President's Newsletter - January 2021

Amb. Ted Osius
Amb. Ted Osius
President & CEO
US-ASEAN Business Council
January 2021 

Dear Members,
Washington has had a tumultuous start to 2021.  We are deeply saddened by and condemn the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.  While this violent insurrection revealed the challenges U.S. democracy faces, we celebrated the orderly transfer of power marked by the inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden and Vice President Kamala D. Harris on January 20.  With President Biden taking office, the Council stands ready to work with his Administration as it reinvigorates relations with ASEAN and its member nations.
We would like to congratulate the many familiar faces and friends in the Biden-Harris Administration, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, CIA Director-designate William Burns, Deputy Chief of Staff to the Vice President Michael Fuchs, Deputy Assistant to the President and Coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs on the National Security Council Kurt Campbell, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia Lindsey Ford.  We also want to recognize that Council friends Ambassador Sung Yong Kim, the current U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, has been named the Acting Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department, and Gloria Steele, former Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Asia at USAID, has now been named the Acting Administrator of USAID.  The Council enjoyed working with these individuals in previous capacities and wishes them the best of luck in their new roles.
As the Biden-Harris Administration takes its first steps on the international stage, I recently published an op ed in Foreign Policy (accessible here) that outlines a specific path for the United States to re-engage Asia on trade quickly and effectively through the digital economy.  Digital economy agreements would aid the U.S. domestic economic recovery and offer a path that President Biden’s USTR could navigate quickly without Congressional ratification.  This would send a clear signal to our friends and competitors that America is back in trade and in Asia.  I also argue that trade is key to the overall U.S. strategy in the region and will help serve as a foundation to manage critical issues and advance geostrategic goals in the region.
The Council lost an important member of our family on December 30, when Evelyn P. Mariano passed after a noble battle with brain cancer.  Evelyn was our longest-serving employee, starting work in our Manila office in 1992.  For the last 28-1/2 years, she devoted herself to the Council and was an enormously loyal member of staff.  I had the honor to work with Evelyn for the last 11-1/2 years, and I know that she worked as hard as anyone in the Council and was sincerely devoted to our cause.  For a significant amount of time, Evelyn was the sole Council employee in our Manila office and the face and voice of the Council in the Philippines.  She is the only Council employee to have worked for all of the Council’s four presidents since our founding in 1984.  She is dearly missed by her many friends as well as by the Council members and stakeholders throughout ASEAN whom she touched.
The 13th National Party Congress of Vietnam is occurring from January 25 to February 2 to pick the country’s top leadership for 2021-2026, including the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, the President, the Prime Minister and the Chair of the National Assembly.  In addition, the National Party Congress will also set a number of socio-economic goals, such as GDP growth and GDP per capita targets for the next 5-10 years.  During the 12th National Party Congress in 2016, the national socio-economic goals for 2016-2020 were infrastructure development, with an emphasis on sectors such as transportation and energy, and an average GDP growth target of 6.5-7.0 percent.  Due to challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Vietnam’s 2016-2020 average GDP growth only reached 6 percent, with 2020 GDP growth of 2.91 percent.  However, Vietnam was one of the few countries globally that recorded positive economic growth in 2020, thanks to the government’s successful pandemic control.  The government has set its 2021 growth target at 6.5 percent.  Over the medium term, Vietnam strives to become an upper-middle income country by 2030 and ultimately a high-income country by 2045.
The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) released its report on the Section 301 investigation into Vietnam’s currency practices on January 15.  The report details USTR’s findings of the investigation, concluding that Vietnam’s acts, policies and practices related to currency valuation are unreasonable and burden American commerce but not recommending actions or tariff guidelines.  I testified on behalf of the Council at USTR’s public hearing on December 29 and submitted associated written comments.  We applaud Ambassador Robert Lighthizer’s decision not to take action or impose unilateral tariffs on Vietnam and to allow the Biden Administration’s USTR and Treasury Department to work with the government of Vietnam to find a path forward that hopefully benefits American companies, American workers and Vietnam.  A strong U.S.-Vietnam partnership is not only vital to U.S. national economic and geopolitical interests but also has significant effects on our strategic relationships with other countries in the Indo-Pacific.  We look forward to working with the new USTR and Biden Administration to discuss further recommendations on this issue and the way forward to strengthen bilateral relations with Vietnam.
On January 19, the Malaysian government announced that the Movement Control Order (MCO) will cover all Malaysian states except Sarawak starting January 22, as the daily new case count of COVID-19 reached four-digit numbers.  Previously, the MCO only extended over the states of Penang, Johor, Melaka, Selangor, Sabah, and all Federal Territories after a special address by Prime Minister Muhyiddin on January 11.  Following this special announcement, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong declared a state of emergency on January 12, which allows the Prime Minister and his cabinet to expedite law and policymaking without parliamentary approval to combat rising COVID-19 infections in the country.  The state of emergency could last until August 1, 2021.  The announced MCO permits five essential economic sectors to continue operating with strict observance of the COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).  The government of Malaysia had also unveiled a RM15 billion stimulus package on January 18 known as the "Perlindungan Ekonomi dan Rakyat Malaysia" or the PERMAI Aid Assistance to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and to ensure business continuity during the MCO.  For more information, you can refer to the Council’s updates on the MCO here, the SOPs here, and the PERMAI Stimulus Package here.
