PHNOM PENH — The world’s proposed biggest free trade agreement was dealt a blow on Monday when India made a last minute but unsurprising withdrawal from seven-year-old negotiations during a series of weekend meetings of Asian governments in Bangkok. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, would have encompassed all ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. It also would have made for the world’s biggest trade deal measured by population and factoring in the combined gross domestic products (GDPs) of the putative signatories, though India’s withdrawal could see it drop below the Canada-Mexico-United States deal formerly known as NAFTA in combined GDP. India would have been the third largest economy in the tariff-reducing trade deal.
SINGAPORE — Candidates running in a slew of elections across Asia this year are taking to Twitter and other social media platforms to share slogans, pitch policies, rankle rivals and rouse crowds ahead of campaign rallies. For the last decade or so, elections have typically been depicted as social media-driven contests where the hashtag outranks the hustings when it comes to canvassing votes, particularly from smartphone-dependent millennials. While social media environments differ depending on the country, the importance of Twitter and Facebook might be overstated. Although some Asian candidates boast a huge social media presence, many of their followers appear to be fake or dormant, and the proportion of those who engage with posts is relatively low. Thailand, Indonesia, India are all holding general or presidential elections in the first half of this year, Australia is likely to vote in May, around the time the Philippines holds midterm polls. The three Southeast Asian countries are among the world’s five most internet-addicted, according to We Are Social’s 2019 global survey. Using the online Twitter analysis tool Sparktoro, which works by taking a representative sample of followers — along the lines of an opinion survey — it appears Indonesian President Joko Widodo has over 5.1 million fake followers. That equates to more than 47% of his total follower base.
JAKARTA — China is starting to build its largest offshore wind-power facility in the latest move in an accelerating shift in Asia away from solar to wind and other renewable energy sources. Work began in late October on the facility off Nanpeng Isle in China’s southern Guangdong Province. The project has a planned capacity of 400,000 kilowatts, and its developer, China General Nuclear Power Corporation, expects it to generate about 1.46 billion kilowatt hours of power annually when it goes on stream in 2020 Wood Mackenzie, an energy consultancy, sees wind-generated capacity in the region growing by a factor of 20 over the next decade, powered by Beijing’s plans for a 15-fold expansion. Guangdong plans to build 23 offshore wind farms by 2030, according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency. Meanwhile, Asia’s solar-powered electricity capacity is set to fall this year for the first time since 2001, as countries such as China cut subsidies.
JAKARTA — Businessmen clad in batik shirts tap on laptops and smartphones, while women in designer Muslim garb chat over pots of hot chai and browse menus listing hundreds of teas, from the exotic (Yellow Gold Tea Buds from China) to the commonplace (English Breakfast). This crowd, a mix of old and young and mostly well-to-do, has made the TWG shop in the Pacific Place mall in Jakarta a lively meeting point in the city. With dozens of these boutique tea shops across Asia offering fine dining and veneered furnishings, Singapore’s The Wellbeing Group, known as TWG, is trying “to bring a new era of tea appreciation” in the region, said Trixie Anindita, the group’s communication and operation manager in Indonesia.
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.
YANGON – The emergence of malarial parasites resistant to the front-line treatment artemisinin could put hundreds of millions of people are at risk, according to new research in The Lancet. Drug-resistant malaria was found just 25km from the Indian border in northwestern Myanmar, a country that is now considered “the frontline in the battle against artemisinin resistance as it forms a gateway for resistance to spread to the rest of the world,” according to Dr. Charles Woodrow of the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, senior author of the new study.
RANGOON — Each morning the floor of the Bayintnaung commodity exchange center in northern Rangoon is jammed with traders and middlemen and buyers looking for the latest prices and deals for some of Burma’s agricultural produce. Famously Burma was once the world’s biggest rice exporter, a position long-lost due to the decades of economic mismanagement under the country’s socialist rule and military dictatorship. The government has high-profile ambitions to retake that top spot, but here at the Bayintnaung exhange, the trade is mostly in matpe and mung bean and chickpea. These beans and pulses might be lower-profile than their rice counterpart, but are nonetheless a vital cash crop for some of the tens of millions of Burmese dependent on agriculture. “Many people are often surprised to hear that farmers make more money growing beans and pulses than they do from rice,” says Dr Myint Oo, who sits on the commodity exchange’s executive committee.
BANGALORE –Despite the challenges faced by the IT sector in Bangalore and elsewhere, some of Bangalore’s IT entrepreneurs are sanguine about their city’s prospects.
Salil Godika is one of a group of still-young veterans of India’s IT giants such as Wipro and Infosys who broke away to set up Happiest Minds Technologies in Bangalore one year ago. The company is opening a second location in Bangalore and already employs more than 500 people at its headquarters in Electronics City. “Other cities are coming up, it is a good sign for India,” he says. “It is not an either/or thing between Bangalore and elsewhere.”
BANGALORE — Thousands of Indians have fled southern and western cities in response to text-message warnings and threats said to be from Indian Muslims angered at recent ethnic clashes in the northeast. Thousands of northeasterners who work and study in Bangalore – India’s 4th largest city and information technology hub – are fleeing, fearing that recent violence in the northeastern state of Assam, which displaced some 300,000, would spread south. Rumor and fear-mongering seem to be trumping hard evidence of any real threat for many of those leaving, however. “There was some talk about text messages saying that people would be attacked. But we do not know, really,” says 18-year old civil engineering student Takan Sama minutes before his train to Assam was slated to depart Bangalore rail station.