President's Newsletter - February 2021

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

Dear Members,

On February 1, Myanmar declared a State of National Emergency as military Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing assumed all executive, legislative and judicial power for a one-year term.  Key members of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, including State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint were detained just before a new NLD-majority Parliament was set to convene on February 2.  Following this coup d’état, the military government established the State Administrative Council (SAC) as the primary ruling body and appointed key cabinet and administrative positions comprised of active and former military officials, technocrats, and officials from the previous President U Thein Sein Administration.  The Council’s Myanmar team has been working around the clock to keep members apprised of the rapidly evolving situation on the ground with daily updates throughout the first two weeks of the coup accessible here.
Hundreds of thousands of protestors across Myanmar, most notably in major cities including Yangon and Mandalay, have taken to the streets to demonstrate peaceably against the coup.  A parallel Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) also quickly gained momentum as both private and public sector workers began to strike.  As a result, many basic services have shut down, including banks (online banking remains open).  Daily phone and internet blackouts have become a common occurrence in Myanmar since February 1.  The Council, in cooperation with the ASEAN Business Advisory Council and in line with the ASEAN Chairman’s statement, called for urgent dialogue, reconciliation and an immediate return to normalcy in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar in a statement accessible here.
In response to the coup, U.S. President Joe Biden through the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) authorized a new slate of sanctions against Burmese military leaders in an Executive Order issued on February 11.  Immediately following the order, the U.S. Department of Treasury updated its Specifically Designated Nationals (SDN) list to include ten senior military officials and three business entities in the gems and mining industry with direct affiliation with the military.  The full list is accessible here.  On February 22, the SDN list was further updated to include two additional military leaders in response to the Burmese security forces’ killing of peaceful protestors.  The updated list can be accessed here.  Key to note here is the inclusion of only active or former military officials to the SDN list, signaling at least for the time being that the U.S. Government is calibrating its approach to ensure that sanctions remain targeted; that there may be some room for maneuver and dialogue between all key factions involved in the US-Myanmar relationship; and that there is a concerted effort to stifle any repercussions against the local economy and people.  As U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested, “[these designations] do not target the economy or people of Burma, and we have gone to great lengths to ensure we do not add to the humanitarian plight of the Burmese people.”
As we continue to develop and strengthen our channels of communication with new officials in the Biden Administration, the Council will engage in our regular efforts to host introductory member meetings with a wide range of administration officials as they assume their positions.  Aside from preparing priority concerns, I would also urge members to begin thinking about ideas, recommendations and initiatives that you believe would reinforce US-ASEAN relationship in the Biden Administration’s priority areas, including climate and the environment; technology development and competitiveness; and trade policies to benefit America’s middle class.          
Earlier this month, the 13th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) concluded with the election of key leaders who are expected to push for greater reforms and economic growth over the next five years.  The Congress elected a new Central Executive Committee (CEC) of 180 full members and 20 reserve members; the latter do not have voting power in the CEC.  The CEC, in turn, elected a new Politburo of 18 members, most of whom will go on to assume key leadership positions in the State, Government and National Assembly.  While the Politburo will discuss the allocation of positions in the coming weeks, the holders of the top four jobs have been largely identified: i) CPV General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong,  ii) President Nguyen Xuan Phuc,  iii) Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, and  iv) National Assembly Chairman Vuong Dinh Hue.  While some observers may have reservations about General Secretary Trong who, at 77 and ailing, defied CPV rules of a two-term limit to accept a 3rd term (the end of which would see him turn 82), the next three positions in the top leadership will be occupied by men with strong track records of competence in politics and running the economy.
We kickstarted our Virtual Business Mission to the 1st ASEAN Digital Ministers’ Meeting (ADGMIN) by joining FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks and the U.S. government delegation in a plenary session with the ASEAN Digital Ministers. During our bilateral meetings with each of the ASEAN digital ministries, our delegation of 16 members followed up on several of the initiatives we discussed during the plenary session, including our Updated COVID-19 ICT Best Practices document and our ASEAN-U.S. Digital Policy Consultative Forum.  This marked the fourth consecutive mission and engagement with the ASEAN Digital Ministers.
