Major Developments in East Asia Pacific, Friday, September 25, 2020

MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS AFFECTING OPERATIONS

1. Protests against omnibus bill held in Indonesia yesterday. Protests were held against the omnibus bill on job creation across the country yesterday. Around 3,000 workers protested in Karawang, West Java; 20 in Jakarta; 200 in Medan, North Sumatra and hundreds in Semarang, Surabaya, Bengkulu, Medan, and Makassar, among others. Activists had initially sought a permit for 30,000 people to rally in Jakarta but the police only allowed around 20 people to gather. Workers’ groups and farmers’ groups predominantly led the protests. They called for the withdrawal of the controversial bill. In Bengkulu and Makassar, authorities arrested dozens of protestors allegedly scuffling with security forces trying to disperse them. President Joko Widodo called on the parliament to finish deliberations on the bill by the end of the month or early October. Workers’ groups stated they would hold more protests.

Background: The Omnibus bill contains 15 chapters and 174 articles in total on more than 1,000 pages. It primarily seeks to revise 79 prevailing laws and more than 1,200 articles. The bill seeks to discard minimum wages and attract private investment. The bill also proposes to revoke protection for temporary workers to gain permanent status after two years of service and one year of prolongation. This affects job security and social security benefits such as pensions and severance pay. The Omnibus bill scraps the city-level determination of minimum wage, meaning that the lower, provincial wage would be the new nationwide standard. The bill has been opposed by labor unions, observers and non-governmental organizations who claim the bill would undermine labor rights, weaken environmental protection and only benefit employers and corporations, among other issues.

Assessment: The sustained opposition to the omnibus bill is likely to continue over the coming weeks, especially as the government seeks to formalize the bill into law soon. Further demonstrations are thus likely to be held against these developments across the country. There is a risk of violence from potential clashes between protesters and security forces. Protests may also disrupt travel in their vicinity.

Advice:  Clients in Indonesia, particularly in Jakarta and other major cities, are advised to monitor latest developments. Avoid all protest sites and public gatherings as a precaution. Adhere to the instructions issued by local authorities. Avoid travelling around government buildings, crowded districts and other protest hotspots at the time of the protest. Cooperate with the local police in case of road blockades. Prepare contingency plans for possible disruptions to supply chain, transportation, and business. Strictly follow the measures implemented by the government to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Monitor advisories and alerts from APAC Assistance for updates.

2. Sabah state elections to be held tomorrow in Malaysia. The Sabah state elections will be held tomorrow. Voting in urban areas will run until 5:00 PM (local time), and 1:00 PM in rural areas. The Election Commission expects preliminary results to come out hours after voting closes. Seventy-three assembly seats will be contested by 447 candidates. At least 1.2 million individuals are eligible to vote. The Governor of Sabah called for snap elections after dissolving the state assembly in July. This was following claims by the leaders of both the government and opposition coalition that they had a parliamentary majority and could form the government. Health protocols for COVID-19 are in place.

Assessment: The elections are likely to be a close contest between the Pakatan Harapan and Perikatan Nasional candidates, who are each trying to form the Sabah government. The election will also indicate the coalitions’ support from the public on a national level. The large number of candidates may dilute bigger parties’ support bases. There is the possibility of arguments and low-level scuffles between supporters of opposing parties, especially at polling booths. Authorities are likely to increase security to prevent such incidents and also to enforce COVID-19 protocols. There is also the possibility of rallies and protests, especially as the results are coming in, which carry similar risks.

Advice: Clients in Malaysia, especially in Sabah, are advised to follow the latest political developments. Strictly follow the measures implemented by the government to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Monitor advisories and alerts from APAC Assistance for updates.

Clients can contact APAC Assistance (iqueries@apacassistance.com) for a more focused insight on any issues that are critical to operations. An in-depth assessment can be tasked by our membership clients on any issue of concern.
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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

EAST ASIA

CHINA

1. Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong was arrested yesterday for “unlawful assembly” over a 2019 demonstration against a government ban on face masks that was imposed before the COVID-19 pandemic. The 23-year-old pro-democracy figure said on Twitter he was also being held for violating the anti-mask law, which has since been ruled unconstitutional.

2. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute said it had identified more than 380 “suspected detention facilities” in China’s northwest Xinjiang region. The number of facilities is around 40% greater than previous estimates and, according to Australian researchers, has been growing despite China’s claims that many Uighurs have been released.

3. The country will allow the entry of foreign nationals holding three categories of valid Chinese residence permits starting September 28, the Foreign Ministry announced. The new rule allows foreign nationals holding valid Chinese residence permits for work, personal matters and reunion to enter China with no need to apply for new visas.

4. Chinese media reported that the country has banned two Australian scholars from entering China. Professor Clive Hamilton and Alexander Joske would be refused entry in accordance with the country’s Entry and Exit Law. The ban came after Australia cancelled the visas of two Chinese scholars.

