Major Developments in East Asia Pacific, Monday, October 5, 2020

MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS AFFECTING OPERATIONS

New Caledonians voted against independence yesterday. The provisional final count results of the independence referendum indicate that New Caledonians voted against independence from France yesterday. The anti-independence bloc secured approximately 53.26% of the votes. French President Emmanuel Macron said that “Voters have had their say. They confirmed their wish to keep New Caledonia a part of France.” 85.6% of eligible voters participated in the referendum. This was the second independence referendum since 2018. In that referendum, 56.4% voted against independence, while the remainder voted for it.  The pro-independence side said it would seek a third referendum.

Background: France took over New Caledonia as a colony in 1853. Since then, tensions have been prevalent between the pro-independence indigenous Kanaks and the anti-independence descendants of colonial settlers. In 1998, as per the Noumea Accord, France promised to increase the Kanak’s political power over a 20-year period until New Caledonia decided to remain or leave. A third referendum is allowed by 2022 under the Noumea Accord, if one third of the local assembly votes for it. New Caledonia depends on France for various matters, such as defense and education. Its economy is supported by annual French subsidies worth USD 1.5 billion, large nickel deposits, and tourism.

Assessment: The slightly lower margin with which the anti-independence bloc won in 2020 illustrates the political gains pro-independence parties have made since the 2018 referendum. It will serve to temporarily ease tensions over independence amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The results may nevertheless pressure France into ceding more autonomy to placate the seemingly growing anti-independence bloc. It is likely that the New Caledonia assembly votes for the third referendum by 2022.

Advice: Clients in New Caledonia are advised to monitor the related political developments. Strictly follow the guideline issued by the government to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Monitor alerts and advisories from APAC Assistance for further details.

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. China reported 20 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, up from 16 cases reported 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 COVID-19 cases in China now stands at 85,470, while the death toll remains unchanged at 4,634.

2. The US released guidance on its immigration laws to deny admission to people with links to a Communist party from being granted permanent residence or citizenship of America. The announcement was made in a policy alert issued on October 2 by the US Citizen and Immigration Services. The law effectively blocks members of the Chinese Communist Party from ever obtaining permanent residency or citizenship of the US.

3. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government is planning to introduce a “health code” system. This system will allow quarantine-free travel among Hong Kong, Guangdong Province and Macao SAR when Hong Kong’s COVID-19 outbreak situation stabilizes.

4. The government is investigating a long-time colleague of Vice President Wang Qishan for alleged “serious violation of laws and party rules.” Dong Hong allegedly worked under Wang until 2017 as a senior disciplinary inspector when Wang was the chief of China’s anti-corruption agency. The Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection (CCDI) said that Dong is under “discipline review and supervisory investigation.”

JAPAN

5. Nearly 3,000 people participated in protest marches in Tokyo on October 3 against the Chinese government’s alleged atrocities and human rights violations. The protesters included Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongolians, Hong Kongers, and Taiwanese people. They marched from the central venue through three different areas of Tokyo.

6. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shortened his trip to Asia after President Donald Trump and other senior officials tested positive for COVID-19. Pompeo will visit Tokyo on October 11, where he will meet counterparts from Australia, India and Japan. The diplomats are set to discuss security amid growing Chinese power.

7. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government reported 108 new COVID-19 cases yesterday. The tally brought Tokyo’s cumulative total to 26,484. Nationwide, the number of cases recorded yesterday was 396 and one COVID-19-related death.

TAIWAN

8. Democratic Progressive Party legislator Wang Ting-yu proposed the amendment of the National Security Act to penalize those engaging in propaganda for foreign forces. Wang introduced an amendment to restrict the Chinese flag, which is often waved in front of Taipei 101 and around Ximending and Xinyi District. The draft amendment will prevent citizens from engaging in any efforts to violate Taiwan’s national identity.

SOUTH KOREA

9. Police mobilized hundreds of buses to block off any political rallies in Seoul on October 3. They parked buses along main avenues and around a central Seoul square to seal them off. They also set up around 90 checkpoints to prevent vehicles from bringing protesters while the subway did not stop at several stations at protest venues.

