asia since 2010, how can cities manage large-scale urban growth in a way that facilitates economic growth without increasing pollution and traffic jams. In BKK1, an upmarket part of the city, “the roads are too narrow, the area is not ready for so much construction, many small builders don’t talk to the municipality, there is no coordination,” said Sebastian Uy, co-owner of real estate agency Le Grand Mekong Property.

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Zika poses a threat to Asian economies – Nikkei Asian Review

Singapore General Hospital (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

SINGAPORE — More than 300 people have been diagnosed with the Zika virus in Singapore this year, while the figure for Thailand has reached 200. Though the numbers of Zika cases in other Asian countries remain in the single digits, outbreaks in these two trade and tourism hubs could take a heavy economic toll. Such impacts are already being felt in Latin America. The spread of Zika there has resulted in around 1,800 cases of microcephaly, and the World Bank estimates that Zika could result in losses of around $3.5 billion to Latin American economies, or 1% of gross domestic product in tourism-dependent ones. In Asia, the main impact is likely to be felt in Singapore, which will host a Formula One Grand Prix race from Sept. 16-18. The event attracts not only regional motor sports fans but also corporate guests attending business meetings during the race week. The current Zika outbreak is the first ever in the city-state. Though it has not sparked any panic yet, the rapid spread of infection has reminded many residents of the SARS crisis of 2003, which saw economic activity contract 4.2% in the second quarter of that year. China, Singapore’s biggest source of tourists, issued an alert on Sept. 7 urging visitors to Zika-affected countries to take precautions against mosquito bites.

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Piracy falling fast across Asia, figures show – Nikkei Asian Review

Fishing boats moored at Banda Aceh (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — Maritime piracy attacks in Asia fell by more than two-thirds in the first half of 2016 compared to a year ago, suggesting that regional efforts to reduce the number of incidents are making headway amid a global decline in the number of ships seized or ambushed. Even so, Indonesia remains a hotspot that in the first half of the year saw about one quarter of all piracy attacks reported worldwide take place in its waters. In addition, the waters between Malaysia and Indonesia remain dangerous because of kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, which recently executed two Canadian hostages and is holding at least 10 more for ransom. “A search on our database shows 141 incidents [worldwide] this year until Sept. 5,” said Natasha Brown, an official at the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency. There were 223 incidents in the comparable period of 2015, indicating “a downward year on year trend,” Brown told the Nikkei Asian Review. The International Maritime Bureau, part of the International Chamber of Commerce, also reported that pirate attacks were down significantly in 2016 compared with a year ago, with only 98 attacks worldwide in the first six months of 2016 — the lowest in 21 years.

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Indonesia targets shell companies under tax amnesty – Nikkei Asian Review

Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla attends the same forum where business groups sought an extension to the tax amnesty (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — The Indonesian government is requiring individuals or entities that want to take part in its new tax amnesty program to dissolve any shell companies they own overseas. The move comes as the central bank warned that assets declared and repatriated under the amnesty will fall short of targets. The new finance ministry decree, containing the latest technical details of the tax amnesty law, says that if the person only partially owns an overseas shell company then they must relinquish their stake in the relevant country. They are also given an option to relocate the company to Indonesia and register it as a local entity. “This regulation is for special purpose vehicles […] that don’t actively run businesses,” said Astera Primanto Bhakti, a Finance Ministry official. The tax office estimates that there are at least 2,500 offshore companies whose assets actually belong to Indonesians, but which were not declared as such. The majority of these companies were allegedly established to evade Indonesia’s tax laws.

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Concern grows about Zika spreading in Asia – Nikkei Asian Review

Mount Elizabeth Medical Center in Singapore (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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.

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United we stagger – Nikkei Asian Review/FT

Inside the lobby at the ASEAN secretariat in Jakarta (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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.”

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Indonesia looks to Islamic finance for infrastructure needs – Nikkei Asian Review

Indonesian President Joko Widodo awaits heads of government at the World Islamic Economic Forum in Jakarta on Aug. 2. (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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.

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