The Council led a 10-member delegation in our Virtual Business Mission to the 24th Meeting of ASEAN Tourism Ministers (M-ATM).  Expedia, Marriott, Airbnb, Agoda, Adobe, Visa, Abbott, BD, AIG, and Netflix offered their perspectives on how to facilitate a safe reopening and return to general travel and encouraged the inclusion of the travel and tourism sector in any economic recovery plan through stimulus and tourism promotion measures at the national and regional levels.  ASEAN tourism officials welcomed American firms’ global insights on ASEAN mind-share in searches, the benefits of rapid testing pending a full vaccination rollout, insurance as a travel and tourism enabler, and how the digital and creative economy could help promote and capture travel demand.  The Council’s presentation was part of the official agenda during the NTO consultation sessions with external organizations (NTOs refer to National Tourism Organizations represented at the senior official or Deputy Minister rank).
Embarking on a three-year revitalization plan of the Council’s 10-year-old SME Program, we have begun to combine the program with our ASEAN SME Academy and scale our efforts to reach significantly more ASEAN SMEs in order to help them grow their businesses as ASEAN emerges from the pandemic.  We will add at least two new languages to the platform, allowing us to reach previously untapped local audiences.  While we will continue to conduct “live” events in-person when possible, the Council will continue offering virtual programming when necessary.  We also plan to produce a monthly podcast featuring more exclusive content and ideas and host a one-to-two day ASEAN SME Summit in 2021, which will convene SMEs from across the region, professional business leaders, and major global companies.  I hope you will view this as a valuable opportunity to help lead our efforts to engage the large and critically important SME sector in Southeast Asia as well as to support our engagements at the regional and country levels.  For more information, please contact Nugraheni Utami at
This year, the Council plans to co-publish the fifth edition of “ASEAN Matters for America.”  This important report, which quantifies the relationship between the United States and the ten member nations of ASEAN in both economic and social terms, has proven to be one of the most cited studies by both U.S. and ASEAN government officials since its first release.  It has always enjoyed a long shelf life, with enormous demand from the business, government and academic communities, and we are proud to partner once again with the East-West Center and the ISEAS Yusof-Ishak Institute in preparing it.  To learn about sponsoring this new edition, please contact Bernie Baskin at  The current version of the publication is accessible here.
On behalf of the Council, I would like to offer our sincere condolences to the Shultz family, the U.S. Government, and the people of the United States on the passing of Mr. George Shultz, former U.S. Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of Labor.  As he declared trust to be “the coin of the realm,” Mr. Shultz understood the importance of Southeast Asia and the value of building and maintaining long-term relationships there to establish American credibility.  During his tenure as Secretary of State, Mr. Shultz attended seven major ASEAN meetings.  One of Mr. Shultz’s favorite stories, which he shared frequently, was how early in his tenure as Secretary of State, he spent a weekend at his home in California discussing global politics with Henry Kissinger, Lee Kuan Yew and Helmut Schmidt.  He told the Council that this group gave him the best tutorial on geopolitics of his career and helped form the foundation of his six-year tenure at the State Department.  We will deeply miss George Shultz and remember his great contributions to American diplomacy.
Thank you as always for your support.

 Upcoming Events

2021 Virtual Business Mission to the 7th AFMGM, March 25 - April 9
The US-ASEAN Business Council is now registering senior-level executives for its 2021 Virtual Business Mission to the 7th ASEAN Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors' Meeting (AFMGM) from March 25 - April 9, 2021.  The AFMGM will be hosted virtually by Brunei Darussalam. Along with our annual plenary session, the mission will consist of proposed bilateral meetings with the ASEAN Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors.  Please contact Steven Gunawan ( and Alberto Coria ( if you would like to join.

Alex Feldman Co-Presents Asia Foundation Taskforce Report on Urgent Issues in U.S.-Southeast Asian Relations

The Council’s Chairman, President & CEO Alex Feldman speaks on the challenges and opportunities surrounding infrastructure for the U.S.-ASEAN relationship.

COVID-19 Update

COVID-19 Update 

As of February 25, Brunei Darussalam has four active cases of COVID-19, bringing the country’s total number of cases to 185.  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, the Chinese government donated an undisclosed number of Sinopharm vaccines to the Sultanate on February 10.  These are the first vaccines Brunei has received.  YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar, Brunei’s health minister, indicated in January that the government is seeking to inoculate 70% of the population by the end of 2021.
