SIM REPORT: Southeast Asia

issue 01, 3 oCTOBER 2019

INDONESIA: Protests against legislation likely to be prolonged

The country’s parliamentary taskforce on 15 September finalised a draft bill revising its Dutch colonial-era penal code that was introduced in 2015. The revisions are comprehensive and are a culmination of decades of work. The bill was originally scheduled to be voted on in parliament on 24 September. However, widespread backlash over the revisions, including nationwide mass student-led demonstrations, delayed the vote. Opponents of the bill are critical of 18 of its articles, which, if passed, would threaten civil liberties.

The articles are controversial for their apparent policing of morality and attendant incursion on citizens’ private lives, including:

  • One that would ban extramarital sex. Activists argue that the implementation of this article would effectively criminalise cohabitation of unmarried couples and homosexuality;
  • Provisions for a four-year prison sentence for unauthorised abortions;
  • Provisions on discussions of contraception and sex education;
  • A vague article referring to ‘living laws’, which may be used to more stringently enforce existing sharia laws;
  • An expansion to the blasphemy law which includes a provision that would outlaw insulting the state, vice-president, and president.

The bill, if passed, would come into effect in two years, and would affect foreign staff and business travellers alike.

President Joko Widodo ordered a delay for a vote on the revisions on 20 September and asked the next parliament – sworn in on 1 October – to review 14 of the 18 heavily criticised articles. On 30 September, the government agreed to delay a vote on the revisions until November. The delay came as demonstrations against the bill entered their second week. In a marked escalation of events, several thousand union members, activists, and students on 30 September protested near the parliament in the capital Jakarta. This is over the parliament’s passing of a bill that they say weakens the country’s anti-corruption agency. Demonstrators hurled improvised incendiary devices at security forces, who responded with water cannon and tear gas. Similar clashes occurred during protests in other cities.

The delay to the vote is likely to extend the risk of violent protests across the country. As the protesters’ demands also include ending illegal forest fires and the withdrawal of troops from the eastern Papua province, it is likely that the demonstrations may escalate into a wider anti-government movement. Even after Widodo’s election win in April, the early phases of his tenure were marred by deadly riots by opposition supporters, including in the capital Jakarta on 21-22 May. If the parliament does not scrap the proposed bill, then Widodo’s official inauguration on 20 October is likely to become a flashpoint for further violent nationwide mass demonstrations. The student protesters’ refusal to meet with Widodo on 27 September also indicates a hardened stance. The scale of the demonstrators’ demands further increases the likelihood that these will not be addressed in the one-month outlook at least. Prolonged violent protests are likely to hamper mobility and adversely impact the country’s stability and economic outlook in at least the three- to six-month outlook.


MYANMAR: Peace negotiations unlikely to succeed; long-term security outlook remains unfavourable

On 30 September, the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, at a press briefing announced it had no plans to reconvene a National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) meeting. The NDSC is the country’s most powerful decision-making body regarding security issues, and meetings have not been held since the current government came to power in 2016. This is despite a deteriorating security situation in the country. Embassies of several western countries, including Australia, Canada, and the United States on 25-27 September issued warnings in response to the leak of a Myanmar government letter online that warned of several rebel groups’ threatening attacks on urban centres such as Mandalay, Naypyidaw, and Yangon. The letter identified 26 September, 16 October, and 26 October as possible dates for the attacks. Though some rebel groups have questioned the credibility of the threat, the government has not clarified how it would handle such security risks.

Since independence from the United Kingdom in 1948, Myanmar has been in a state of civil war between so-called ethnic armed organisations (EAOs) and security forces acting on behalf of the government. The ethnic minority rebel groups first emerged in opposition to British and Japanese colonial rule in 1947, and, following independence, remain unsatisfied with the ostensibly unrepresentative newly formed government. Fighting between EAOs and the security forces greatly escalated on 15 August, when  three of the four rebel groups comprising the Northern Alliance – the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Arakan Army (AA) – attacked several military and infrastructural targets. In contrast to the military, the government has been slow to react to the attacks. Attacks by rebels in the affected areas – primarily Rakhin and Shan states – have included ransacking of freight trucks carrying goods via the town of Kutkai, the primary overland trade route between China and Myanmar, which accounts for 70 per cent of bilateral overland trade. Fighting between EAOs and the Tatmadaw fully resumed after the expiry of a ceasefire agreement on 21 September.

