In today’s bulletin: Taiwan is set to remain a thorny issue in US-China ties under the Biden administration; Vietnam's Communist Party is to pick new leaders in its five-yearly national congress; Singapore announces a 10-year plan to grow its manufacturing sector by 50 per cent; and more.
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Taiwan to remain a thorny issue in US-China ties
There may be a new President in the White House, but the Taiwan issue that had contributed to rising tensions between the United States and China under the Trump administration will remain a prickly one, writes China correspondent Danson Cheong. Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken at his Senate confirmation hearing last week said the US would make sure Taiwan has the means to "deter aggression" and would like to see a bigger role for Taiwan on the world stage, portending friction with Beijing which sees the island as a breakaway province.
Already the two sides are testing the boundaries, with China sending its warplanes into Taiwan's air defence identification zone last Saturday and the US responding by urging Beijing to stop military, economic and diplomatic pressure on the island and asserting its intent to deepen ties with the island.
Earlier, the new administration had also invited Taiwan's de facto US ambassador to the inauguration of new President Joe Biden, the first time that this has happened. Washington's continued engagement with Taiwan will annoy Beijing - how far it will go in expressing this displeasure will be a key test of the three-way relationship.
Vietnam's Communist Party to pick new leaders at five-yearly meeting
Vietnam's ruling Communist Party began its first national congress since 2016 on Monday (Jan 25) at which it will select new leaders and shape policy for the next five years and beyond. The 13th congress since the Communist Party of Vietnam was established in 1930 brought together 1,600 delegates from across the country to the capital Hanoi.
The nine-day pow-wow is taking place against the backdrop of the country's relative success in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and an economy bolstered by this success as well as the trade war between the United States and China that has seen foreign investors moving their factories from China to the South-east Asian country. But Vietnam's new leaders will be faced with the challenge of balancing relations with China with which it has strong trade relations but also a territorial dispute in the South China Sea and the United States which is important as a strategic partner.
Geopolitics, domestic sentiment shape SE Asia's Covid-19 vaccine race
With millions of dollars at stake and much still be learnt about Covid-19, the regional race in South-east Asia to acquire enough vaccines has been coloured by geopolitics and domestic sentiment, writes Indochina bureau chief Tan Hui Yee. Bangkok, after making public its plan to use China-made vaccines, found itself on the backfoot when locals questioned their efficacy. Thailand's vaccine efforts are also embroiled in the polarising debate about royal wealth and privilege, with allegations that the deal between AstraZeneca and its local maker Siam Bioscience, owned by the King, lacked transparency. The first batches of the British and Chinese-made vaccines will arrive next month.
Myanmar, meantime, has taken the lead in the vaccine race after New Delhi sent it 1.5 million free doses of the Indian-made Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine last Friday as part of its Vaccine Maitri (friendship) Initiative. This came after China had pledged to give Myanmar 300,000 doses of its own vaccine.
Over in Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen backtracked on his pledge to use only vaccines approved by the World Health Organisation saying he would be first in line for the Chinese vaccine by state-owned Sinopharm. But he hedged his bets by requesting vaccine donations from India.
Gaps in Asia's Covid-19 vaccine roll-out
Malaysia's Covid-19 situation exposes economic, political fault lines
Mr Muhamad Al Hafiz Khalil, a musician in the once-vibrant night scene in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, has found himself out of work since the government first imposed a movement control order last March to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. He has had to rely on odd jobs and financial handouts from close friends to put food on the table, a predicament that is common in the informal economy that makes up 8.3 per cent of the total national employment, writes regional correspondent Leslie Lopez.
With lockdowns looking to be prolonged amid a worsening Covid-19 situation, the country's economic outlook is looking dire and could have serious economic and political implications for the country which is facing its worst recession since independence in 1957.
The government reimposed movement restrictions earlier this month amid rising infections and is now considering escalating these to a full economic lockdown. Some economists and politicians, however, are calling for expansion of the stimulus package announced last week and a more targeted movement control order.
A 10-year plan to grow Singapore's manufacturing by 50%
A new 10-year plan to grow Singapore's manufacturing sector by 50 per cent and maintain its share of about 20 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) was announced by Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing on Monday (Jan 25). The plan will raise the global competitiveness of the manufacturing sector, but more Singaporeans will have to work in the sector as it grows and the proportion of low-wage foreign workers is reduced, Mr Chan said.
The manufacturing sector contributes about 21 per cent of the total GDP and hires about 450,000 workers, or around 12 per cent of the workforce. Last year, the sector expanded for six consecutive months from July to December, and experts have said the manufacturing sector will continue to be a key driver of Singapore's economic growth this year.
Speaking to the media after a visit to precision engineering company Univac on Monday, Mr Chan said the Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of the sector to Singapore's economy, adding that having a more diversified economy was important for the country.
In other news …
Indian, Chinese troops in new border brawl: Indian and Chinese troops brawled on their contested Himalayan border leaving injuries on both sides, military sources and media reports said on Monday (Jan 25). The incident last week at Naku La in Sikkim state came six months after a pitched battle which killed at least 20 Indian troops and an unknown number of Chinese forces.
Australia to spend A$1 billion on navy weapons: Australia will spend A$1 billion (S$1.03 billion) developing new naval weaponry capabilities, including long-range missiles and torpedoes, the federal government said on Monday (Jan 25), part of a vast defence upgrade amid rising regional tensions.
Kuaishou seeks US$5.4b in biggest tech IPO since Uber: Kuaishou Technology, the operator of China's most popular short video service after ByteDance's Douyin, is seeking to raise as much as US$5.4 billion (S$7.2 billion) in the world's biggest internet initial public offering since Uber Technologies.
That's it for today, thank you for reading.
Goh Sui Noi