Cambodia has a total of 568 cases, with 95 active cases and 473 recovered cases.  The recent spike of over 100 cases was related to the February 20 community outbreak.  All schools in Phnom Penh and Kandal were closed for two weeks, effective February 23.  The Ministry of Health has also closed 23 locations in connection with the February 20 community transmission.  Almost 391 of total cases have been acquired internationally, and the Ministry of Health of the Kingdom of Cambodia has issued guidance for strengthening health measures in transmission-sensitive regions.   On January 15, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced Cambodia would be accepting a donation of 1 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China, seeking to inoculate 500,000 people in the coming months.  On February 4, the Ministry of Health authorized the use of China’s Sinopharm vaccine within the Kingdom, and on February 7, Cambodia received its first shipment of 600,000 doses.  The vaccination campaign began on February 10, with first round of vaccinations targeting high priority groups including health care workers, frontline officials, and volunteers.  Between February 10 and February 19, an estimated 21,611 security personnel and civilians were inoculated.  In addition, Cambodia anticipates receiving 7 million doses through the WHO's COVAX Institute for future vaccinations.  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 1.3 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of February 25, Indonesia continues to be the hardest-hit country in ASEAN by the coronavirus pandemic.  The nation registered an increase of around 300,000 new infections in the month-long interval between mid-January and mid-February 2021 – roughly on par with the number of new cases that were tallied between mid-December 2020 and mid-January this year.  The nation’s testing-positivity rate hit a record high on February 16, with 38.3% of COVID-19 tests that day coming back positive.  Health officials fear the country’s coronavirus epidemic is beginning to get “out of control.”  On February 17, the government initiated the second phase of its vaccination campaign, and has since begun vaccinating public officials (such as teachers, police officers, and other civil servants), individuals whose profession requires intensive social interactions (such as market vendors, journalists, retail workers, and athletes), and citizens over the age of 60.  This comes shortly after the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) authorized the use of the Chinese-made Sinovac Biotech COVID-19 vaccine for Indonesia’s elderly population, following clinical trials in China and Brazil that indicated the vaccine posed no risk to senior citizens.  Phase II of Indonesia’s vaccination campaign seeks to inoculate 38.5 million people by May 2021, using a combination of the Sinovac, Pfizer, Novavax, and AstraZeneca vaccines.  Meanwhile, to combat vaccine hesitancy, the government has announced it will now penalize citizens who refuse to inoculate against COVID-19.  The penalties range from paying a fine to losing access to government-provided social services.
As of February 25, Laos has only 3 active cases and 42 recovered cases.  Although approximately a few thousand people enter Laos through international checkpoints per week, Laos maintains a low caseload by remaining vigilant with COVID-19 testing and enforcing a 14-day quarantine period at a quarantine center for all arrivals.  However, international and commercial flights remain closed, with the exceptions of sporadic international flights and weekly UN humanitarian flights.  Visas likewise continue to be suspended for all foreign nationals (business and diplomatic visas may still be permitted).  Public health measures remain in place, but many public activities have resumed operation, including public transportation, restaurants, grocery stores, entertainment venues, and schools and universities.  Large gatherings and religious ceremonies are also permitted.  On February 8, Laos received 300,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine.  In addition, Laos previously received 2,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, and the country has already begun to vaccinate 600 frontline workers.
Malaysia currently has 30,475 active cases, as of February 23.  In the past month, over 100,000 new cases have been recorded with a record high of 5,728 new cases on January 30.  The spike in cases peaked in early February and is now declining.  This prompted the government to extend the Movement Control Order (MCO) “MCO 2.0” for the most active areas of Selangor, KL, Johor, and Penang until March 4.  Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador said 2,285 compliance operation teams will be on daily duty, and 529 roadblocks have been established nationwide. However, economically MCO 2.0 is less strict than last year’s MCO. MCO 2.0 allows for manufacturing, construction, and various other services to continue operating, allowing approximately 90 percent of the economy to continue functioning.  Malaysia has secured vaccines from a variety of companies and countries, including Russia and China, to cover 110 percent of the population.  The vaccines should start arriving the week of February 21.  Malaysia’s total COVID-19 case count stands at 274,875 with 1,030 lives lost.