The Council continues to make the news with our Edges of Southeast Asia project, a collaboration between the Council, Deloitte and the Singapore Economic Development Board.  On January 18, the Straits Times published “Building cities with heart and soul,” the last article in a four-part series to showcase the project.  Initially launched on December 7, 2020, during the Singapore Week of Innovation & TeCHnology (“SWITCH”), the project features a 25-card info pack, each illustrating an emerging trend that draws upon a real case example in the region.  Drawing influence from a diverse range of social, technological, economic and political megatrends to better understand the complex dynamics shaping the business world, Edges of Southeast Asia features high growth potential opportunities within the ASEAN region.  This project highlights the mission of the Council’s Innovation Subcommittee to harness original thought across sectors to drive economic growth.  The inaugural program of the Subcommittee, the ASEAN Innovation Series, will continue with the Indonesia Session in the first quarter of 2021, following the Philippines Session and the Vietnam Session in November and December 2020, respectively.  Please see the Council’s press release here and the Edges of Southeast Asia project here.  The Strait Times four-part series can be found here: part 1part 2part 3part 4.
As the Indonesia Omnibus Law continues to take shape, the Council is pleased to launch our Indonesia Omnibus Law Update Series to provide our members with regular updates on the implementing rules and regulations for the Omnibus Law (Law No. 11/2020).  This series will cover information on draft implementing rules and regulations, input submission and the newly signed implementing rules and regulations.  The government of Indonesia has recently published two Draft Government Regulations (GR) under Indonesia’s Omnibus Job Creation Law, namely 1) Draft Government Regulation on Taxation for Ease of Doing Business, and 2) Draft Government Regulation regarding Utilization of Foreign Workers (which will revoke Presidential Regulation 20/2018 on Foreign Workers Utilization).  We are requesting a consultation with the Director General of Taxes to discuss the Draft Regulation on Taxation.  For any queries, please email Angga Antagia at, Mega Valentina at, Steven Gunawan at, and Rahma Alifa at
In partnership with the Ministry of Planning, Finance and Industry of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (MOPFI) and the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), the Council conducted a webinar for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Myanmar on January 15.  More than 400 owners and executives of Myanmar SMEs participated in the webinar session titled, “Enabling Digital Transformation for Myanmar SMEs during COVID-19,” which is part of broader webinar series focused on how SMEs can respond to the COVID-19 crisis.  The webinar ran for almost three hours and covered two sessions.  In the first session, Director General Daw Aye Aye Win of MOPFI presented the Myanmar government’s policy to equip Myanmar SMEs to face the COVID-19 pandemic followed by a presentation from Permanent Secretary U Minn Minn of the Ministry of Commerce on a digitalization plan to enable digital trade and e-commerce for Myanmar SMEs.  In the second session, Deputy Director General Daw Khaing Shwe War of the country’s Central Bank explained Myanmar’s national payment system strategy to support SMEs.  The second speaker, Deputy Director U Yan Naung Soe of the Ministry of Transport and Communication discussed the cybersecurity issues SMEs face.  Finally, Mastercard’s Country Manager for Thailand and Myanmar, Aileen Chew, explained the importance of the digital economy and shared the benefits of digital payments to help SMEs during COVID-19.
On January 21 the Council hosted a virtual roundtable with newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia Brian McFeeters.  Members based in the United States and the region briefed Ambassador McFeeters on their companies’ investment and interests in Malaysia before the Ambassador heads to Malaysia to begin his posting.  We look forward to welcoming Ambassador McFeeters back to Southeast Asia very soon.
We kickstarted our Virtual Business Mission to the 1st ASEAN Digital Ministers Meeting (ADGMIN) by participating in a plenary session with the ADGMIN alongside the U.S. government on January 21.  The Council will hold its meetings with each of the ASEAN Digital Ministers and the U.S. government’s delegation to the ministerial meeting in the coming weeks.  This is the fourth consecutive mission and engagement with the ASEAN Digital Ministers.  The mission themes revolve around COVID-19 ICT Best Practices, regional and national ICT advocacy issues related to COVID-19, the Virtual Digital Policy Consultative Forum for 2021, and ASEAN digital priorities such as data governance and cybersecurity.  Please contact Ryan DelGaudio at with any questions.
As we enter the new year, we are aware of the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic still presents, including the continued transmission of the disease and its associated health risks as well as the need to safely resume travel and recover the economy.  At the same time, we recognize new opportunities to help countries emerge from the eye of the storm and build back better.  Our COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force’s calendar for the first quarter of 2021 is packed with meetings and government engagements including our first Executive Roundtable Dialogue Series on January 26 where initiatives around testing and screening, vaccine preparedness, vaccine confidence, and PPE stockpiling were presented.  The Task Force initiative around vaccine confidence continues to progress via conversations with ASEAN governments to learn initial insights, and our engagements with Vietnam and Indonesia thus far have been successful.  The governments in both countries are very enthusiastic about participating and moving forward with the exercise.  Our work through the Task Force last year was largely focused on formulating realistic and necessary initiatives for economic recovery.  This year, we will collaborate with stakeholders to roll out these bold, robust initiatives to bounce ASEAN forward.
I wish you a Happy Lunar New Year and a Happy Tet.  May the Year of the Ox and 2021 bring you health, happiness and success!