10. The government plans to maintain tough social distancing measures in greater Seoul this week. It adopted the so-called special antivirus regime starting September 28 and running through October 11. Under the measures, South Korea will continue to ban indoor gatherings of 50 or more people nationwide, along with operations of door-to-door sales businesses. All sports games cannot have spectators. High-risk facilities, such as karaoke rooms, bars and clubs, will remain shut in greater Seoul until this week.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

INDONESIA

11. Labor unions and civil rights groups will hold large-scale protests from tomorrow until October 8 in opposition to the Omnibus Bill on Job Creation. The bill is due to be passed into law in the next plenary session of the House of Representatives. The House and the government have agreed to pass it into law on October 8. Congress Alliance of Indonesian Labor Unions Chair Nining Elitos said the hasty and largely “clandestine” deliberation of the bill left the organization no choice but to voice its opposition regardless of the result.

12. A coalition of civil society groups, academics and social organizations has started an online petition urging President Joko Widodo to fire Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto. The minister has been allegedly incompetent in handling the worsening COVID-19 pandemic. The petition was started by the National Network on Domestic Worker Advocacy, the head of students’ executive board of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University and the head of the University of Indonesia’s Student Executive Body.

13. Three men from Waris district in Keerom regency, Papua, were shot with rubber bullets, as police attempted to disperse a gathering which was protesting civil servant recruitment results. The incident occurred on October 1. Protesters claimed that the police had not fired warning shots.

14. Former Jakarta deputy governor Sandiaga Uno is set to join the campaign team for President Joko Widodo’s eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka and running mate Teguh Prakoso in the upcoming Surakarta mayoral election in Central Java. The Gerindra Party politician, who ran as party chairman Prabowo Subianto’s running mate in the 2019 presidential election, will join Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle Chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri and her daughter, senior PDI-P politician Puan Maharani.

15. The Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) and prominent Muslim groups have urged the government to delay simultaneous regional elections scheduled for December over COVID-19 concerns. LIPI Political Research Center Head Firman Noor said the decision to go ahead with the elections during a public health crisis showed the government’s imprudence.

16. The Law and Human Rights Ministry is revising its temporary ban on foreigners entering Indonesia. Minister Yasonna Laoly said the ministry was finalizing a revision to a ministerial regulation about temporary prohibition of foreigners entering Indonesia amid the COVID-19 outbreak, which has been effective since April 3.

THAILAND

17. The Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB) is making preparations for planned protests by various pro-democracy groups at the Democracy Monument on October 14. MPB Commissioner Police Lieutenant general Pakapong Pongpetra yesterday said that police were trying to assess how many people would join the rally. This is to decide the number of police officers to be deployed to maintain law and order.

18. Two leaders of the United Front of Thammasat and the Demonstration group, and a human rights lawyer, have been banned from speaking at a forum on the 44th anniversary of the October 6, 1976 Thammasat University massacre. One of the organizers of the event said on October 3 that the banned leaders were Parit Chiwarak and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul and human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa. The reason behind the ban was not revealed.

MALAYSIA

19. Former prime minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad dropped hints that he may lead his two-month-old party, as well as the opposition, into the next general election. Yesterday, he revealed that his supporters still want him to continue as an elected representative.

20. Malaysia will not re-impose widespread COVID-19 restrictions on travel despite a recent spike in infections. The country has seen a steady climb in cases in the past week. However, Security Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the government did not see the need to reimpose the lockdown. He said that the majority of cases were being reported in detention centers and isolated districts.

SINGAPORE

21. The country reported 12 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, including two in the community and six imported infections.  The new cases took the national tally to 57,812.

MYANMAR

22. Yangon International Airport extended the suspension of domestic flights until the end of October due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Myanmar Central Committee for COVID-19 Prevention, Control and Treatment has also ordered the suspension of international passenger flights until October 31.

23. The Health and Sports Ministry recorded 1,294 new COVID-19 cases and 41 deaths yesterday, bringing the total number of cases to 17,794. The total number of deaths stands at 412, and the recoveries made from the virus is 5,195.

24. Two military columns allegedly fired both small and heavy weaponry into the Restoration Council of Shan State territory in Kyaukme Township, Shan State this week. Villagers in the area have remained on alert to leave, as tensions are high.

25. Clashes between the military and the Arakan Army flared for two consecutive days in Minbya Township in Rakhine State. Fighting broke out at a location between Minbya Township’s Maylwan and Pharpyaw villages on September 30, and on Sanwin Hill near Rarmaung Bridge on October 1. A woman was injured and was admitted to Minbya Hospital for medical treatment.

PHILIPPINES

26. Soldiers searching Maguindanao province for Islamic State-linked gunmen of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters found improvised bombs and bomb-making devices left by fleeing rebels. The military said the explosives were found in a shanty in Salman village of Ampatuan town on October 3.