As a result of the recent military coup in Myanmar, several COVID-19 restrictions and policies may change.  Previous COVID-19 orders are to be followed until further notice.  As of February 17, the military government has continued to impose travel restrictions and suspend commercial flights until April 30.  COVID-19 testing rates have significantly decreased.  According to the Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS), despite recent political developments, vaccination is expected to continue as planned and the ministry has also permitted the private sector to import vaccines.  Even though there has been delays in vaccine arrival from India, the vaccines are expected to arrive on February 11.  However, the vaccination programs have encountered setbacks due to a shortage of healthcare workers in labs and care centers due to the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM).  Locally, according to state-owned media, the military government will focus on re-opening factories, markets and some pagodas across the country in line with current COVID-19 rules and regulations.  Although there are plans to reopen public schools for the next academic year, education officials have responded negatively.
As of February 24, the total number of active COVID-19 cases in the Philippines has reached 30,978.  The Philippines expects the arrival of its initial supply of COVID-19 vaccines to arrive as early as this month.  The Philippines's vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. announced that the government had secured at least 25 million more doses of COVID-19 vaccines for Filipinos by negotiating with U.S.-based Moderna for 20 million doses and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen Pharmaceutica) for 5 million doses of its single-dose coronavirus shot.  Initial doses of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are expected to arrive as early as the third quarter of 2021.  To date, the government has signed term sheets to secure 30 million doses of Novavax’s vaccines, 17 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, and 25 million doses of Sinovac’s vaccines.  On top of this, the Philippines is also expecting up to 44 million doses from the COVAX global facility.  On February 18, the government has been in talks to transition areas with no transmission of the COVID-19 disease to the “new normal”.  For the month of February, areas under GCQ include Metro Manila, Cordillera Administrative Region, Batangas, Tacloban City, Iligan City, Davao del Norte, Davao City and Lanao del Sur.  The rest of the country is under MGCQ, the most lenient quarantine classification before the new normal.
Imported cases as well as a few instances of local transmission have elevated Singapore’s active COVID-19 case count to 86 as of February 25.  The Building and Construction Authority allowed for a maximum of 8 people in households at a time during the crucial Lunar New Year time.  An amendment was given to the Act on the Use of Personal Digital Contact Tracing Data, allowing for TraceTogether data to be used in criminal investigations regarding serious offences.  Regarding specific sectors, the government gave significant attention to transport and harbor workers.  Over 52,000 workers in the transport sector have been vaccinated and all harbor workers received negative results during sweeping tests on February 9, according to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.  On February 17, the first shipment of the Modena vaccine arrived after receiving approval on February 3 from the Ministry of Health.  The Ministry of Finance released an assessment on COVID-19 relief and budget 2020, and Singaporean households receive about $2,000 per member on average.  There is close to $100 billion committed for the evolving response of the COVID-19 situation.  As of February 18, Singapore has a total case count of 59,784 total cases, of which 123 are active.
More than 2,000 new cases were reported in Thailand since the beginning of February, with almost half of the 166 new cases reported on February 15, which the government attributes to mass testing in the Pathum Thani and Samut Sakhon provinces.  The recent cluster outbreak at the Pornpat market in the Pathum Thani province, with 182 total confirmed cases, prompted a temporary closure order.  However, the virus caseload appears to be slowing, and the death toll currently stands at 83;  with over 24,000 recovered cases, the caseload stands at 1,165 as of February 18.  On the vaccine front, on February 11, the Royal Thai Government announced a two-phase vaccination plan beginning this month, with an aim to administer vaccines to 60 percent of the population by the end of 2021.  The first phase of vaccination, from February until June, will rely on 2 million doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine, and the first shipment of 200,000 vaccines is scheduled to arrive on February 24.  The Thailand Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved emergency use authorization for the Sinovac vaccine on February 22.  The second phase of vaccination will be carried out from June to December, and authorities plan to administer approximately 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine each month.  These 61 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are set to be produced locally by Siam Bioscience starting in June.
Vietnam has witnessed a surge in COVID-19 cases after recording no local transmission cases since November 30.   Since January 27, Vietnam confirmed two outbreak clusters with one in Hai Diong province and another in Quang Ninh province.  Since then, the outbreak has spread to other localities, including Hanoi, Ho Chi Ming city, Quang Ninh, Gia Lai, Binh Duong, Bac Ninh, Dien Bien, Hoa Binh, Hai Phong, Bac Giang, Ha Giang.  As of February 12, there has been 553 local transmission cases in 13 cases and provinces.  On February 9, Ho Chi Minh City authorities announced the closure of all non-essential businesses and entertainment activities such as bars, beauty salons, gyms, karaoke parlors, night clubs, massage parlors, and movie theaters until further notice after the city recorded more than 25 cases in a single day.  Religious gatherings will be limited to 20 people.  However, gas stations, retail stores, pharmacies and medical facilities will remain open with strict preventive measures.  Hanoi authorities also suspended a celebration to mark the 232nd anniversary of the Ngoc Hoi as well as Huong Pagoda festivals in order to curb cases.  The Ministry of Health on February 12 said that the situation has been under control after aggressive contact tracing and testing operations, and the expected confirmed cases in the next few days will be within the quarantined locations.  On January 29, Vietnam's Ministry of Health approved a vaccine of AstraZeneca PLC for domestic inoculation.  The government is already in talks to secure 30 million vaccines doses and plan to have the vaccines in the first quarter.
