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ASEAN aiming to develop Universal Healthcare Coverage for all member states

The Thaiger

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ASEAN aiming to develop Universal Healthcare Coverage for all member states | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Pacific Health Care

Promoting universal healthcare coverage for citizens is now a common goal of ASEAN member states. The aim is to grant people access to healthcare without barriers to improve nations’ health and wellbeing of all citizens. Universal healthcare is a hallmark of civilised governments around the world with the UN describing UHC as a right of all citizens.

Deputy Permanent Secretary of Public Health Ministry Dr Supakit Sirilak says the ASEAN Bloc hopes to assist some member states lift the standard of their medical services to provide full universal healthcare, understanding that each nation is at a different stage of economic development. Supakit oversees ministerial collaboration on the health agenda for the ASEAN states.

“Governments of some countries have yet to provide health coverage to civil servants. It would be difficult for them to implement UHC in the near future.”

ASEAN countries fall into three groups progressing on their healthcare development journey.

• Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand have succeeded in setting up successful UHC (Universal Health Care).

“The entire populations of these countries are covered by healthcare insurance.”

• Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam are halfway through the journey to UHC.

“Their governments have passed laws to guarantee healthcare access to citizens but their health insurance programs do not cover every citizen at this stage.”

• Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar lack financial resources to fund free healthcare for citizens at this stage.

“Each ASEAN nation has a different level of health expenditure, showing the gap in health access among citizens in the region.”

For example, in 2016, the average Singaporean spent approximately 74,400 baht per person on health. A person in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand spent from 3,400 – 19,000 baht, while health expenditure per person in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar was less than 3,000 baht per person.

Using Thailand’s journey to UHC as an example, the Minister noted that the Kingdom was a middle-income country that could achieve UHC without getting rich first. Supakit said the success of introducing UHC in Thailand was de to two main factors: infrastructure readiness and long-term commitment from successive governments.

Prior to the introduction of UHC in 2002 (an initiative by PM Thaksin Shinawatra) the Thai government allocated large budgets to improve health facilities including building hospitals in every district and increasing the numbers of rural doctors. Successive political parties committing to the project improved UHC and expanded its benefits.

“But we don’t want just a few countries to achieve UHC. We want to see our neighbours, ASEAN members and the world do it.”

Achieving UHC is one of the main targets in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the United Nations is strongly encouraging the leaders of every country to introduce UHC for the good health and wellbeing of their citizens.

SOURCE: Thailand Today

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Economy

Britain to apply for membership with Asia Pacific free trading bloc

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Britain to apply for membership with Asia Pacific free trading bloc | The Thaiger

In the wake of Britain’s Brexit and separation from the EU trading bloc, the UK is now applying to become part of the free trade bloc made up of 11 Asia and Pacific nations. The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership also includes Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand, a potential market population of around 500 million. The countries generate more than 13% of the world’s income.

The request will be made formally tomorrow by the UK International Trade Secretary. Negotiations are expected to start in March and continue during the northern hemisphere Spring.

There would also be the potential for faster and cheaper visas for business people travelling between participating nations.

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership was formed in 2018 and includes, in alphabetical order, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Former US President Donald Trump pulled his country out of the free trade bloc back in 2016.

The UK hopes the deal will reduce trade tariffs between the member countries. It includes a promise to eliminate or reduce 95% of import charges – although some of these charges are kept to protect some home-made products, for example Japan’s rice and Canada’s dairy industry.

In return, countries co-operate on trade regulations, quality controls and food standards. Member countries can negotiate separate trade deals as well within the bloc. The UK is the first non-founding country of the CPATTP to apply for membership and, if accepted, will be the bloc’s second biggest economy after Japan.

But the International Trade Secretary warns that the short-terms gains for UK households and business will be limited. The UK already has trade deals with 7 of the 11 countries. The reality is that CPTPP nations account for less than 10% of UK exports, a fraction of what it was doing with the EU.

But commentators say that the real advantages could emerge in the future, particular if the US joins, as President Biden has hinted. That would allow a back door deal for trade with the US without necessarily having an individual trade deal with the US.

In total, CPTPP nations accounted for 8.4% of UK exports in 2019.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP was hammered out late last year and is a free trade agreement between the Asia-Pacific nations of Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The 15 member countries account for about 30% of the world’s population (2.2 billion people) and 30% of global GDP as of 2020, making it the biggest trade bloc in history.

Unifying the preexisting bilateral agreements between the 10 member ASEAN and 5 of its major trade partners, the RCEP was signed on 15 November 2020 at a virtual ASEAN Summit hosted by Vietnam.

With the US locked out of RCEP and currently not part of CPATPP, plus its ongoing trade war with China, the US economy is waging an expensive gamble with its isolationist trade policies.

