Hot lava runs down from the crater of Mount Merapi, in Sleman, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on Monday. Photo: AP
This Week's News Spotlight:
Laos’ China-funded belt and road railway- SCMP| Singapore Hits 70% Full Vaccination as Rules Start to Ease -Bloomberg| Volunteers in Vietnam come to the rescue as coronavirus lockdown hits the vulnerable - SCMP| As Prayuth’s Thailand teeters, is an election, coup or bitter stalemate next? - SCMP |Alibaba fires manager accused of sexual assault - FT
Laos’ China-funded belt and road railway- SCMP
A trainee in Laos learns train signals from a Chinese mentor on the northern outskirts of Vientiane ahead of the opening of the China-Laos railway. Photo: Xinhua
As Laos prepares to launch its section of a pan-Asia rail route that will eventually connect China to Singapore, the project is being seen as a cause of celebration for some and a reason for concern for others.
The Laos section of the route – a 414km, US$5.9 billion high-speed line financed by China – is expected to open this December and will run half the length of the country, from Boten, on Laos’ northern border with China, south to Vientiane, on its border with Thailand.
According to the World Bank, the opening of the Laos line could increase trade flows between China and Laos from 1.2 million tonnes in 2016 to 3.7 million tonnes by 2030. The line will cut the journey time from Vientiane to the Chinese border to less than four hours, compared to 15 hours by car.
While this greater connectivity has been a cause of much excitement among some economists, there are also worries about the costs involved and Laos’ ability to repay China. The project is worth about a third of Laos’ GDP and the country has already racked up an estimated US$1.5 billion in debt to China, according to Vannarith Chheang, a visiting fellow at the Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute think tank.
Singapore Hits 70% Full Vaccination as Rules Start to Ease -Bloomberg
A Covid-19 vaccination notice for senior citizens in Chinatown area of Singapore, on Tuesday, Aug. 3. Photographer: Lauryn Ishak/Bloomberg
Singapore said 70% of its population has been fully vaccinated, and 79% have received at least one dose, giving the city-state one of the best vaccination rates in the world as today it starts to ease social distancing restrictions and restart parts of the economy.
In an effort to vaccinate the rest, the island trade hub said citizens and long-term residents will no longer need to make an appointment to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and can instead walk in to any of the more than two dozen clinics offering it to get a jab. The country earlier this month also made the Moderna vaccine available on a walk-in basis.
Volunteers in Vietnam come to the rescue as coronavirus lockdown hits the vulnerable - SCMP
A woman sits on the pavement opposite a vaccination centre in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Authorities expect it will take months to contain the coronavirus outbreak in the region. Photo: Bloomberg
When Phuong joined Vietnamese community charity Happy Vegetable Trip over a month ago, she was amazed at the amount of work involved in getting free food to those in need. It included mobilising volunteers, keeping track of vegetable stocks, securing permits from local authorities to venture out during lockdown, and ensuring every volunteer had protective equipment.
Since early July, when Vietnam imposed Covid-19 lockdown measures, the charity has been distributing vegetables and fruit to residents of Ho Chi Minh City and its adjacent localities Dong Nai and Binh Duong. Known locally as Chuyen rau vui ve, it buys produce from struggling farmers to support them while also helping to feed others.
Community groups and individual volunteers like this are chipping in to share the burden of the fourth wave as Vietnam’s coronavirus cases continue to soar, fuelled by the Delta variant. The country has reported over 228,000 cases, compared to less than 3,000 in late April, with most infections being recorded in Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s southern economic hub. The death toll has increased to over 3,700.
As Prayuth’s Thailand teeters, is an election, coup or bitter stalemate next? - SCMP
An anti-government protester during a ‘car mob’ rally in Bangkok on August 10. Photo: EPA
In a bitterly divided country, Thais from all political camps are increasingly outraged over the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than 6,700 deaths recorded since April amid a months-long virtual lockdown of the capital Bangkok and its surrounding provinces.
Just 7 per cent of the population has been fully inoculated, with vaccine hesitancy spreading over fears of the efficacy of the China-made Sinovac jab, which Thailand has ordered in large volumes, while the more trusted AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are in short supply.
Prayuth appears to be losing some support among the Bangkok business elite.
Old political players are also reinventing themselves as online stars, including former prime minister Thaksin. From self-exile overseas, his weekly Clubhouse forum draws thousands, re-energising his dormant base of red shirts but also impressing younger listeners who barely remember his premiership.
“Another possible way to change Thai politics right now is for Thaksin to come back,” said academic Punchada of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. “He’s been [on the front foot] all this time, so if the people really ask for his return, it would be legitimate.”
Alibaba fires manager accused of sexual assault - FT
Daniel Zhang, Alibaba’s chief executive, called the alleged assault a ‘humiliation’ for all Alibaba employees © Bloomberg
For Alibaba it follows on the heels of another executive sex scandal last year, and has thrust the company into the spotlight at a time when the government is scrutinising everything from workplace culture and employee benefits to data security and antitrust violations at its large tech companies.
A youth-focused publication under the party mouthpiece People’s Daily said the incident showed: “Not only power must be put in a cage, but capital must be put in too.”