Country, Industry and Advocacy Updates
Key Developments 

Myanmar Military Government Announce Legislative Changes
On February 14, the State Administrative Council (SAC) announced amendments to the Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure.  The amendments lay out penalties for actions such as defaming, inciting, assisting or conspiring a negative image of the junta, which are considered high treason and punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment between seven to 20 years.  In addition, it was announced that those intending to stir public fear can be fined or imprisoned up to three years.  This covers both speech and writing about the government or defense services and are not limited to Myanmar citizens.  Earlier this week, the SAC also enacted a new law that allows authorities to enter private properties to search and seize evidence and arrest or detain individuals for more than 24 hours without any warrant from the courts.  The government also reinstated some provisions from the 2012 Ward or Village Tract Administration Law, which sets a mandatory requirement to report all overnight guests to authorities.  The latest legislative development was on February 16, in which the State Administrative Council (SAC) added amendments to the already enacted Myanmar Electronic Transactions Law.  Under these amendments, individuals convicted of creating misinformation with the intent to cause public panic and social division or those convicted of inciting cyber violence or cyber-attacks with the intent to threaten or disturb national sovereignty, peace and stability face penalties of up to three years in prison or fines.
The Coup’s Effects on Business Development in Myanmar
As the political instability in Myanmar continues, foreign businesses have started to reassess their investments and ongoing projects in the country.  Following Kirin’s decision to terminate business with the military-owned conglomerate, Myanma Economic Holdings Public Co. Ltd. (MEHL) and the Singapore-based tobacco company Rothmans Myanmar Holdings Singapore (RMHS) have also decided to pull out of a joint-venture with military-linked Virginia Tobacco Co., the country’s biggest cigarette maker and the owner of Red Ruby and Premium Gold brands.  More Japanese companies, such as Suzuki Motor Corp, All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Denso, have put their operations on hold.  Ford Motor Myanmar has also announced the temporarily closure of its showrooms and service centers.  Additionally, Singapore-based Puma Energy, which has been operating the country’s largest fuel import terminal and has been fueling aircraft including those of the Myanmar Air Force, suspended all operations in Myanmar.  In addition, Thailand property developer, Amata has also been reported to have suspended work on a planned project in Yangon.  The Yangon Amata Smart and Eco City project had been designed under the NLD leadership and is a part of the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) development plan.
Cambodia National Internet Gateway Announced
On February 16, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a sub-decree outlining the establishment of a national internet gateway (NIG), which requires internet service providers to re-route all services through this single gateway within 12 months.  The 11-page sub-decree details measures for all internet traffic routed through the NIG to be monitored by a government-appointed regulatory body.  According to the sub-decree, managing internet connections through the NIG will support authorities in “[enhancing] national revenue collection, [protecting] national security and [preserving] social order.”  Furthermore, as the new regulation also applies to internet traffic from overseas, the NIG aims to optimize network management and reduce costs for the nation’s telecommunications sector.  Under the sub-decree, all internet service providers are required to ensure that users complete online forms with correct identities, and those who fail to connect networks to the NIG are subject to penalties.  Additionally, the NIG operator is mandated to submit traffic reports regarding internet activity to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPTC) and the Telecommunication Regulator of Cambodia “monthly, quarterly, half-yearly and annually for around seven days at the end of each month, each quarter, every six months and each year.”  It also remains to be seen if Cambodia has sufficient infrastructure and technical expertise to implement the scope of the sub-decree, and there is a possibility that the country will have to rely on importing technical expertise in order to enforce the measures outlined.  While the Kingdom’s digital sector has significant growth potential and a promising atmosphere for a digital economy, this new development has the capacity to stunt future growth if misuse and serious restriction occurs. Click here to read more about Cambodia’s NIG.
