Asian Insider, Feb 23: Facebook to restore news pages in Australia; Manila offers nurses for vaccines

Asian Insider brings you insights into a fast-changing region from our network of correspondents and commentators.

Hi all, 

In today’s bulletin: Facebook to restore news pages in Australia; Western countries increase pressure on Myanmar’s military to avoid crackdown; WTO to examine US ban on HK label; Global chips shortage fuels export boom in South Korea, Taiwan; Philippines suggests nurses for vaccines, and more.

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Facebook to restore news pages after tweaks to Australian law

The world's largest social media giant agreed to restore Australian news pages after reaching an agreement with the government that will see amendments to the new law that is set to define relations between tech giants and media companies, in the country. 

The new agreement will allow Facebook to choose if news remains on the platform and support publishers it chooses. A new rule will be inserted that will take into account an internet company's contribution to the "Australian news industry" via existing deals.

Australia has also offered to include a mechanism for final offer arbitration. There will be provisions to ensure a two-month mediation period before the government-appointed arbitrator intervenes to allow parties time to reach a private deal.

In a blog posting today, Mr Campbell Brown, the firm’s vice-president of global news partnerships said Facebook will be restoring Australian news in the coming days. 

Western countries step up pressure on Myanmar as protests continue

Western countries stepped up pressure on Myanmar's military rulers to avoid a crackdown as millions of people took to the streets in Myanmar on Monday and protests continued today against the coup on Feb 1. The European Union warned it is considering sanctions on Myanmar while the United States penalised two more generals for links to the military coup.

Meanwhile, UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said over Twitter that millions had marched in a “breathtaking” turnout, despite the junta’s threat. “The generals are losing their power to intimidate and with it, their power. It is past time for them to stand down, as the people of Myanmar stand up,” he said. 

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, meanwhile, issued a statement today maintaining that Myanmar's transition to democracy after this month's coup should follow the wishes of its people.   

Also read 

Malaysia deports 1,086 Myanmar nationals, despite court-ordered stay

WTO to examine US ban on 'Made in Hong Kong' label

In one of the first decisions after members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) accepted Nigerian economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the body's next director-general, the global trade body agreed to establish a dispute resolution panel on the new US rule that all goods imported from Hong Kong must be stamped "Made in China".  

This followed a second request from Hong Kong to establish the panel and WTO rules require that a second request be automatically accepted. Although the outgoing Trump administration's rules on goods coming in from Hong Kong will take effect in November, a resolution on the case at WTO could take much longer.

The US delegation to the WTO has reportedly objected to the WTO deciding on the case. According to a note obtained by Bloomberg, the US delegation backed the Trump administration's decision to label Hong Kong exports as "Made in China" and said the WTO had no right to mediate the matter because the organisation's rules permit countries to take any action to protect their "essential security interests".

Global scramble for chips drives Asia growth

A boom in demand for chips used in touch screens and work-from-home gear - besides several other uses - during the pandemic is fuelling a global scramble for semiconductor supplies and two Asian economies are reporting a surge in exports.

While South Korea reported a surge in exports in January, Taiwan's government said it sees the 2021 economic growth being the fastest in seven years, due to the growing global demand for semiconductors. The demand highlights the world's growing dependence on two Asian powerhouses - Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co and Samsung Electronics Co - for semiconductors, and economists believe the trend will continue for a while.

Also read

Global chip shortage spirals beyond cars to phones and game consoles

Philippines offers nurses in exchange for vaccines from Britain, Germany

The Philippines will allow thousands of its health workers, mostly nurses, to take up jobs in Britain and Germany if the two countries agree to donate much-needed vacciness The remark was made by Ms Alice Visperas, director of the labour ministry's international affairs bureau, who also said that the vaccines would be used to inoculate outbound workers and hundreds of thousands of Filipino repatriates. The country has one of the largest number of coronavirus cases and has not been able to secure sufficient vaccines for its people.

In other news

Umno to hold its annual assembly end-March: Umno will hold its twice-postponed 2020 annual general assembly on March 27 and 28 this year, party secretary-general Ahmad Maslan said today. One key issue expected to be discussed at the closely watched annual meeting is a motion to cut ties with Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) led by Prime Minister Muhyddin Yassin, while strengthening bonds with Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

China returns as top India trade partner: China regained its position as India's top trade partner in 2020, even though relations turned sour following a border conflict. Two-way trade between the longstanding economic and strategic rivals stood at US$77.7 billion (S$102.65 billion) last year, according to provisional data from India's commerce ministry. This was lower than the previous year's US$85.5 billion total, it was enough to make China the largest commercial partner displacing the US. 

Indonesia set to pass regulation to stem money laundering: Indonesia is set to soon approve a regulation to stem money laundering and terrorism financing by requiring fintech players to report suspicious transactions. The regulation is reportedly awaiting the President's approval and is expected to be issued soon.

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading The Straits Times and today’s Asian Insider newsletter. We’ll be back tomorrow.  

Shefali