Asian Insider, March 18: Trillion-dollar rescue measures, lockdowns, Olympics and media wars

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

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In today's bulletin:

Will stimulus measures work? Are the country lockdowns and travel restrictions happening too late? Will the Olympics take place? US-China differences over allowing journalists to cover their affairs worsen, and more.

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TRILLION-DOLLAR RESCUE PACKAGES ..BUT CRISIS COULD GET WORSE, BEFORE IT GETS BETTER

Countries across the world are taking to aiding their economies as coronavirus showed few signs of receding globally, but observers believe it might get worse, before it gets better with business sentiments not looking up, supply chains disrupted, global labour movement impacted and demand set to take longer to bounce back, among other factors.

South Korea today announced it would relax a key foreign exchange regulation to encourage banks to supply between US$5 billion to US$10 billion in local markets. Seoul, on March 4, announced a stimulus package of 11.7 trillion won (S$13.7 billion) to channel money to its health system, child care and outdoor markets.

China said last week it is preparing to inject more cash into its financial system as latest data show that its manufacturing, retail and investment suffered a historic slump with the coronavirus. Here in Singapore, a one-time payment of up to S$300 will be given to about 108,000 workers who lose their jobs or suffer income losses due to the viral virus. The government in its budget set aside $4b to help businesses hit by coronavirus and has said a second stimulus package is in the works.

Elsewhere in the world, US President Donald Trump promised every American a sum of US$1,000 to tide over the current crisis, as part of a US$1 trillion (S$1.43 trillion) emergency stimulus package. And Britain announced a £330 billion (S$570 billion) rescue package for businesses threatened with collapse.

Still, few observers were certain the measures to pump economies will suffice.

Read here:

Why the Covid-19 financial crisis will get worse

Pandemic threatens to set off financial contagion in a world mired in debt

Bracing for long battle against Covid-19

LOCKDOWNS, TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS IN ASEAN, BUT WHO ASKS FOR MORE

Few weeks ago, there was growing uneasiness over the absence of coronavirus cases in some of the Southeast Asian economies and those concerned were questioning if countries like Indonesia and Myanmar were doing enough testing. Now that has changed.

Empty streets, deserted malls, busy food delivery riders and silent queues at coffee shops in Malaysia, were the key sights on the first day of the movement control order issued by the government that will remain in place till the end of month. The order prohibits Malaysians from leaving or foreigners from entering the country and closes all non-essential businesses.

Elsewhere in the region, on Monday, the Philippines imposed an "enhanced community quarantine" across the country's island of Luzon while on Friday, Indonesia will suspend visa-free and visa-on-arrival arrangements for one month to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

But is it all happening a bit late? The World Health Organisation is certainly concerned about the rapid increase in the number of infections and has asked Asean countries to step up measures to contain the outbreak, warning that some regional economies were heading towards community transmission.

Don't miss:

How to tame a virus? Asia tries to cope with Covid-19

Read the latest on coronavirus here:

How mass gathering at Malaysian mosque became coronavirus hotspot

WILL THE OLYMPICS TAKE PLACE?

Just a day after the International Olympic Committee said it does not plan any "drastic" decision on the holding of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games in July, despite the coronavirus outbreak, signals have started appearing otherwise.

Reports say even Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears now to be shifting his messaging on whether the Games will be held. This shift is being noticed after his call with the Group of Seven leaders on Monday. And even United States President Donald Trump has asked him to consider delaying the Games by a year.

Meanwhile, Tokyo Olympic organisers have said they have decided to scale back parts of the Games torch relay because of the coronavirus pandemic. The "grand start" that was due to take place in Fukushima might now proceed without a crowd. All this is getting ticket holders restless.

A decision is awaited but the International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has said he would listen to the WHO, when it comes to the issue of postponing the Games.

Read also:

Japan and the Japanese hope the show will go on

US-CHINA MEDIA WARS

An ongoing war between the US and China on allowing journalists from their countries to work in each other's countries deepened today after China barred the 3 expelled US reporters from working in Hong Kong too. In the past, US journalists expelled from working in China have been allowed to work in Hong Kong.

The three journalists were working with the Wall Street Journal and wrote an article with a headline calling China the "real sick man of Asia". Beijing strongly objected to it and demanded an apology, which didn't come.

China has also said it is withdrawing the press credentials of US correspondents with the New York Times, News Corp's Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post whose credentials expire by the end of 2020, and that those affected would also not be allowed to work as journalists in Hong Kong.

There's been no reaction from Hong Kong on this front. Meanwhile, the US took a decision earlier this month to cut the number of staff working with Chinese media in the US from a total of 160 to 100.

IN OTHER NEWS

WORLD'S FREEST ECONOMY? NOW IT'S SINGAPORE: Social unrest and uncertainties took a toll on Hong Kong's reputation as a global financial hub and Singapore has emerged on top for the first time since 1995, in a global survey by the Heritage Foundation. Hong Kong's overall economic freedom score fell primarily due to a decline in its marks for investment freedom, according to the 2020 Index of Economic Freedom published by the Foundation. Singapore came in first as its score held steady compared with last year.

YES BANK AND THE BANKER WHO COULD NOT SAY NO: Yes Bank was, at one time, India's fifth largest private lender but now it has become one of the country's biggest banking failures. India's central bank is attempting a forced restructuring but a search for investors is still on. And founder Rana Kapoor, who built a reputation as a banker who did not say no to borrowers, faces a probe.

SAMSUNG FLAGS DECLINING SALES: Senior officials of Samsung Electronics told the company's annual general meeting that the coronavirus and the US-China trade war would impact Samsung's sales of smartphones and consumer electronics. Demand is still growing from data centres, that could fuel a recovery in memory chip markets, and sales of 5G smartphones is also expected to increase, they said.

That's it for today. Thanks for reading. Stay safe and we'll be back with you tomorrow.

Shefali

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