27. The country reported 3,190 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, bringing its total confirmed infections to 322,497. The Health Ministry also reported 100 more fatalities due to COVID-19 infections, taking its death toll to 5,776.

VIETNAM

28. The port city of Hai Phong has given approval to Exxon Mobil to build a liquefied natural gas-fired power plant. The city’s People’s Committee said that the USD 5.09 billion plant will be built in two phases, each with a capacity of 2.25 gigawatts. The first will be functional in 2026-27 and the second three years later.

CAMBODIA

29. The country yesterday confirmed it razed a US-funded defense facility on its southern coast. Authorities demolished the US facility on Ream’s naval base last month. The destruction is the latest move in the ongoing controversial expansion of the strategically crucial naval base being developed with Chinese aid.

BRUNEI

30. Brunei marked 10 consecutive days without any new COVID-19 cases reported across the country. The total number of COVID-19 cases remains at 146. One active case is being treated at the National Isolation Center in Tutong District.

TIMOR LESTE

31. President Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres declared the 6th State of Emergency over COVID-19 for thirty days on September 3. The extended state of emergency started yesterday and will end on November 3.

PACIFIC ISLANDS

NEW ZEALAND

32. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today confirmed Auckland will move to alert level 1 this week. Alert Level 1 means that there are no extra restrictions on gatherings and the removal of social distancing requirements in restaurants and bars. Ardern said the Cabinet met via Zoom to review Auckland’s alert level and that all signs point to the city’s COVID-19 cluster being under control. She said there were 179 cases attached to the cluster but there have been no new cases within that cluster for 10 days now.

33. The Ministry of Health reported there is one new case of COVID-19 today in managed isolation. No new confirmed cases in the community were recorded. The country’s cumulative total of COVID-19 cases now stands at 1,499.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA

34. Environment and Conservation Minister Wera Mori said yesterday that studies will be done to assess the environmental and socio-economic impact of four mines in the country. The four mines are the Ramu Nico mine in Madang, Ok Tedi in Western, Porgera in Enga and Sinivit in East New Britain. Mori said officers from the Conservation and Environment Protection Authority would visit the mine sites and surrounding communities to conduct assessments.

35. President-elect Ishmael Toroama of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville named a 14-strong Cabinet lineup from the pool of 39 Members of Parliament elected last month. He included new people, saying promoting young talent helps to create a vibrant environment and encourage innovation. Toroama will head the Inter-Government Affairs, and also Communications and Media.

36. Controller David Manning, the head of the COVID-19 response, has tightened restrictions as the country faces 540 infections. He banned large gatherings, some business activities and mandated that masks be worn on public transport. He said a ban now applies to gatherings of more than 50 people.

FIJI

37. The government commissioned a plan to rebuild infrastructure ahead of the cyclone season. Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said the government is aware of the need for more resilient homes and schools. He said this because most schools in the country were built decades ago and almost none adhere to current building codes.

38. The government cannot stop importing kava from Vanuatu due to its obligation to respect the Melanesian Spearhead Group Trade Agreement (MSGTA): Minister for Rural and Maritime Development and Disaster Management Inia Seruiratu. The minister said the country had benefited a lot through the MSGTA that was signed with Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

39. The formation of a low-pressure area is projected to cause moderate to heavy rainfall accompanied by thunderstorms over parts of the country: National Weather Forecasting Centre. Heavy rainfall is predicted over the eastern and interior parts of the larger islands, Lau and Lomaiviti and Yasawa group. Meanwhile, isolated spells of heavy rainfall and cloudy skies are expected elsewhere.

VANUATU

40. A moderate intensity earthquake hit 195 kms northwest of Sola yesterday. The earthquake measured 5.2 on the Richter scale.  It occurred at 2:35 PM (local time), according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

SOLOMON ISLANDS

41. The country recorded its first case of COVID-19 infections yesterday, eight months since the outbreak. The case was of a student who had been repatriated from the Philippines last week. The student was asymptomatic and is now in isolation with two other close contacts. Meanwhile, frontline staff were also assessed. The patient was one of over 400 nationals stranded in the Philippines after borders were closed. Sogavare said the repatriation operation would continue regardless.

42. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare indicated there would be no national lockdown for now despite the country recording its first case of COVID-19. He said the government had faith in their system, the professional health personnel and frontline staff. Sogavare said, the preparedness and response measure the government worked on implementing over the past eight months had now been activated.

43. The government said it will repatriate citizens stranded in Kiribati if a landing permit is approved in Tarawa. Secretary to the Prime Minister Dr. Jimmie Rodgers said that at least 28 Solomon Islanders are currently awaiting repatriation from Kiribati. Rodgers said that there is a likelihood for a third repatriation flight to Auckland in November.

