Asian Insider, Jan 13: Sinovac vaccine’s efficacy; America’s Indo-Pacific plans; China on Hong Kong

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

Hi all, 

In today’s bulletin: Countries debate use of Sinovac vaccine; America’s declassified documents on the Indo-Pacific; will China announce more measures to curb dissent in Hong Kong? And more. 

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Indonesia, Thailand to use Sinovac vaccines despite Brazil report showing 50.4 % efficacy

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo took the first shot of China's Sinovac vaccine before viewers watching a youtube livestream from the presidential secretariat, despite reports this week that the vaccine's efficacy rate could be 50.4 per cent, in a Brazilian trial. 

Neighbouring Thailand reiterated it would stay on track with plans to receive and administer the Sinovac vaccine from next month despite the results of the Brazilian trial. Singapore said the vaccine will have to go through regulatory scrutiny before it can be rolled out to the public and Malaysia reiterated the same. 

The vaccine, called CoronaVac and developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech, is among the leading vaccines being sought by several countries, as nations rush to secure adequate doses for their people. 

A report by Brazil researchers, released on Tuesday, showing that the vaccine was just 50.4 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic infections, has led to concerns and disappointment. The results are considered barely enough for regulatory approval and are also well below the 78 per cent efficacy announced last week.

Indonesia gave emergency approval for the use of the Sinovac vaccine after interim results showed a 65 per cent efficacy rate. 

Trump administration's strategic framework for Indo-Pacific declassified

The outgoing Trump administration declassified its strategy for the Indo-Pacific that shows that the United States planned to counter China's rise from India to Taiwan and keep the "Indo-Pacific region free and open long into the future". 

The document titled United States Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific was unveiled by National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien. "Beijing is increasingly pressuring Indo-Pacific nations to subordinate their freedom and sovereignty to a 'common destiny' envisioned by the Chinese Communist Party," O'Brien said in an expanded statement.

The report, that provided an overarching strategic guidance, takes note of "India's rise and capacity to serve as a net provider of security and major defence partner". It calls for enabling Taiwan "to develop an effective asymmetric defence strategy and capabilities" that will help allow Taipei to engage China on its own terms", among other matters.

Also read: 

Ahead of Biden transition, US cancels UN envoy's trip to Taiwan

China could take more steps to block critics from Hong Kong elections, say reports

Chinese media have called for measures to prevent critics from turning the Hong Kong elections, due to be held later this year, from turning into a "tool for anti-China and trouble-making forces". 

This has led to speculation that China could announce new measures to discourage dissent in Hong Kong. 

Beijing's decision to call for a meeting of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress - the body that imposed a national security law on Hong Kong last year - on Jan 20, has added to concerns. 

Go deeper: 

China plans further Hong Kong crackdown after mass arrest: Sources

Hong Kong's new top judge points to importance of city's rule of law

Whatsapp fights back over privacy concerns as users jump to Telegram, Signal

Social media giant Facebook was trying to reassure users of its messaging platform Whatsapp about privacy concerns, after a change to the terms of its service resulted in several people signing up for rival messaging apps such as Telegram and Signal. 

Encrypted messaging app Telegram, founded by Russia-born founder Pavel Durov, which counts 500 million active users every month, saw nearly 25 million new users sign on to its service in the last 72 hours. Signal too reported a huge surge in the number of new users.

Whatsapp has said that the new terms of service will not affect the privacy of messages with friends and family in any way. However, many are not convinced. The new terms will allow for Whatsapp data to be shared with the parent company Facebook, which could use the data for targeting ads.  

Also read: 

Signal and Telegram see demand spike as new WhatsApp terms stir privacy debate

Kim Jong Un's sister slams South Korea for spying on Pyongyang

In words that are carefully tracked in the Korean Peninsula, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un condemned South Korea for taking a "hostile approach toward fellow countrymen in the North" and confirmed that a military parade was held in Pyongyang. Kim Yo Jong used words like "idiot" to describe measures by South Korean officials to keep a watch on Pyongyang. 

The North Korean leader, meanwhile, called for stronger military capabilities as the eight-day ruling party congress came to a close.

In other news…

South Korea sect leader cleared of hindering Covid-19 prevention efforts: The elderly leader of a secretive religious sect - the Shincheonji Church of Jesus - that was at the centre of South Korea's early coronavirus outbreak was cleared today of hindering the government's virus prevention efforts. Lee Man-hee was convicted, however, of embezzling billions of won from his organisation and given a suspended prison sentence.

WHO expert team to transit through Singapore on way to Wuhan: A World Health Organisation (WHO) team of international experts is due to depart Singapore on Thursday (Jan 14) for the Chinese city of Wuhan, to probe the origins of the virus that was first detected a year ago.

China unveils prototype for superfast maglev train: China unveiled a prototype locomotive using high-temperature superconducting (HTS) maglev technology, in south-west China's city of Chengdu. Beijing will test the train on a new 165m line.

Thanks for reading The Straits Times and this newsletter. We will be back tomorrow.     

Shefali 

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