 Upcoming Events

2021 Virtual Mission to 24th Meetings of ASEAN Tourism Ministers, February 2-5

The US-ASEAN Business Council is registering senior-level executives for its 2021 Virtual Mission to the 24th Meetings of the ASEAN Tourism Ministers (24th M-ATM) taking place virtually from Tuesday, 2 February 2021 to Friday, 5 February 2021.  The mission will consist of an annual plenary session with the Tourism Ministers and/or National Tourism Organizations (NTOs) and will propose bilateral meetings with ASEAN Tourism Ministers, ASEAN+3 Tourism Ministers, and the U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh.  The deadline to register and submit materials is Friday, January 29 COB (SGT).  To register, please click here.  Please contact Lilibeth Almonte-Arbez at and Steven Gunawan at with any questions.

Joint Working Group Meeting to Implement the Memorandum of Understanding with the Philippine Department of Agriculture, February 23-26

On February 23, the Council’s Food & Agriculture Committee will engage the Philippines Department of Agriculture by holding our inaugural Joint Working Group meeting to implement the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Partnerships to Strengthen Agricultural Cooperation signed in September 2020 between our two organizations.  The meeting will also focus on supporting the Philippines government’s post-COVID-19 recovery plan, including the recovery plan for the food and agriculture sector and other agriculture development objectives; advocating for the promulgation of new agri-innovation technologies to address food security and climate change; promoting the harmonization of standards and adherence to international science-based standards; and supporting Philippine agriculture subsectors including trading, animal health, pet care and health, and plant science.  To register, please click here.  For more information, please contact the F&A Team

Ambassador Michael Michalak Joins Panel Discussion on U.S. Foreign Policy Under President Biden at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia Forum
Ambassador Michael Michalak, USABC Senior Vice President and Regional Managing Director, and former U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, joined a panel discussion at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia Forum to provide insights into U.S. foreign policy under the Biden Administration.
Marc Mealy Speaks About the Trade Challenges the Biden Administration Will Face in Asia-Pacific on Voices of America

The Council’s Senior Vice President for Policy Marc Mealy weighed in on the challenges the Biden Administration will encounter in Asia-Pacific trade space on Voices of America.
The Council in the Press
Alexander Feldman Pens a Call for Action to Reinvigorate U.S.-Asia Relations Under the Biden Administration Through Digital Economy Agreements in Foreign Policy
The Council’s Chairman, President & CEO Alex Feldman discussed how trade can revive U.S. strategy in Asia and reinvigorate U.S.-Asian relations under the Biden Administration in an op-ed in Foreign Policy.  
Alexander Feldman Speaks About What the Biden Administration Needs to Do to Fix US Trade Relations with Asia on MoneyFM 893 Weekend Mornings 
The Council’s Chairman, President & CEO Alex Feldman discussed what the Biden Administration needs to do to reengage with ASEAN and fix US trade relations in Asia.
Ambassador Michael Michalak And Marc Mealy Discusses How Businesses Should Go “Glocal” To Grow in ASEAN in The Straits Times
Ambassador Michael Michalak, USABC Senior Vice President and Regional Managing Director, and former U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, and Marc Mealy, USABC Vice President for Policy, wrote how businesses should go “glocal” in Southeast Asia and how they should capitalize on the rising middle-class consumers in the region.
COVID-19 Update