44. The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) is boosting static security at the two quarantine stations where the repatriated Solomon Islands students from the Philippines are accommodated. The RSIPF will boost security at the Guadalcanal Beach Resort east of Honiara and the Chengs accommodation opposite the King George Sixth National Secondary School in east Honiara. This comes as the government declared the first positive case of COVID-19 case in the country yesterday.

NEW CALEDONIA

45. The management of the country’s response to COVID-19 and measures taken to control it will be tested in France’s Constitutional Court. Pro-independence parties challenged the decisions by the French High Commission, arguing that they violated the Noumea Accord which had transferred health care into the domain of the local government.  They said under the pretext of a French national emergency, several decrees were issued which took away the country’s powers as enshrined in the French constitution. The parties raised three alleged violations with France’s top administrative court and the Council of State. A ruling is expected in two months.

46. A law was proposed by the pro-independence parties to restrict the sale of existing property to citizens only. They said foreigners should only be allowed to obtain property if it was new construction. They said such a law would help young locals obtain property near town centers as they currently struggled to compete with potential buyers from overseas. The proposed law would exclude thousands of French citizens living in the country from being able to buy existing housing. The Real Estate Confederation criticized the proposal to ban foreigners from being able to buy existing properties in the country.

SAMOA

47. Member of Parliament (MP) for Lotofaga, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, called for a vote against the leadership of the ruling Human Rights Protection Party in the 2021 General Election. Mata’afa urged the people to vote against the leadership to prevent them from reshaping the judiciary and threaten the rule of law. She said the proponents of the bills aiming to change the Lands and Titles Court, played a “culture card” to win favor with the community even though they will not elevate Samoan culture as promised.

PALAU

48. Leaders of five Micronesian nations said they will withdraw from the Pacific Islands Forum if their nominee is not chosen as Secretary-General. The threat to withdraw from Palau, Nauru, Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands was contained in a communiqué (directive) signed by the leaders at the end of their meeting in Koror. The communiqué was also signed by the President Tommy Remengesau Junior, who stressed that until the issue was resolved, “we will suspend our participation in the upcoming forum meetings.”

TONGA

49. Around 37 earthquakes occurred within Tonga in the month of September, according to the Tonga Geological Services. The highest magnitude for earthquakes in September was 5.6 on the Richter scale and the lowest was 4.

MARSHALL ISLANDS

50. Government officials confirmed that planning was underway to repatriate a group of 15 people using United Airlines’ October 30 flight from Honolulu to Kwajalein Atoll. This includes the First Lady who has been stuck in Hawai’i since the borders were closed in early March.

FRENCH POLYNESIA

51. French prime minister Jean Castex assured the French Polynesian government of continued financial support from France. Castex met the visiting French Polynesian delegation, led by the President Edouard Fritch, who arrived in Paris for the first visit since the COVID-19 outbreak. The overseas minister Sebastien Lecornu will prepare the renewal of the development contracts which are due to expire at the end of the year. The two leaders discussed an additional loan to support French Polynesia’s budget.

52. The spread of COVID-19 cases in French Polynesia has accelerated, with almost 100 new infections being recorded in a day. Of the 2,026 total cases, 1,964 were recorded after the borders were reopened and mandatory quarantine requirements were abolished in July. While most cases were detected in Tahiti, the virus reached several outer islands, including Raivavae and Arutua.

GUAM

53. Guam recorded its 50th COVID-19 related death on October 2 at Guam Memorial Hospital. The deceased was an old woman with underlying health conditions. Guam has a total of 2,617 cases of COVID-19, including 680 active infections.

54. Around 40 residents held a pro-life protest in the ITC intersection yesterday afternoon. They held signs in support of their cause and chanted slogans. The administration announced last year that it intends to recruit doctors to provide abortions on Guam, which has given rise to anti-abortion and pro-choice rallies.

AUSTRALIA

AUSTRALIA

55. The country will allow people to fly from New Zealand to New South Wales and the Northern Territory, and avoid mandatory quarantine, beginning October 16. Australia and New Zealand closed their borders in March in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19. Officials said the risks are now low enough to justify a “travel bubble”.

56. The state of Victoria recorded nine new COVID-19 cases and no COVID-19-related deaths in the last 24 hours. Melbourne’s 14-day rolling average is now at 11.6, while regional Victoria’s rolling average is 0.3.

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