Despite intermittent ceasefire agreements, the peace process has largely been impeded by several issues. China has increased its function as a mediator between the EAOs and the Tatmadaw, and, in a bid to stabilise the region for its flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) development programme has called several ceasefire negotiations. However, it has likely stopped short of ensuring complete peace, in order to continue selling arms to both sides, as well as continue extraction of conflict resources such as gold and timber. Further issues include differing aims regarding bilateral ceasefire agreements, flawed ceasefire monitoring, stalled discussions of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), deteriorating relations between the government and the military, and the recent conflict escalations in Rakhine and Shan states. These issues are likely to remain sticking points in a resumption of negotiations, which is probable in late October or early November. Security risks are likely to remain elevated in at least the three- to six-month outlook, unless the Tatmadaw extends the unilateral ceasefire it annulled on 21 September, bilateral ceasefire agreements are made, and the NDSC reconvenes. Continuing insecurity is likely to adversely impact supply chain mobility, including freight vehicle transport of goods such as clothes, food, and textiles in Shan state.


VIETNAM: Chinese pressure likely to be driving away major multinational oil and gas firm from exploration and production, other foreign firms may also be affected

In early September, private communication from Vietnam indicated that US oil and gas company ExxonMobil was about to suspend or terminate its Blue Whale natural gas project in Block 118 off Vietnam’s central coast, due to pressure from China. The Blue Whale gas project, known locally as Ca Voi Xanh and for which gas production is projected to commence in late 2023, is the country’s largest, containing approximately 150 billion cubic metres of gas reserves and costing around USD10 billion to develop. Although this information remain unconfirmed, it would not be the first time that Beijing has prevented ExxonMobil from pursuing oil and gas exploration and production in the country.

In 2007, a Vietnamese official said that China had obtained a copy of Vietnam’s Maritime Strategy to 2020 and was warning foreign oil companies that their business interests in China would be adversely impacted if they helped Vietnam. The threats were publicly confirmed by ExxonMobil in 2008, and China said that it saw the oil exploration as a breach of Chinese territorial sovereignty in the South China Sea. In 2009, US officials recommended a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to act against China’s attempted intimidation of US oil and gas firms. On 22 August, the US State Department voiced opposition towards any moves by China to threaten foreign firms’ oil and gas activities in the South China Sea.

The companies that hold interests in the Blue Whale project are PetroVietnam Exploration Corporation, PetroVietnam, and ExxonMobil’s EMEPVL (ExxonMobil Exploration and Production Limited), with ExxonMobil holding 64 per cent of the working interest. Local media sources have recently claimed that ExxonMobil on 28 August told the Vietnamese government that it plans to sell its stake in the project. ExxonMobil has not publicly commented on these claims. China lays claim to 90 per cent of the oil and gas-rich South China Sea via its nine-dash map, and 80 per cent of energy imports, as well as around 40 per cent of the country’s total trade is conveyed through the territorially disputed waters. Several countries are involved in territorial claims, including Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Beijing and Hanoi have been engaged in a deepening diplomatic row regarding the territory since a major standoff in early July. This was sparked when Chinese survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 and coastguard ships entered the disputed Vanguard Bank of the Spratly Islands. China last year placed its coast guard under military control and is increasingly using it to police contested waters.

Other foreign oil and gas firms with interests in Vietnam have been subject to Chinese pressure. On 13 August, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of an ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Ministerial Meeting requested Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to force Russian oil and gas firm Rosneft to halts its hydrocarbon exploration activities in Vietnam, which Lavrov denied. In 2017 and 2018, the Vietnamese government cancelled oil and gas exploration projects held by foreign businesses including Spanish firm Repsol, due to Beijing’s threats, which reportedly included violent action in the Spratly Islands. Furthermore, the Chinese government wants ASEAN members to agree to a clause that excludes foreign companies from conducting economic activities in the waters as part of a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea. Vietnam will assume rotational chairmanship of ASEAN in 2020 and could remove the clause from the code. There is also the possibility that the company is simply having doubts over the commercial viability of the project – including over environmental concerns and its profitability – amid announced divestments of projects in the British North Sea and Norway in August and September. The situation regarding the Blue Whale project may be confirmed when Vietnamese president Nguyen Phu Trong likely visits Washington later in October, where he may be accompanied by senior officials from PetroVietnam. If it emerges that ExxonMobil is indeed suspending or scrapping the Blue Whale project and that Chinese pressure played a role in its decision-making, then this would indicate that, in the long term, foreign oil and gas companies operating in Vietnam are likely to continue to be adversely impacted by increased political risks posed by China.