COVID-19 Update 

As of January 26, Brunei Darussalam has three active cases of COVID-19, bringing the country’s total number of cases to 174.  While Royal Brunei Airlines has maintained limited service for essential travel to and from Hong Kong, Jakarta, London, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Melbourne, and Singapore, all other routes remain suspended until March 27.  Additionally, any travelers entering the country must isolate at a designed monitoring center for two weeks and produce a negative test result prior to entering the public domain.  On the vaccine front, Brunei signed onto the World Health Organization’s COVAX plan in September 2020, which guarantees vaccine coverage to half of Brunei’s population.  Brunei’s government is also engaged in talks with several private entities to procure vaccines for another 20% of the country’s inhabitants.  The first doses are expected to arrive in Brunei sometime within the first quarter of 2021.
Cambodia has a total of 453 COVID-19 cases, with 396 recovered cases and 57 active cases.  Although zero people have died in Cambodia from COVID-19 the Cambodian government expressed concerns about future outbreaks due to the recent cluster outbreak from Thai migrants.  On January 16, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that Cambodia would accept a donation of 1 million Sinopharm vaccine doses from China and seek to vaccinate approximately 500,000 people with the supply.  Priority vaccinations will first go to the staff of the King and the Prime Minister, then to the Senate and National Assembly Presidents, medical staff, teachers, police, and taxi drivers.  The government will also continue to seek up to 13 million doses.  On December 31, the Cambodian government announced the reopening of all public and private schools, the resumption of all sport activities, and the reopening of museums and movie theaters.  Currently, there are no movement or curfew restrictions in place, and previous safety guidelines remain in effect.  U.S. citizens are permitted entry (with diplomatic or official visas) and must adhere to quarantine and testing requirements upon arrival.
With over 950,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of January 21, 2021, Indonesia continues to be the hardest-hit country in ASEAN by the coronavirus pandemic.  The nation registered an increase of 300,000 new infections in the month-long interval between mid-December 2020 and mid-January 2021; by way of comparison, only around 180,000 new cases were tallied between mid-November and mid-December 2020.  January 16 saw the largest daily jump in cases since the start of the pandemic, with 14,224 new infections being recorded, and as of January 21, the nation’s death toll stood at 27,203.  The worst-impacted provinces continue to be East, West, and Central Java, as well as the Special Capital Region of Jakarta.  Against this backdrop of surging infection rates – which experts are blaming on an uptick in public travel and other gatherings during the holiday season – Indonesia’s Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) on January 11 authorized the emergency use of the Chinese-made Sinovac Biotech COVID-19 vaccine, which late-stage trials demonstrate has a 65.3% effectiveness rate.  To assuage public concerns over the efficacy and religious (Halal) permissibility of the Sinovac vaccine, President Joko Widodo on January 13 livestreamed himself being inoculated with it – thereby becoming the first Indonesian citizen to receive any COVID-19 vaccine.  His administration aims to vaccinate 1.3 million health workers and 17.4 million other public workers by April of this year, while by March 2022, the Health Ministry intends to have reached a public COVID-19 vaccination rate of 70%.  The government has already secured 18 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine and is slated to receive 50 million doses of both the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines each later in the year.  Meanwhile, public activity restrictions (PPKM) have been extended in Java and Bali through February 8.  Although less stringent than the large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) implemented in Jakarta and elsewhere throughout the country, PPKM restrictions nevertheless require 75% of employees in many businesses to work from home, while restaurants and retail stores can only operate at 25% capacity and must be closed by 7:00PM each night.  As of January 22, foreigners are barred from travelling to Indonesia, except with a valid residency permit.
The total number of COVID-19 cases in Laos remains at 41 with zero deaths, but the government continues closely monitoring infections in the country to prevent a second wave.  All land border crossings and international flights to and from Laos remain suspended with few exceptions.  In late December 2020, Laos received 2,000 doses of Sinopharm’s COVID-19 vaccine from China and has already begun vaccinating front-line medical employees and volunteers.  Around 20% of the population is expected to receive the vaccine by April 2021 through Laos’ membership in the COVAX alliance, a global vaccine program aimed at delivering the COVID-19 vaccine to developing nations.  Approximately 500 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine are also expected to be provided to Laos this month.
On January 11, Prime Minister Muhyiddin announced that Movement Control Order (MCO) will be returning to all Federal Territories, Penang, Johor, Melaka, Selangor, and Sabah starting January 13.  This list was further expanded on January 19 when the government announced that all states expect Sarawak will be under the MCO starting January 22.  Sarawak remains under the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO).  Leading up to the Prime Minister’s announcement on January 11, the daily number of COVID-19 cases in Malaysia had a four-digit rise.  As of January 21, Malaysia added 3,170 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the country’s total number of cases to 172,549, of which 41,755 are active.  After the Prime Ministers’ announcement, the King declared a state of emergency on January 12 lasting until August 1 or earlier depending on how well the country can control COVID-19 infections.  Under the MCO, five essential economic sectors are permitted to operate with strict adherence to the COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).  Inter-state travel is banned across the country and inter-district travel is banned in MCO areas.  On January 18, the government had announced the RM15 billion PERMAI Economic Assistance Package to combat the outbreak and to cushion the economic impacts of the recently announced MCO.  