5. China reported eight new COVID-19 cases yesterday, compared with seven cases disclosed a day earlier. The National Health Commission said in a statement that all new cases were imported infections involving travelers from overseas. The total number of confirmed COVID-19 infections in mainland China now stands at 85,322, while the number of total deaths remained unchanged at 4,634.

JAPAN

6. Japan and South Korea must cooperate to counter any threat from North Korea, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told South Korea’s president yesterday. In a 20-minute telephone conversation, , Suga also called for the two neighbors to repair their strayed relations. “I told President Moon that we cannot leave our current very difficult relations where they are now,” Suga said.

7. All Nippon Airways Co and Japan Airlines Co said yesterday they will soon resume some of the flights to China that they suspended after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The moves came as Chinese authorities eased restrictions on flights, the two carriers said. Currently, the two Japanese carriers have been only allowed to serve one route each for trips to and from mainland China. ANA operates between Narita and Shanghai, and JAL between Narita and Dalian.

8. The Tokyo metropolitan government yesterday reported 195 new cases of COVID-19, up 136 from the previous day. The tally brought Tokyo’s cumulative total to 24,648. The number of reported new cases nationwide was 472. Nine COVID-19 related deaths were also reported.

TAIWAN

9. The country’s main weapons developer announced yesterday it was conducting two days of live-fire missile tests off Taitung County. The National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology said there was “no ceiling” for the height of the missile tests, while their reach stretched 300 kms into the Pacific. Defense experts speculated the tests centered on Hsiung Feng III supersonic anti-ship missiles or Sky Bow III surface-to-air missiles.

10. Three of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies expressed support for its participation in the United Nation (UN) on September 23. Speaking via pre-recorded video, the leaders of the Marshall Islands, Palau, and Paraguay stressed the importance of Taiwan’s inclusion in the UN.

SOUTH KOREA

11. The country’s new COVID-19 cases stayed over 100 for the second straight day yesterday. The country added 125 more COVID-19 cases, including 109 local infections, raising the total caseload to 23,341, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

INDONESIA

12. Activists and workers held rallies across the country yesterday to protest against the Omnibus Job Creation Bill. About 3,000 workers protested in Karawang, West Java, 200 in Medan, North Sumatra, hundreds in Surabaya, East Java, and around 20 outside the parliament in Jakarta. Activists had sought a permit for 30,000 people to rally in Jakarta, but the police had only allowed around 20 people.

13. The Indonesian police have allegedly arrested about 200 demonstrators at different locations across Nabire regency. The United Liberation Front in West Papua said there had been a march on the local police headquarters in Nabire to demand those being held were released. The demonstrations were to protest an extension of the Special Autonomy laws, first introduced in 2001.

14. A coalition of educational institutions voiced its opposition to the educational provisions in the Omnibus Bill on Job Creation yesterday. The coalition includes the academic branches of the country’s two largest Muslim groups, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah. In a statement, the coalition said that including educational issues in the Omnibus Bill would risk attaching irrelevant baggage to education and could force it to disproportionately serve the demands of the market.

15. Papua Regional Police Chief Insp. Gen. Paulus Waterpauw said recent terror acts carried out by separatist armed groups have affected airlines’ flights. “Airlines are reluctant to transport the military (TNI) and police personnel, he said. He added that the armed groups issued threats that went viral on social media on September 19. “In the video, the armed groups said personnel from the TPNPB (National Liberation Army of West Papua) and OPM (the Free Papua Organization) will not hesitate to fire aircrafts carrying security forces.”

16. The General Elections Commission (KPU) has banned crowd-pulling activities during the campaign period in the upcoming simultaneous regional polls. The prohibition was arranged in the newly revised KPU regulation on holding the regional elections during the COVID-19 pandemic, signed by the commission yesterday.

17. The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) supervisory council has declared the commission’s chairman, Firli Bahuri, guilty of an ethics violation for displaying a “hedonistic lifestyle”. The council’s panel of ethics said that Firli had failed to show exemplary action in his daily behavior, as mandated by KPK Supervisory Board Regulation No. 2/2020. The panel also pointed out Firli’s negligence in recognizing that his attitudes and actions were inherent to and reflected his position as a KPK personnel.

18. The two provincial administrations in Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan have declared a state of emergency due to floods. Dozens of districts in the two provinces have been flooded over the past 15 days.

19. The Jakarta administration has extended large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) in the capital by two weeks to further suppress virus transmission. Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan claimed that the capital had seen a decline in active cases since it reimposed the stricter rules on September 14.

20. The country recorded 4,643 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, bringing the national total to 262,022. The country also reported 128 new deaths resulting from the disease, bringing the death toll to 10,105.