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World

Christmas across Asia: How Thailand’s neighbours celebrate

Maya Taylor

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Christmas across Asia: How Thailand’s neighbours celebrate | The Thaiger
PHOTO: www.ministryofvillas.com

Those of us living in Thailand (and those who holiday here in more “normal” times), are familiar with what Christmas looks like in the Land of Smiles. But what about other Asian countries? Here’s a round-up of what the festive season looks like for some of our neighbours.

Indonesia
Despite being a primarily Muslim nation, Christmas is celebrated by many in Indonesia. A history of colonisation by European settlers means the country is home to a minority Christian population. In Bali, this community is found primarily in the south of the island, where it’s traditional to have a Christmas tree made of chicken feathers and streets decorated with yellow coconut leaves, known as penjor.

Fireworks are also a big part of Indonesia’s Christmas celebrations, with children often allowed to stay up all night on Christmas Eve watching the spectacle. About 10% of Indonesians identify as Christian.

China
Christmas is becoming more popular in China’s larger cities, due primarily to the influence of resident expats. While Chinese children don’t write to Santa, or leave him cookies and milk on Christmas Eve, “peace apples” are popular. These are decoratively-wrapped apples, which are given as gifts.

The reason behind this is apparently because the word for apple sounds like the words “peace” and “Christmas Eve” in Mandarin. Travel outside the big cities however, and into the Chinese heartland, and you will meet people who have had far less interaction with Westerners, and for whom Christmas remains a mystery. This is particularly true of the older generation.

South Korea
South Korea is one of a few Asian countries in which Christmas Day is a public holiday, with around 29% of the country’s population being Christian. Despite Christmas being a “newish” holiday, South Koreans have their own version of Father Christmas, known as Santa Haraboji (Grandfather Santa). While similar to the Western version we’re familiar with, South Korea’s Santa wears a green suit and tops it off with a gat, the traditional Korean hat.

Japan
The Japanese see Christmas as an opportunity to spread good luck and happiness, rather than as a religious festival. Christmas Eve is the main event, when romantic couples traditionally exchange presents. Although Christmas Day is not a public holiday, December 23 is, as it celebrates the Emperor’s birthday.

As with many parts of the world, Christmas is also an excuse for shopping, with brightly-decorated malls filled with people looking for gifts for family and friends.

Malaysia
Being the multicultural melting pot it is, Malaysia celebrates Malay, Chinese, Eurasian and Indian festivals throughout the year, and Christmas is no exception. Christmas Day is a public holiday, but the festive season takes on a more commercial aspect with lesser focus on the religious aspects in the majority Muslim country. Shopping malls in big cities like Kuala Lumpur start getting ready well in advance and you can expect to see them all decorated with giant Christmas trees, Santa figures, and twinkling lights.

SOURCE: Asia Exchange

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Business

Air Asia to focus on ASEAN expansion, as CEO expresses cautious optimism for 2021

Maya Taylor

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Air Asia to focus on ASEAN expansion, as CEO expresses cautious optimism for 2021 | The Thaiger
FILE PHOTO

Air Asia’s chief executive, Tony Fernandes, says the low-cost carrier is planning to expand its presence in Southeast Asia and is in talks to form 3 new airlines. He points out that people still want to travel, and that demand makes him hopeful air travel could be back to its pre-Covid numbers within 6 – 12 months.

“At the right time we will make the announcements, but definitely our strength is Southeast Asia and that’s where most of our expansion is going to be over the next 2 to 3 years.”

Just 3 weeks ago, AirAsia Japan Co has filed for bankruptcy with the Tokyo District Court after rumours the month before the Japanese franchise would cease operations due to the weak demand caused by regional border closures and the weakness in aviation business.

But flights between Japan and destinations such as Bangkok are being operated by other AirAsia subsidiaries.

The Japanese arm of Malaysia’s AirAsia Group Bhd received a provisional administration order from the court 3 weeks ago.

“Given AirAsia Japan’s current financial position, we regret to inform that AirAsia Japan is currently unable to settle the outstanding refunds. We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused to customers who have used or booked AirAsia Japan flights.”

Tony Fernandes says domestic air travel in Thailand is already back to where it was prior to the pandemic* and is likely to surpass previous levels by the end of the year. He adds that Air Asia’s business as more of a medium-haul carrier than a long-haul operation, will stand it in good stead.

Meanwhile, Fernandes says Air Asia is turning a lot of its aircraft into cargo planes, while assessing its AirAsia India operation, a joint venture with the Tata Group. The carrier is also moving further into the digital sphere. Air Asia recently launched a super app, offering digital payment services, delivery services, and an e-commerce platform… and flights.

Fernandes says Air Asia’s digital business is already further ahead than expected, with the carrier applying for digital banking licences in a number of countries in Southeast Asia. It’s understood the company plans to roll out financial lending in Malaysia from January, and also has plans for the insurance and wealth management sectors.

*Fact check – Domestic flight demand in Thailand is currently back to around 60-70% of pre-Covid levels, not back to the same level.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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