The government of Myanmar continues to impose travel restrictions until January 31, 2021.  Domestic travel has resumed since mid-December, but travel restrictions and mandatory public health measures remain in force in most parts of the country.  Several travel and tourism operators in Ngapali and Bagan are planning to submit proposals to regional governments to resume operations and start to reopen on a small scale.  On the economic side, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved the second emergency financial assistance in a total of US$ 372 million to help minimize the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.  There are significant developments in the financial services sector where Myanmar technology companies are adapting better to the new COVID-19 environment.  More people have actively started utilizing digital tools for financial platforms rather than using traditional cash payments.  There is also a surge in video conferencing data traffic in 2020 as businesses moved operations online amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.  On vaccine development, the Myanmar Human Rights Commission (MHRC) called for a vaccination priority plan to ensure vaccines are administered to frontline health workers, including volunteers.  Vaccines will then be distributed to top (government) management personnel, the elderly, and people with underlying diseases.
As of January 21, 2021, the Philippines has reported 1,783 new infections, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 507,717. According to the latest daily report, the top areas in the country that contributed the most to the cases are Quezon City, Rizal, Metro Manila, Bulacan, and Cavite respectively. On December 28, 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte officially signed into law the P4.5 Trillion (USD $93.7 billion) 2021 National Budget centered around the theme of “Reset, Rebound, and Recover: Investing for Resiliency and Sustainability,” which prioritizes addressing the pandemic, rebounding by boosting infrastructure development to create new job opportunities, and recovering by assisting communities adapt to post-pandemic life. Out of the $93.7 billion, $4.4 billion will be allocated to the Department of Health (DOH). This includes the allotment of $2.8 billion for the Regular Health Program and $281 million for the New Health Programs/Projects for COVID-19 Responses. On January 21, 2021, vaccine czar Galvez Jr. announced that the Philippines will be receiving up to 40 million free COVID-19 vaccines from the Gavi alliance COVAX facility. According to the timeline, doses of Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine may be the first to arrive in the Philippines in February. Aside from this, the country is finalizing deals with Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson (Janssen Pharmaceuticals), Moderna, and Gamaleya. The government aims to begin immunization in February, hoping to inoculate at least 50 to 70 million Filipinos.
Since December 16, 2020, Singapore has reported 894 new cases, 41 of which were locally transmitted.  The vast majority of Singapore’s new cases were imported.  According to the Ministry of Health, there are currently 242 active cases with 45 of those patients in hospitals.  The Multi-Ministry COVID Task Force allowed for Singapore to enter phase 3 of re-opening on 28 December 2020, which includes the resumption of religious services, organization events, and sports activities.  Newly arrived foreign workers in Singapore must stay at a designated facility and go through an additional 7-day testing process upon completing their 14-day Stay-Home Notice (SNH).  On testing, starting January 22,  all travelers to Singapore, including cargo drivers and logistics workers, must take an Antigen Rapid Test (ART) upon arrival.  The Ministry of Law has extended the relief period for event and tourism-related contracts until January 31.  The government will provide $84 million to the aviation sector.  On December 24, 2020, the Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination submitted its recommendations for Singapore, determining that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be used in Singapore.  The vaccine will be distributed to all medically-eligible Singaporeans over the age of 16, but frontline workers and people vulnerable to the disease will be prioritized.  This includes 10,000 frontline maritime workers who will receive the vaccine by the end of January and all 20,000 aircrew and airport workers.
Since December 15, 2020, more than 8,000 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Thailand in 60 provinces, after around 4,000 cases were reported between January and November of 2020.  The death toll stands at 71, as of January 21.  The vast majority of cases in the new cluster were local infections tied to a shrimp market in Samut Sakhon province, and the cabinet has extended the country’s current state of emergency, due to end on January 15, to February 28.  The Thai government plans to roll out its vaccination program in three phases.  The Department of Disease Control plans to immediately administer Sinovac Biotech’s vaccine to frontline workers and vulnerable populations in areas with high levels of infection in the first phase of vaccination, which will involve 2 million doses.  The second phase will involve 26 million doses administered to vulnerable populations nationwide from May to June.  The third phase is set for the second half of the year and will aim to vaccinate enough of the population to develop herd immunity at the community level.  On January 21, Thailand’s FDA granted emergency use approval for the AstraZeneca vaccine, with 50,000 doses set to be imported by next month.  Thailand also hopes to develop its own mRNA-based vaccine, and this effort is being led by the Medicine Faculty of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok; human trials are expected to begin in April and, if successful, will complement Thailand’s longstanding reputation as a destination for medical tourism. 
As Vietnam prepares for the 13th National Party Congress and the Tet holiday season, the Vietnamese government has tightened precautionary measures and urged the population to maintain pandemic prevention.  Measures in place include testing all delegates at the Congress twice from January 18-23, enhancing inspection, and raising aviation security control to Level 1, which applies to cases of nationally important socio-political events or complex situations of political security and social order.  Hanoi, where the Congress took place, has gone 150 consecutive days without new local transmissions as of January 15 while Ho Chi Minh City last saw local transmission cases 91 days ago.  In January 2021, Thanh Hoa province had caught eight people illegally entering the country and placed them under quarantine.  Earlier in December 2020, the six people that illegally entered Vietnam through Vinh Long province tested positive and have been quarantined before any further local transmission occurred.  In other news, Vietnam has gone more than halfway through the first human trial phase of Nanocovax, a locally produced vaccine for COVID-19 while a second made-in-Vietnam vaccine, COVIVAC, kickstarted clinical trials on January 21.  On January 4, Deputy Health Minister Truong Quoc Cuong announced that Vietnam will receive at least 30 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca with Oxford University in 2021.
Country, Industry and Advocacy Updates
Key Developments 