THAILAND

21. The parliament voted yesterday to delay making a decision on whether it will amend the constitution, as demanded by anti-government protesters. The parliament opted instead to set up a committee to study the process of the constitutional amendment first. “The vote to accept a motion for constitutional changes is effectively delayed to November,” pro-government lawmaker Chinnaworn Boonyakiat said.

22. Thousands of Thais protested outside parliament yesterday as lawmakers debated amendments to the constitution. Protesters demanded a rewrite of the 2017 constitution.

23. The country began legal action yesterday against Facebook and Twitter for ignoring requests to take down content. The Digital Ministry filed legal complaints with cybercrime police after the two social media companies missed 15-day deadlines to fully comply with court-issued takedown orders from August 27.

24. The Meteorological Department yesterday said heavy rain will continue in the country until September 29. The rainfall has caused runoff and floods in several provinces in the North from September 23The weather bureau said that rain would continue due to a monsoon trough above the lower North, Central Plains and Northeast.

25. A Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) panel yesterday said the government should extend the emergency decree for another month. The decision will be discussed by the CCSA on September 29 before being considered by the Cabinet the following day.

26. The government yesterday reported two new cases of COVID-19, raising the national total to 3,516. Both patients are quarantined returnees from the US.

MALAYSIA

27. The King, known as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, reportedly plans to hold an audience with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim soon. Anwar claimed that he has strong majority support among lawmakers to form a new government. There is no exact time set for the meeting yet.

28. Foreigners arriving in Malaysia through various entry points must now pay the full MYR 4,700 (USD 1,127) fee for the mandatory COVID-19 quarantine, Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said yesterday. Previously, both Malaysians and non-Malaysians were mandated to pay MYR 2,100 (USD 504) for accommodations and food for the two-week quarantine period at a hotel or in government provided rooms. However, foreign nationals will now need to pay an additional MYR 2,600 (USD 624) for operational costs. The government will continue to subsidize the operational costs for Malaysians, he said.

29. Malaysia confirmed 71 new COVID-19 infections yesterday as Sabah continued to lead the number of cases with 63. The Health Ministry reported no emergence of new clusters. It said only two cases were imported from abroad, while the rest were local transmissions. No fatalities were reported, which means that the COVID-19 death toll in the country remained at 133.

SINGAPORE

30. The city-state reported 15 new COVID-19 cases yesterday. There were no new cases in the community, the Ministry of Health said. Five of the cases were imported, all of whom had been placed on stay-home notice upon their arrival in Singapore.

MYANMAR

31. Over 220 factories in Yangon Region have filed for complete closure, temporary closure or redundancy starting from the end of this month, amid the second wave of COVID-19 outbreak. According to the list, there are about 40,000 to 50,000 workers who were employed by these factories.

32. The Department of Civil Aviation announced that international flights will remain suspended till October 31. The extension comes after the country began to experience a high resurgence in COVID-19 cases.

PHILIPPINES

33. Three government soldiers pursuing Islamic State-linked gunmen in Maguindanao province were injured when an improvised bomb went off in Ampatuan town yesterday. The injured troops were a part of the units pursuing members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

34. The Department of Agriculture said yesterday it had detected new African swine fever outbreaks in six provinces. New outbreaks have been detected in the provinces of Albay, Quirino, Laguna, Quezon, Batangas and Cavite on the main island of Luzon.

35. COVID-19 infected 2,180 more individuals in the country, raising the nation’s total caseload to 296,755 yesterday. The Department of Health also reported 36 new deaths resulting from the disease, boosting the number of deaths to 5,127.

VIETNAM

36. The country reported no new COVID-19 cases and new deaths yesterday.  The country’s tally of COVID-19 cases remained at 1,069 with 35 deaths.

PACIFIC ISLANDS

NEW ZEALAND

37. Auckland transport authorities are warning motorists of the possibility of very heavy traffic today caused by the closures of lanes on the damaged Auckland Harbor Bridge. In a statement, the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency said traffic is expected to build up from midday.

38. The Health Ministry reported two new cases of COVID-19 today, including one community case and one imported case. The country’s total number of confirmed cases is now 1,473.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA

39. Bougainville President-elect Ishmael Toroama is expected to be sworn in tomorrow in Buka. He said he will form a caretaker government and set in motion his plans for a “corruption-free” administration.

40. Prime Minister James Marape has pledged his support for Ishmael Toroama after he was elected President of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville yesterday. “In the coming weeks, I will meet with the President-elect to discuss the next steps with a view to convening a meeting of the Joint Supervisory Body to affirm our mutual commitment to peace and the way forward,” he said.

