Asian countries seek to pull millions out of informal economy – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — Governments across Asia are seeking to bring millions of informal workers into regulated employment, and stem a major economic drag on the world’s fastest-growing region. Bangladesh, Indonesia and China have taken steps this month that could help formalize employment for a vast pool of workers that are struggling on the margins of their economies, many as self-employed merchants or agricultural laborers. The World Bank estimates that informal workers make up 47% of jobs in the East Asia and Pacific region, with the figure rising to between 60% and 80% in lower income countries such as Myanmar and Laos. The government in Dhaka last week signed a $250 million deal with the institution aimed at supporting efforts “to create large-scale, better-paid and inclusive jobs.”

Tsunami linked to volcano kills over 200 in Indonesia – Los Angeles Times/RTÉ/France 24

JAKARTA — The sea rose up without warning Saturday night, crashing into coastal villages on Indonesia’s two most populous islands. It killed at least 220 people, washing away buildings, roads and a rock concert on the beach, officials said Sunday evening. The tsunami that struck the western tip of Java and the southern tip of Sumatra was believed to have been triggered by an underwater landslide from the flank of an erupting volcano. Officials in Jakarta said hundreds more people were injured and 30 were missing after the tsunami, the latest in a string of deadly disasters that have killed thousands in Indonesia this year. About 600 buildings were damaged, officials said. Soldiers and rescue workers moved quickly to clear roads blocked by debris; television and social media video showed survivors pulling at wreckage trying to find loved ones. “People are still afraid to go back to their homes since there were still rumors that a tsunami might strike again,” said Aulia Arriani, a spokeswoman for the Indonesian Red Cross.

As Malaysia nears high-income status, focus turns to neighbours – Nikkei Asian Review

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia is on track to achieving high-income status, according to the World Bank, while many of its Southeast Asian neighbors face the prospect of being caught in a middle-income trap. “Malaysia is well on its way to cross the threshold into high-income and developed country status over the coming years,” Victoria Kwakwa, the World Bank vice-president for East Asia and Pacific, said this month after meeting Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Malaysia’s gross national income per capita has grown from $1,980 in 1981, when Mahathir first became prime minister, to $9,650 in 2017. Even so, the country still has some way to go to reach the World Bank’s developed country benchmark of $12,055. “As long as the country does not face growth stagnation, it is inching toward the high income level as defined by the World Bank,” said Yeah Kim Leng, Professor of Economics at Sunway University Business School in Kuala Lumpur. “Hence, it’s a question of when, give or take a couple of years, as long as it is able to sustain its current growth momentum.”

Southeast Asia braces for more oil price swings ahead of OPEC meeting – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — Rattled by rapid oil price swings in recent months, Southeast Asian economies are on tenterhooks ahead of an OPEC meeting this week that is expected to result in a supply cut to boost prices. The recent plunge in prices — the benchmark Brent crude dipped under $60 a barrel last week — has benefited economies such as Indonesia and the Philippines that are net importers of oil. This is helping to blunt the inflationary effects of currency slides against the U.S. dollar in these countries, which are caught in the crossfire of the U.S.-China trade war. Oil rebounded as much as 5% on Monday after the U.S. and China agreed to a truce in their trade conflict. This latest move follows a 30% slide in crude last month, after it touched four-year highs at the start of October. While nations in the region welcome the break in trade tensions — Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday that he hoped to see the U.S. and China take further “constructive” steps — they have to be prepared for further volatility after the meeting of the oil producing cartel that starts on Thursday.

Indonesian search for earthquake and tsunami victims to end Friday; death toll at 2,073 – Los Angeles Times

NUSA DUA — Hundreds of mostly Indonesian aid workers continued to distribute relief items to the nearly 88,000 people left homeless by the disaster, after days of slow access to the region, which is a near-three-hour flight from Jakarta. The impact of the 7.5 quake cracked roads and left rocks and debris blocking routes outside Palu to rural areas and smaller towns. By midweek, many of the roads to remote regions were passable, but mostly still to smaller trucks and cars, said Irwan Firdaus, an aid worker with Oxfam in Indonesia. The main routes across Sulawesi to Palu had been opened up to larger relief convoys. “We have been seeing donations come in from other areas of the island,” said Dini Widiastuti of Yayasan Plan International, another aid organization.

U.S.-China trade war has yet to hurt rest of Asia – Nikkei Asian Review

NUSA DUA — Asia is not yet feeling the effects of growing trade friction between China and the U.S., due to the internal strengths of the region’s “solid” economies, according to Takehiko Nakao, president of the Asian Development Bank. The trade dispute “is not as damaging right away,” Nakao told the Nikkei Asian Review on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund-World Bank meetings being held in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian island of Bali. “The Asian economies are solid,” Nakao said, but he also warned that any escalation of the tariff war between the world’s two biggest economies could hit Asian exporters hard. “If it escalates, if it damages supply chains, as East Asia is connected to [global] supply chains, it could have a dire impact,” Nakao said. The fear is that complex supply chains, in which multinational companies make or source parts for finished goods in countries across Asia before final assembly, often in China, could be disrupted. But for now, domestic demand within Asia’s bigger economies could offset the impact of the trade restrictions, Nakao said earlier at the forum.

A week on from Indonesian disaster, mass prayers for the dead – Los Angeles Times

JAKARTA — Dini Widiastuti, Executive Director of Yayasan Plan International Indonesia, a local NGO affiliated with Plan International, described a challenging conditions for getting relief items such as tents to survivors, many of who are sleeping outdoors. “Warehousing, storage, channels of transportation, these are all difficult,” she said, speaking by telephone. There are three main avenues for assistance to the affected region, home to around 1.5 million people: Balikpapan, a city on the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo, or Kalimantan, as well as Makassar, the biggest city Sulawesi, from where it can take a day by road, and via the airport in Palu itself.  “It is difficult to move aid around, the airport is operating but limited. We can send more by boat, and it is less expensive, but air is faster,” Ms. Dini said.  “From Jakarta, it can take 7 days to Makassar by boat.”