Publication in Economics, Politics and Public Policy in East Asia and the Pacific

Southeast Asia

Political crackdowns follow Cambodia’s COVID-19 lockdown

An activist is detained by police during a protest where activist groups urged the government to release and drop charges against a union leader Rong Chhun who was arrested last week in Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3 August, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Lach).

Author: Sorpong Peou, Ryerson University and Emma-Jane Ni, McGill University

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Cambodia is enjoying considerable success compared to its Southeast Asian neighbours despite its relatively poor healthcare system — recording just 240 cases and no deaths by early August. While critics argue that these remarkably low numbers are due to underreporting, the government’s restriction measures for public safety have genuinely succeeded in containing the pandemic. Its crackdowns on the opposition, on the other hand, remain problematic.

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A collective ASEAN response to COVID-19

An official wearing a face mask looks on as Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc attends a special video conference with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Hanoi 14 April 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Manan Vatsyayana).

Author: Hsien-Li Tan, NUS

When COVID-19 cases first appeared in the ASEAN region early in 2020, there were fears that public health systems would be overwhelmed. Responses around the region have varied. After decisive action — and missteps — in the initial months, Vietnam, Thailand, Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore are now cautiously relaxing restrictions while working to avert a second wave. Indonesia and the Philippines continue to see significantly higher infection and death rates, leading to strong criticism against the Jokowi and Duterte administrations.

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Advancing gender equality in Southeast Asia after COVID-19

Indonesian Muslim women wearing protective masks in Bekasi, on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia, 24 May 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Willy Kurniawan).

Author: Kelly Gerard, UWA

Economic crises have disproportionately negative effects on women and these gendered impacts linger long after markets recover. This was observable during the 1997 Asian financial crisis and it is being experienced again with COVID-19 — but far more acutely.

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Establishing humanitarian lanes during COVID-19

Essential workers have their noses swabbed before returning to the workforce at a regional screening center amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Singapore 9 June, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Edgar Su).

Authors: Alistair DB Cook and Christopher Chen, RSIS

COVID-19 is severely impacting the humanitarian system. It has forced countries to focus on containing the pandemic with national lockdown measures — hindering humanitarian action and denying aid to many affected communities in the Asia Pacific. But countries in the region have begun negotiations to normalise international travel, with Australia and New Zealand being the first to initiate bilateral discussions over the establishment of a ‘Trans-Tasman bubble’ and a ‘humanitarian corridor’ to the Pacific during the pandemic. Read more…

Asia is hurtling towards a fentanyl disaster

A fentanyl user displays a 'safe supply' of opioid alternatives, including morphine pills in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, 6 April 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Jesse Winter).

Author: Pascal Tanguay, Bangkok

In May 2020, authorities in Myanmar seized a whopping 3700 litres of liquid fentanyl — equivalent to about 30 bathtubs’ worth — alongside other drugs, precursors and weaponry. The lethal drug is increasingly being found cut into common illicit substances as the opioid epidemic rages in North America and Europe. 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, its growing presence in Asian illicit drug markets will likely prove disastrous.

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Implementing Indonesia’s COVID-19 stimulus

Indonesian airport officer conducted the disinfectant while 547 Indonesian workers arrived at Kualanamu international airport in North Sumatra province, Indonesia on 9 April, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Aditya).

Author: Lili Yan Ing, ERIA and Yessi Vadila, Indonesian Ministry of Trade

COVID-19 is a wake-up call for the world. The pandemic has brought some of the worst economic impacts since World War II. While some Eastern countries seem much better prepared than their Western peers in terms of handling infections, testing and mitigating the pandemic’s economic impacts, the poorest countries will be hit hardest. Read more…

Time to work with Asian partners on a global COVID-19 recovery strategy

Thai Airways idle airplanes are seen parked on the tarmac of Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand 25 May, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Silva).

Authors: Peter Drysdale, ANU and Chatib Basri, University of Indonesia

As the world contemplates the savage impact of the COVID-19 virus on the global economy, there’s need to seize initiative in global cooperation to escape the slump caused by the health lockdown. International economic cooperation will be vital to managing the crisis and to supporting the recovery through trade, stabilising markets, faster reopening of business supply chains and international travel. Without it, the world is facing a prolonged health crisis and lasting economic stagnation on a scale not seen since the Great Depression.