U.S. Reaffirms Commitment to Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines over South China Sea
On January 28, U.S Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called Philippines’ Foreign Secretary Theodore Locsin Jr. to reaffirm the importance of the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty and "its clear application to armed attacks against the Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, which includes the South China Sea."  The readout from the call noted that both countries are committed to continue building upon a relationship founded on shared strategic interests and history, democratic values, and strong people-to-people ties.  Secretary Blinken’s call came after the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest on January 28 with the Chinese embassy.  The archipelagic country protested China’s new Coast Guard Law that authorizes China’s coast guard to fire on foreign vessels and destroy other countries’ structures located in territory claimed by China.  The law — which has come into effect on February 1, was passed by China’s legislative body, the National People’s Congress standing committee on January 22.  It prescribes rules that allows Chinese coast guards to use “all necessary means” to stop or prevent threats from foreign vessels and forcibly halt, board, intercept, and inspect foreign vessels in waters claimed by China, among others.  Without any response from President Rodrigo Duterte over the matter, the lack of clarity in Manila as to how to respond to the new law remains.  However, President Duterte's decision to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and subsequent suspension of that decision make operational coordination uncertain and leave both sides’ commitments unclear during VFA renegotiations.
Philippine House of Representatives and Senate Ratify CREATE bill
On February 3, the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives ratified the bicameral committee report on the proposed Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Act, which aims to reduce the Corporate Income Tax (CIT) rate for businesses across the nation.  If signed into law, the CREATE Act will lower corporate income tax from 30% – the highest among the 10 ASEAN countries – to 25% for large businesses and 20% for small businesses.  As the government’s economic team predicts that the growth rate of the Philippines’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will bounce to 7.5% to 8.5% this year, the CREATE Act is projected to strengthen the country’s economy by providing incentives to all businesses and attract more foreign direct investments.  Among others, the CREATE Act will also exempt Value Added Tax and other duties on the importation of COVID-19 vaccines, personal protective equipment (PPE), and treatment and clinical trial drugs.  To read more about the CREATE bill, click here
Singapore Launches Ambitious 2030 Sustainability Agenda
On February 10, Singapore unveiled a series of sweeping sustainability targets it aims to achieve by the end of the decade in its Singapore Green Plan 2030 (the “Plan”).  As outlined in a comprehensive press release and on the Plan’s website, by 2030 Singapore intends to quintuple its solar energy deployment to 2 gigawatt-peak (GWp), source 30% of its nutritional needs from local producers, reduce the volume of waste sent to landfills per day by almost one-third, become a leading center for green finance in Asia and globally, and plant one million new trees, among other priorities.  The Plan is being spearheaded by five ministries – the Ministries of Education, National Development, Sustainability and the Environment, Trade and Industry, and Transport, but is supported by a “whole-of-nation sustainable development agenda” that will “strengthen [Singapore's] ongoing efforts” to adhere to the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and other international agreements.
Vietnam aims to modernize its Economy through AI and Digitalization
On January 26, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc approved the National Strategy on AI Research, Development and Application by 2030 (Vietnamese), aiming for Vietnam to be top four in ASEAN and top 50 in the world in terms of artificial intelligence (AI) research, development and applications by 2030.  Under the strategy, Vietnam aims to build 10 high-prestige AI brands in the region, develop three national centers on big data and high-performance computing and connect big data and higher performance computing centers nationwide through a network and form 50 open datasets in all socioeconomic fields to better serve AI research, development and application.  The strategy also put forward some orientations such as document systems related to AI, developing AI ecosystem and boosting the applications of AI.  Earlier on January 11, Vietnam also launched the construction of the National Innovation Center (NIC) which is worth up to VND740 billion (US$32 million) located in Hoa Lac Hi tech park on the outskirts of Hanoi.  The center aims to develop Vietnam’s start-up and innovation eco-system, contributing to growth transformation model based on science and technology development.  It plans to boost domestic and international innovative businesses, laboratories, offices of large corporations, as well as a working place of leading experts and scientists.