Open Source Intelligence Review of significant risk developments from September to October

CORRUPTION RISK

MALAYSIA

15 September 2019

UMNO and PAS ink pact to join hands against Pakatan Harapan govt

Malaysia's two biggest Malay Muslim parties inked a political cooperation pact yesterday that they hope will spur the majority community to unite against perceived threats from the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.

More than 10,000 party faithful, most of them dressed in white, packed the Putra World Trade Centre to witness the chiefs of former rivals UMNO and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) sign a "National Cooperation" charter outlining the formal terms of their pact, which has won them three by-elections as an informal arrangement over the past year.

Source: The Straits Times

A2 Global comments: The pact is being linked to the present trial of former prime minister Najib Razak and other senior UMNO politicians on corruption charges.


POLITICAL RISK

MALAYSIA

1 October 2019          

No VEP checks at all hours until further notice, says Malaysian transport ministry

The Vehicle Entry Permit (VEP) will not be enforced during both peak and non-peak hours until further notice, according to Malaysia's Ministry of Transport (MOT).

In 2017, it was announced that foreign-registered vehicles entering Malaysia would need a VEP as part of the country's efforts to tackle car theft and the cloning of syndicates, as well as to prevent vehicles with outstanding fines from leaving.

Source: cna

PHILIPPINES

23 September 2019

'Red-tagged' anti-mining lawyer survives ambush in Capiz

An anti-mining lawyer survived a shooting attack on her vehicle morning on Monday, September 23, with several groups condemning sustained attacks and threats against human rights lawyers and workers.

Source: Rappler

A2 Global comments: Duterte’s readiness to invoke violence as the primary solution to dealing with political challenges and social issues such as illicit narcotics dealing and consumption is widely viewed as encouraging if not endorsing such attacks.


HEALTH RISK

PHILIPPINES

25 September 2019

Philippines risks polio problem as parents skip child vaccines: WHO

The Philippines risks having more cases of polio unless it sharply steps up its vaccinations of children under 5 years of age, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday (Sep 25).

The Southeast Asian country is dealing with an outbreak of the infectious disease. A wider outbreak of polio could set back global efforts to eradicate the crippling disease, which remains endemic in only three countries - Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Source: cna

INDONESIA

12 September 2019

Air Pollution Causes Illness of Half Jakarta Population: KPBB

Ahmad Safrudin, the executive director of the leaded fuel eradication committee (KPBB), revealed the toll of air pollution in Jakarta.

“We conduct research once every five years. In 2016, 58.3 percent of over 10 million Jakarta population fall ill or die due to air pollution,” said Ahmad during a workshop ‘Soot-free Urban Bus Fleet in Asia’, in Pullman Hotel, Thamrin, Central Jakarta, Thursday, September 12.

Source: TEMPO.CO

A2 Global comments: Recent research by the University of Chicago indicates Jakarta’s air quality is so poor that it reduces the average resident’s life expectancy by 2.3 years. The main cause of illness and morbidity are PM2.5 microparticles, which when ingested increase the risk of illness and death due to heart, pulmonary and acute lower respiratory diseases. Unlike other sources of ill-health, air pollution affects the entire community regardless of location and economic status.


TRAVEL RISK

MALAYSIA

23 August 2019

'Buy Muslim-made products first' campaign will divide Malaysians, says MP

The “buy Muslim-made products first” campaign will lead to racial polarisation, Democratic Actions Party (DAP) lawmaker Ramkarpal Singh said on Monday (Sep 2), speaking out against boycotts of non-Muslim goods.

Urging an immediate end to such boycotts, Mr Ramkarpal, the Member of Parliament for Bukit Gelugor, said the campaign serves no useful purpose and will only divide Malaysians.

Source: cna


SECURITY RISK

SINGAPORE

18 September 2019

S$1.5m lost to scammers impersonating Singtel staff and police using tech support ploy

Scammers gain remote access to victims' computers by tricking them into installing software applications such as Teamviewer or AnyDesk on the pretext that this will help resolve the issues with the connection, said the Singapore Police Force (SPF) on Wednesday (Sep 18).

Source: cna

A2 Global comments: Remote or telecommunications-based scams which rely on a combination of a lack of procedural knowledge and a willingness to comply with authority are common throughout the region.


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