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Can developing countries handle the headwinds of COVID-19?

Doctors and ICU nurses wearing personal protection equipment perform a CT scan for a COVID-19 patient at the King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, 23 April 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha).

Authors: Fatimah Abolanle Odusote, Kiat Wah Ng, Lida No and Alfred M Wu, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

How developing countries handle the headwinds of COVID-19 will have substantial implications for the global joint effort to fight the virus and boost post-COVID-19 recovery. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), South America has now become a COVID-19 epicentre, raising more questions around how the developing world can endure the attack of COVID-19. Read more…

A COVID-19 debt shock in Asia?

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva and World Bank President David Malpass attend a press conference in Washington DC, the United States, 4 March 2020 (Photo: Liu Jie/Latin America News Agency via Reuters).

Author: Paola Subacchi, Queen Mary University of London and University of Bologna

Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, the level of global debt was high by historic standards. According to the Institute of International Finance, by late 2019 global debt (including private and public debt) was more than US$250 trillion. Public debt, in particular, has increased everywhere since the global financial crisis of 2008.

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COVID-19 threatens democracy in Southeast Asia

A soldier wearing a face mask holds on his weapon as he guards an empty street following the lockdown imposed to contain the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manila, Philippines, 25 April 2020 (Photo:Reuters/Eloisa Lopez).

Author: Murray Hiebert, Bower Group Asia

COVID-19 has been tough on the health and economies of Southeast Asia, but the region’s fledgling quasi-democracies are also under threat. Efforts to control the virus are giving authoritarian rulers the perfect cover to adopt draconian levers to rein in their opponents and critics. Read more…

Is ASEAN’s COVID-19 response leaving migrant workers behind?

Firefighters spray disinfectant on a street during the movement control order due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 31 March, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Teng).

Author: M Niaz Asadullah, University of Malaya

Many ASEAN nations saw a sharp decline in the number of coronavirus fatalities after more than a month in lockdown. New infections in Thailand dropped to single-digit figures and Vietnam has already reopened its economy. The Philippines and Malaysia have conditionally permitted most sectors to resume business.

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The renewable energy transition is coming to Asia

Workers clean photovoltaic panels inside a solar power plant in Gujarat, India, 2 July, 2015 (Photo: Reuters/Amit Dave).

Author: Tim Buckley, Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world. It is a truly global threat, ignoring national borders and domestic politics. But this pandemic highlights the need for a global response to a second key global threat: climate change. It is now more important than ever to listen to the advice of experts before it’s too late. Read more…

COVID-19 demands a stronger commitment to multilateralism

The United Nations Headquarters is pictured as it will be temporarily closed for tours due to the spread of coronavirus in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., 10 March 10 2020 (Reuters/Carlo Allegri).

Author: Hoang Oanh, Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam

The COVID-19 pandemic is demonstrating that a single disease can cause more catastrophic damage than wars and conflicts. The crisis makes it painfully clear that a transnational threat requires a transnational response. But international cooperation has been mostly limited to the sharing of medical equipment and expertise. Multilateral efforts have been impeded by the return of nationalism and great power rivalry. Read more…

The COVID-19 pandemic pulls at the seams of Southeast Asia

A worker cleans a plastic barrier after customers had lunch at the Penguin Eat Shabu hotpot restaurant that reopened after the easing of restrictions with the implementation of a plastic barrier and social distancing measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bangkok, Thailand, 8 May, 2020 (Photo:Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha).

Author: Hunter Marston, ANU

The worst of the COVID-19 pandemic may be yet to come for many Southeast Asian countries, though some, such as Vietnam, have seen relative success in containing the virus. Read more…

Asian metropolises must cooperate for pandemic preparedness

Notes of shops' closing are posted in Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan, 12 April 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Yomiuri Shimbun).

Author: Benjamin Tak-Yuen Chan, Open University of Hong Kong

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected 187 countries and territories, with urban regions bearing most of the brunt. A staggering 60 per cent of all confirmed cases in China are in Wuhan and close to 35 per cent of US cases are in the state of New York. Metropolises generally register a higher caseload due to their large population size and density as well as the prevalence of testing.

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