Cyberattack Targets Malaysian Armed Forces Network
On December 29, 2020, Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) chief Affendi Buang confirmed the MAF network was hit by a cyberattack the previous day.  This incident is the latest in a series of attacks perpetrated against the MAF and Malaysian Defense Ministry networks over the last few months.  Malaysia’s Cyber and Electromagnetic Defense Division thwarted the attack before any valuable intelligence was compromised.  While the hackers were ultimately unsuccessful in their attempt to tap into and presumably steal information from Malaysia’s defense network, the fact that these attacks have become a regular occurrence should raise a red flag.  Although Malaysia’s cybersecurity network is among the safest and best operated in the world, ranked third by the Global Cybersecurity Index, the top Malaysian officials still believe the network possesses vulnerabilities that require increased investment to remedy.  To read more on this, click here.
Singapore Seeks to Modernize Its Armed Forces
On January 11, Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen published an assessment of Singapore’s most pressing security challenges.  According to Minister Hen, between renewed geopolitical competition in Southeast Asia, climate change, and most pressingly, COVID-19, the regional security landscape in Southeast Asia has become volatile and unpredictable.  Additionally, Singapore faces a unique defense threat on account of the nation’s demographics.  Due to Singapore’s low birth rate, the number of new military recruits is expected to drop by a third within the next decade.  In order to ensure Singapore’s security amidst this uncertainty, the defense minister launched a series of “significant and steady investments” to overhaul the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) beginning in 2019.  While a number of these upgrades have focused on traditional weaponry, procuring F-35 fighters from the United States and custom submarines from Germany for example, much of the focus has been on improving the military’s technological capabilities.  Whether these are hardware investments in products like UAVs, surveillance equipment and satellites or software investments in artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, the end goal is the same: preparing the SAF to combat next generation threats.  To read more on Singapore’s military modernization, click here.
Indonesia Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy Sees New Leadership
On December 22, 2020, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo appointed Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno to head the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy as part of acabinet reshuffle, Ministerial Decree No. 133/P/2020, aimed at maximizing economic productivity in 2021.  Sandiago Uno replaces Wishnutama Kusobundio who led the Ministry from late 2019 to December 2020.  Since taking office, Minister Uno has announced three fundamental approaches for the Ministry to adopt going forward – improving innovation in the form of renewed infrastructure, stepping up adaptation of health and safety measures, and increasing collaboration with relevant agencies and stakeholders.  To enhance innovative techniques in the sector, Minister Uno has pledged to focus on developing the five priority destinations, often dubbed as the “five new Balis” – details of these locations can be found here in the Council’s Takes from September 2020.  Acknowledging the important role that diversification of tourist attractions and the creative economy would play to revive the sector, he looks forward to developing ecotourism, medical tourism, and activities that involve sports and the outdoors and to employing digitization and big data to personalize promotional materials.  He has encouraged the continued adoption of CHSE (Cleanliness, Health, Safety, Environmentally Sustainable) protocols by tourism operators to sow trust and confidence in the sector in general.  To ensure sustainable growth and resilience of the industry in the months ahead, Minister Uno has committed to working closely with provincial administrations, educational institutions, as well as other governmental agencies and private businesses.  To read more on this, click here.
Safely, Slowly, and Creatively, Thailand Welcomes Back International Visitors
Since September 2020, the Royal Thai Government has approved a Special Tourist Visa (STV) scheme for foreign visitors from low-risk countries (see here for the Council’s report on the STV) to prepare the hard-hit industry during what would have otherwise been a busy holiday season.  On January 21, the government has subsequently lifted restrictions on the STV thereby welcoming visitors from across the world though they remain subjected to a 14-day mandatory quarantine.  To assure visitors of Thailand's steadfast commitment to its world-renowned hospitality sector with an added focus on health and safety, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has introduced several initiatives, platforms, and mechanisms to best support international travelers.  Among them, the Amazing Thailand Plus offer, launched last month and primarily in partnership with Thai Airways International, provides tourists with over 400 travel packages, including airfares, accommodation at government-accredited Alternative State Quarantine Hotels, as well as tour arrangements post-quarantine for the travel period beginning in December 2020 to April 2021.  For a more streamlined approach to appropriate accommodation for the 14-day mandatory quarantine, TAT has also developed ASQ Paradise – an online one-stop shop where travelers can directly book Alternative State Quarantine/ASQ hotels (those located in and around Bangkok), Alternative Local State Quarantine /ALQ (those located outside Bangkok), and learn comprehensive requirements of what their stays entail. To read more on this development, click here.
Cancellation of the High-Speed Rail between Malaysia and Singapore; Implications for Jurong Lake District Development