Launch and Implementation of the ASEAN Customs Transit System (ACTS)
As part of ASEAN’s ongoing process to develop the region into a single production market as outlined within the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint 2025, developing the ASEAN Customs Transit System (ACTS) remains a critical project.  The ACTS is an online transit management system that aims to make the overland transport of goods more efficient and less costly without the need to make repeated customs declarations or changes of vehicles at each participating ASEAN countries’ border.  The features of ACTS include a single online customs transit goods declaration, a single bank guarantee, a single vehicle and the availability of the system in multiple ASEAN nations.  With the simplifications and practicality of the system, there are benefits that come with it, such as lower logistics costs, quicker movement of goods, a higher rate of customs compliance and a secured customs system.  There are several steps that a company needs to execute before getting the approval to utilize the system.  The process includes registration for basic Authorized Transit Trader status and then a separate process for simplified procedures and a guaranteed reduction.  In order to be accepted, traders must also meet the minimum requirements.  For a complete registration guide, please click here.  For a list of contact information for participating ASEAN countries’ customs officials, please click here.
Thailand Cabinet Approves $7 Billion Cash Handout Stimulus
On January 19, Thailand’s cabinet approved a 210 billion baht (approximately US$7 billion) cash transfer program as a stimulus measure to boost domestic consumption.  The program seeks to provide direct cash transfers of up to 7,000 baht per beneficiary for an estimated 31.1 million people, a majority of whom are low-income earners.  Payment will be delivered weekly beginning February via the government’s federal e-wallet application, and the cash must be used to purchase goods and services from registered sellers by the end of May.  The government also approved a co-payment program which will enable 1.34 million people to register for an additional 3,500 baht subsidy.  According to Finance Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, this latest cash transfer stimulus is expected to boost gross domestic product by 0.5 to 0.6 percent; in conjunction with the co-payment program, economic growth is estimated to be bolstered by 1 percent altogether.  After the cash-transfer is distributed, the government is expected to still have more than 200 million baht available from the original 1 trillion baht borrowing for additional economic relief.  In addition to remaining funds from the loan, there is an investment budget of 290 million baht for state enterprises for this year which will further stimulate economic recovery.
Malaysia Economic Growth Projections
Despite Malaysia’s recent uptick in COVID-19 infections and the implementation of new MCOs, Moody’s Investors Service released a report declaring that Malaysia maintains an A3 credit rating.  This is due to projections of economic growth rates remaining steady in the medium run, the government’s extensive COVID-19 containment measures, and the four economic stimulus packages that have been implemented.  Bank Negara Malaysia, the country’s central bank, maintained a 1.75 percent interest rate after its first meeting of the year.  A rate cut of 25-basis points was expected, but the decision to remain steady reflects a hopeful economic projection by both Moody’s and Bank Negara.  Malaysia is also expected to benefit due to the expected 2021 economic recoveries in its two largest trading partners, the U.S. and China.  Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul gave an interview where he discussed the government’s position on MCO 2.0’s effect on the economy.  He discussed the contrasts between the first MCO last year and MCO 2.0.  “Probably half of the workforce is working now but 90 per cent of the economy is still moving. In terms of losses, the first MCO cost RM2.4 billion (US$592 million) a day, the loss now is about RM700 million a day so the impact is less,” he said.  Deficit spending is a key factor the government is looking at.  Minister Zafrul was confident the deficit would not go beyond 5.4 percent
Indonesia Begins Second Phase of Vaccination Campaign
Indonesia initiated the second phase of its vaccination campaign on February 17. This phase will start in Java and Bali, covering public officials (including civil servants, teachers, and police officers), individuals with intensive social interactions (e.g. market vendors, journalists, athletes, workers in transportation and hospitality industries), and elders (citizens over the age of 60).  This development comes shortly after Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) authorized the Sinovac vaccine for elders.  Having successfully vaccinated 1.5 million health workers over the past month, Indonesia plans to administer vaccines to 38.5 million people by May this year.  This phase uses Sinovac (China), Pfizer (US), AstraZeneca (UK), and Novavax (US-Canada) vaccines.  The latter three are expected to arrive this month through public health facilities.  This month, the President issued Regulation No. 14/2021, which assigns COVID-19 Vaccine procurement to international institutions and domestic companies, in addition to SOEs.  This regulation also mandates COVID-19 vaccines and penalizes those who refuse with fines or losing access to public services.
Gotong Royong Vaccines
Led by the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (KADIN), domestic and foreign private businesses are working side by side with the government to amplify the vaccination effort.  Through the “Mutual Assistance” or so-called “Gotong Royong” scheme, the non-subsidized vaccines will be provided for up to 30 million private sector employees throughout the country, starting in March.  The program prioritizes labor-intensive sectors such as the automotive and textile industries.  However, companies in all sectors can register their employees with conditions that they must include all staff, not just the Board of Directors, and do not charge any employees.  Each dose will be available with a price tag of up to IDR 1 million (US $71).