FIJI

41. The opposition National Federation Party (UFP) condemned the government’s decision to suspend its funding grants to the University of the South Pacific (USP). The government said it was concerned at the “lack of adherence to the principles of good governance” at the regional institution. NFP President Pio Tikoduadua said the USP was a legal entity, governed by a number of Pacific Island countries including Fiji. Tikoduadua said the government was legally obliged to fund the university. He further added that Fijian taxpayers’ money earmarked for the regional institution should not be withheld by the government.

42. Fiji is importing USD 46.2 million worth of rice every year: Minister for Agriculture Dr. Mahendra Reddy. He said there was a need to double the efforts to grow more rice in order to reduce the significant import bill of buying rice from overseas countries. Reddy said, “There is no reason why Fiji should continue to import rice from Thailand or Vietnam.” He added that the country was operating at 17% self-sufficiency in rice production.

43. The Ministry of Health and Medical Services received medical supplies worth more than USD 700,000 from the World Health Organization yesterday. The donated medical supplies include surgical masks, KN95 masks, face shields, protective goggles, and isolation gowns to support front line

SOLOMON ISLANDS

44. Member of Parliament (MP) for the North Guadalcanal Constituency, Hon. Samson Maneka switched allegiance to the ruling government yesterday. Maneka was a member of the opposition group before making the switch. A government statement said MP Maneka resigned from the Solomon Islands Democratic Party and has joined the leading “Our Party”. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare welcomed Maneka’s decision to join the government during a brief meeting at his office.

NEW CALEDONIA

45. France’s right-wing parties came out against New Caledonia becoming an independent country, nine days ahead of a referendum to decide on whether to opt for full sovereignty. The National Rally cast doubt on the country’s ability to resist powerful neighbors which would use all means to get hold of its resources. The National Rally’s leader, Marine Le Pen, warned that a victory of the pro-independence side would lead to uncertainty, danger and tears.

TONGA

46. The government launched a new domestic air service called the Lulutai Airlines Ltd. on September 23. They celebrated the launch with the handover of an Air Operator Certificate at the Fua’amotu International Airport. Domestic air services started yesterday. The Prime Minister Rev Dr Pohiva Tu’oi’onetoa announced that the Lulutai would start its domestic services to Vava’u, Ha’apai and the Niuas.

MARSHALL ISLANDS

47. The government of Japan is planning to invest nearly USD 17 million in various development projects in the country. This includes expanding Majuro’s water storage capacity by 40%, a project that has been in limbo for over 15 years, despite strong support of both governments. The new water project will add 15 million gallons of storage capacity, increasing the reservoirs from their current 36-million-gallon capacity to over 51 million. The new reservoir will be built next to existing reservoirs by the Amata Kabua International Airport.

FRENCH POLYNESIA

48. A group calling itself the “Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi” was evicted by police from a land it had occupied at a marae (religious complex) in Tahiti for four months. Police moved in after the group defied last month’s court order to vacate the site at Arahurahu marae in Pā’ea within 48 hours. At the time, the court warned that each person failing to comply with the order would be fined USD 800 for each day of continued occupation.

GUAM

49. Governor Lou Leon Guerrero announced a slight relaxation of the territory’s COVID-19 related lockdown restrictions under the Pandemic Condition of Readiness 1 (PCOR1) measures. The PCOR1 will be effective from noon todayGuerrero said strict restrictions remain in place, including limits to the number of people allowed to gather and mandatory quarantine for all incoming travelers. However, retail stores, personal services, and outdoor dining can reopen at 25% capacity. Similarly, solitary sports will be allowed, and outdoor dining can also resume.

50. The Guam International Airport Authority Board board voted in favor of a contract extension for the corridor project at the A.B. Won Pat International Airport yesterday. A two-month “no-cost” contract extension was approved. A proposed change order fee of USD 688,211 for the contract with Black Construction Corp. for the refill replacement and replenishment of the argon gas fire suppression system and an extension of the builder’s coalition insurance were also approved by the board.

51. The country recorded 28 new cases of COVID-19 infections yesterday, taking the tally to 2,263: Joint Information Center. A total of 436 samples were tested yesterday. Of the 28 new cases, 10 were identified via contact tracing.

52. Dozens of people staged a peaceful protest outside the Marine Corps Drive in front of the governor’s office at Adelup yesterday. The group of protesters mainly consisted of restaurant and bar owners, small business owners and other concerned residents. They protested to express their opposition to Governor Lou Leon Guerrero’s directives to continue with COVID-19 related lockdown restrictions.

AUSTRALIA

AUSTRALIA

53. An environmental protest was staged in Sydney today, calling for the government to not go ahead with plans to build new gas power stations. COVID-19 restrictions limited the rally in Martin Place to just dozens of school students.

54. Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel are going to be withdrawn from all state borders except for Victoria, with states being told by the Federal Government to manage their own crossings. ADF confirmed it would not be extending agreements it has with Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales and the Northern Territory. There are currently 2,769 ADF personnel deployed around Australia as part of Operation COVID-19 Assist.

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