The High-Speed Rail (HSR) Project signed in 2016 by the governments of Malaysia and Singapore was effectively terminated on January 1, 2021. With the cancellation of the HSR, potential regional economic gains from improved connectivity and efficient transport are lost. There will also be missed opportunities for the construction and infrastructure sectors, as well as for real estate, foreign investments, and tourism. One of the planned significant development projects that were linked to the HSR project is the development of Jurong Lake District (JLD) in the eastern terminus of the planned railway. JLD is set to be Singapore's second central business district (CBD) with an ambitious, 20-year blueprint for commercial, housing, nature, and transport developments, along with the potential for creating some 100,000 new jobs.  The fact that Singapore plans to proceed with the JLD project indicates that it was not contingent on the HSR.  The mixed-use space, mobility developments such as autonomous vehicles, a new waterway, and other sustainable amenities are intended to benefit locals and will continue to add value to the domestic economy.  Although it is true that the absence of the HSR might lower the attractiveness of the region to companies looking to integrate their Singapore and Malaysia operations and to tourists from KL, JLD promises to be a vibrant and innovative district.  To read more, click here.
Laos Opens 5G-Powered Smart Expressway
On December 20, 2020, Laos unveiled its first smart expressway, the first phase of the China-Laos expressway connecting the capital city Vientiane with Vang Vieng.  To see the Council’s earlier analysis on this, please click here.  The infrastructure project, jointly developed by Yunnan Construction and the Laos government, features IT and communications enhancements from Huawei such as cloud computing and a security management system.  Laos’s 5G network rollout is also planned for this year, and traffic monitoring and emergency response components along the expressway will be integrated to enable the smoother upgrading of infrastructure technology.  The expressway, which will reduce travel time between the two local tourism hubs from 2.5 hours to only 1 hour, is expected to revive tourism for Vang Vieng’s depleted tourism sector.  The new route will also encourage the development of dormant regional resources, allow for better logistical support, and promote increased trade and cooperation with China as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.  The China-Laos railway, a $5.95 billion project, is the BRI’s flagship project in Laos, and will eventually link Vientiane with Kunming in China’s southwestern Yunnan province, building on China’s plan to integrate the mainland Southeast Asia region.  The development of the smart expressway signals more opportunities in the hi-tech infrastructure space as Laos sets its sights on smart city development in the future.  To read more, click here.
Thailand Board of Investment Approves More Incentives For 2021
On December 20, 2020, Thailand’s BOI approved additional incentive measures, including a 50% corporate tax reduction for five years for investment projects worth at least 1 billion baht, an extension of BOI incentives for two additional years (2021-2022) for projects in SEZs in the provinces of Chiang Rai, Kanchanaburi, Mukdahan, Nakhon Panom, Narathiwat, Nong Khai, Sa Kaeo, Songkhla, Tak, and Trat, an extension of BOI incentives for two additional years (2021-2022) in the five southern provinces of Narathiwat, Yala, Pattani, Songkhla, and Satun, with a corporate income tax exemption for 3-8 years, and the establishment of a new SEZ for genomics at Burapha University in Chonburi province.
2021 Philippines National Budget
On December 28, 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte officially signed into law the P4.5 Trillion (USD $93.7 billion) 2021 National Budget or the 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA).  The 2021 budget is the largest in the Philippines’ history, totaling up to 21.8% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which is larger by 10% than the FY 2020 budget.  The national budget is centered around the theme of “Reset, Rebound, and Recover: Investing for Resiliency and Sustainability” which prioritizes the nation to reset by addressing the pandemic, rebound by boosting infrastructure development to create new job opportunities, and recover by assisting communities to adapt to the post-pandemic life.  Notable in the 2021 national budget is the Philippines’ intent to boost the infrastructure projects and support health-related COVID-19 response programs to address the continuing threat of the pandemic.  Furthermore, the Duterte administration will continue to pursue its flagship Build Build Build program, which aims to revitalize the industry and service sectors as well as to support the much-needed social services projects.  In 2021, the Build Build Build program is set to generate 1.1 million direct and indirect jobs and stimulate business activities across the nation.  To read more on the analysis of the 2021 Philippines National Budget, click here.
Singapore Positioned to Become Vaccine Distribution Hub for Southeast Asia
As Singapore prepared to receive vaccine shipments by the end of December last year, it worked to swiftly strengthen its pharmaceutical handling system. The Changi Ready Task Force was established with the purpose of ensuring sufficient carriers, cool storage capacities, cold chain capabilities, and coordination across the industry.  It comprises 18 members from across the Changi air cargo community, in a public-private collaboration involving government agencies, cargo handlers, airlines, and freight forwarders.  National carrier Singapore Airlines (SIA) intends to prioritize the shipment of COVID-19 vaccines above other cargo.  It has signed agreements with cold chain container providers to protect temperature-sensitive vaccine products throughout the supply chain.  Ground handlers SATS and dnata have recently introduced cool dollies – containers for transporting vaccines from aircraft to warehouses in temperature-controlled environments, while SATS has also increased charging points.  The warehouses belonging to both handlers possess adjustable temperature ranges of between -25 degree Celsius and 25 degree Celsius.  Some vaccines, like the Pfizer-BioNTech product, need to be stored at much cooler temperatures (-70 degree Celsius) and will require special packaging and ready access to dry ice.  To read more on this, click here.
Laos Receives Additional Agricultural Development Assistance From U.S.
On December 10, the US Department of Agriculture awarded a grant of more than US$73,000 to the Lao Cassava Association (LCA).  The grant is a part of USDA’s Creating Linkages for Expanded Agricultural Networks (CLEAN) project, a US$9 million commitment by the US to help Laos further develop its agricultural sector.  Funds will support technical training for more than 8,000 LCA members in Salavan province to develop a sustainable cassava seed system that will lead to higher quality planting materials and stimulate the cassava industry, which has the potential of becoming a US$200 million export industry for Laos.  To read more on this, click here.