Philippine Province Cancels US$10 billion Airport Development Contract with China-led Consortium
A Philippine province last month canceled a US$10.2 billion contract with a China-led consortium to upgrade the Sangley Point International Airport.  Located near Manila, the Sangley Point airport is being expanded to reduce congestion at Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport.  The project will require a significant land reclamation operation in Manila Bay, and once completed, will enable the Sangley Point airport to receive more than 100 million travelers per year.  The consortium's contract was terminated due to "various deficiencies" in the documents it submitted to the Cavite provincial government.  To local administrators, this demonstrated that the consortium's members — which included the Chinese state-owned enterprise China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) and the Philippine aviation firm, MacroAsia Corporation — were "not fully committed" to the project. Cavite province reopened bidding for the undertaking on February 15, and aims to begin "with a more qualified partner" by October of this year.

Current Advocacy 

Call for Input: Vietnam Personal Data Protection Law
The Vietnam Ministry of Public Security (MPS) on February 9 published a new draft of the Personal Data Protection Decree (PDP Decree).  The draft is open for public comments until April 9.  Unlike other normal decrees, the PDP Decree does not implement a specific law and as such will require a more stringent process for adoption, including review and approval by the National Assembly.  Please find hyperlinked a translation of the draft decree and an analysis by the Council.
Below are the key takeaways from the Decree:
  1. Definition of terms and protection regime generally follow EU’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) but some definitions are too vague or too broad.
  2. The decree creates Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) within Cybersecurity Agency in MPS with broad powers.
  3. Onerous licensing requirements are mandated for the processing of sensitive personal data and for the transfer of personal data out of Vietnam.
  4. Local copy of data is mandated.
  5. 3-year storage of cross-border transfer records is mandated for personal data.
  6. MPS-run annual audit of Data Processor involved in transferring personal data out of the country is mandated.
  7. Data Processors run high risks for administrative fines which can go up to 5% of total revenue.
The Council is preparing a submission to MPS and the government on the new draft.  Please send your comments to Vu Tu Thanh ( and Minh Vu ( by COB Friday, March 26.  The Council will circulate the draft for members' review before submitting to the MPS and the government by April 9.  A formal call for input will be circulated.  The Council is also preparing an advocacy program on the PDP Decree, including commissioning a report on international best practices on data privacy to policymakers, conducting roundtable and workshops.  To indicate interest in sponsoring this advocacy program or for more information, please contact Vu Tu Thanh (, Hai Pham ( and Minh Vu (
Call for Input: Thailand Implementing Regulations Pursuant to PDPA
On February 17, 2021, Thailand's Ministry of Digital Economy and the Office of Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC), held a virtual public consultation on the draft implementing regulations pursuant to the PDPA.  There will be a total of three batches of notifications that the Thai authorities will seek input from.  The first batch contains 8 notifications on the following topics:
  1. Consent
  2. Privacy Notice
  3. Sensitive Data
  4. Rules and Policy on Cross-Border Data Transfer
  5. Responsibilities of Controllers
  6. Security Measures
  7. Data Protection Officers
  8. The Complaints Process
An unofficial summary of the document in English is currently in development and will be circulated once received.  The Council is devising recommendations on the 8 topics and requests inputs from members.  The deadline set by the Thai authorities is February 28.  Although the Council is putting in a request for an extension, members who would like to comment are encouraged indicate interest to Shay Wester (, Heidi Mah (, and Ryan DelGaudio ( early. 
Indonesia BSSN Regulation No. 8/2020 on Security System in Electronic Systems Operations
As part of the implementing regulation of GR 71/ 2019 on Electronic Systems and Transaction Operations, Indonesia’s National Cyber and Crypto Agency (BSSN) issued Regulation No. 8/ 2020, which mandates Private Electronic System Operators ("Private ESOs") to provide self-assessments for Electronic Systems to BSSN for verifications based on the risk categorization which are Strategic Electronic Systems, High-Risk Electronic Systems and Low Risk Electronic Systems.  The Council submitted inputs to BSSN on this regulation and is working with BSSN officials to schedule an upcoming consultation meeting.  Please contact Kim Yaeger ( and Steven Gunawan ( with any questions about this.
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