Current Advocacy 

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (“IMDA”) in Singapore first launched a public consultation in February 2019 to seek views on the Draft Code of Practice for Competition in the Provision of Telecommunication and Media Services.  The second public consultation is now open.  The Code broadly governs areas such as competition, regulatory principles, consumer protection and innovation.  USABC is inviting members to provide inputs.  Please send them to Heidi Mah ( by January 29, 2021.

The Council transmitted members’ inputs via an industry submission to the Government of Indonesia regarding the Draft Government Regulation on Post, Telecommunication and Broadcasting Sectors (Implementing Regulation of Law No. 11/2020).  Of the many advocacy recommendations included in the submission, the Council strongly urged that if the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology would like to strengthen Indonesia’s ability to compete for new FDI and expand existing business activities in the media sector, it should revise Article 14 of Draft Regulation, which would impose a mandatory partnership requirement between telecommunication providers and over-the-top (OTT) providers.  The article would also give the telecommunication network/service providers the right to manage the internet traffic of business actors who do not take part in the mandatory cooperation.
The Council continued to participate in a multi-industry group led advocacy effort with the government of the Philippines regarding the Senate’s effort to amend SBN 1591, the Internet Transactions Act (ITA), in the Philippines, which could impact the domestic e-commerce regulatory environment and cybersecurity rules.  The Council’s value add contributions to the effort are based on leveraging the Council’s partnership with the USG funded RESPOND initiative ( a project which seeks to improve the GOP’s domestic business regulatory formulation processes) to transmit advocacy recommendations from ICT industry members of the Council and our expertise about how other ASEAN governments are approaching updating the legal, policy and regulatory environments in their domestic digital ecosystems.  
The Council is continuing our advocacy efforts regarding the government of Indonesia’s Draft Regulation on E-Commerce Data and Information Submission.  The Draft Regulation aligns with the provisions stipulated in Government Regulation No. 80 of 2019 (GR 80) and its implementing regulation, Minister of Trade Regulation No. 50 of 2020, which require both domestic and foreign e-commerce actors, including platforms and merchants, to periodically submit their data to the national statistics agency, Statistics Indonesia (BPS).  In preparation for our next dialogue with BPS, we convened an industry discussion for USABC members this week to review the Draft Regulation, members’ priority concerns and advocacy recommendations and exchange ideas for how best to package the recommendations we will advocate for to the GOI.
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