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Border patrols nab 29 Thais sneaking back from Malaysia

Jack Burton



Border patrols nab 29 Thais sneaking back from Malaysia | The Thaiger
FILE PHOTO: Nation Thailand
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Border patrol police arrested 29 Thai nationals for illegal entry yesterday, as they were attempting to sneak over the Malaysian border into the Sabayoi district of Thailand’s southern Songkhla province, mostly heavily wooded forest.

The group – 18 men and 11 women – rode through forests on 15 motorbikes to avoid immigration checkpoints. They were intercepted by police on a routine patrol.

The 29 were identified as residents of Tambons Ban Na and Sakom of the province’s Jana district. Most of them had been workerssd in Thai restaurants in Malaysia, but were returning to Thailand out of desperation after the businesses closed due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Officials said they would check their backgrounds to determine if any of them are the subjects of outstanding arrest warrants.

All 29 were immediately sent to a state quarantine facility.

Thais attempting to return illegally has become an increasing problem since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Jack Burton is an American writer, broadcaster, linguist and journalist who has lived in Asia since 1987. A native of the state of Georgia, he attended the The University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, which hands out journalism's prestigious Peabody Awards. His works have appeared in The China Post, The South China Morning Post, The International Herald Tribune and many magazines throughout Asia and the world. He is fluent in Mandarin and has appeared on television and radio for decades in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

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US ramps up presence in South China Sea along with coronavirus rhetoric

The Thaiger



US ramps up presence in South China Sea along with coronavirus rhetoric | The Thaiger

Over recent weeks US Navy ships and Air Force bombers have undertaken high profile missions aimed at telegraphic a clear message to China that the US military intends to maintain a presence in the region. The US is ramping up military pressure on China and tensions in the South China Sea. It’s accusing Beijing of leveraging the Covid-19 pandemic to extend its sphere of influence around the region.

The US Navy Pacific Fleet has also taken the unusual step of announcing that all of its submarines in the region were at sea conducting operations “in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region amidst the pandemic caused by the coronavirus.”

But the US-China tensions around the South China Sea, which extends from southern China, Vietnam’s east and southern coast, the Philippines and Malaysia, didn’t just start with the coronavirus. Tensions have been building for many years.

The military mobilisation comes as the US increases pressure diplomatically with US President Donald Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continuing their public rhetoric blaming Beijing for failing to stem the virus’s spread and not being transparent during the early stages of the outbreak. The Pentagon is now going further accusing China of exploiting the pandemic to gain military and economic advantages by expanding its influence over the South China Sea.

The US Navy Capt. Michael Kafka, a spokesperson for the US military’s Indo-Pacific Command, has repeated the White House narrative.

“The People’s Republic of China is attempting to use the regional focus on Covid to assertively advance its own interests.”

US Gen. Timothy Ray, commander of the Air Force Global Strike command, overseeing the bomber force in the area, ratcheted up the sabre-rattling even further.

“We have the capability and capacity to provide long range fires anywhere, anytime and can bring overwhelming firepower, even during the pandemic,”

At the end of April the US Navy again challenged China’s claims to the waters surrounding the Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea, contested islands that the US has long said China is using to house weapons and military facilities.

US ramps up presence in South China Sea along with coronavirus rhetoric | News by The Thaiger
The South China Sea remains a crucial strategic location, home to some of the busiest shipping routes in the world as well as potential natural resource deposits such as oil and gas. There are multiple claimants to many of the islands and territories, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan. And China.

China has constructed outposts on man-made islands in the disputed area in recent years, installing military facilities and missile storage as part of a bid to exert control over the strategic waterways, according to US officials.

Last Wednesday a US Navy guided-missile destroyer, the USS McCampbell, transited the Taiwan Strait. The US routinely traverses the Taiwan Strait but the Chinese military views the strategic waterway, separating China from Taiwan, as a priority area and often shadows US vessels that sail through the area.

Lt. Anthony Junco, a spokesperson for the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet, says Wednesday’s action was nothing unusual.

“The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

US ramps up presence in South China Sea along with coronavirus rhetoric | News by The Thaiger

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Malaysian authorities round up migrant workers over Covid-19 fears

The Thaiger



Malaysian authorities round up migrant workers over Covid-19 fears | The Thaiger

After the recent debacle in neighbouring Singapore, Malaysian authorities are locating undocumented migrants to contain potential spread of Covid-19. Already around 700 migrants and refugees have been detained in the capital Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia does not formally recognise refugees, regarding them as illegal migrants.

Singapore’s recent surge in Covid-19 case numbers has been mainly from migrant workers living in cramped accommodations.

Those taken into custody include young children and Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Raids occurred last night in downtown KL where thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers live.

The raids and detentions are aimed at preventing undocumented migrants from travelling to other areas as travel restrictions remain imposed to contain the virus.

Inspector-General of Police Abdul Hamid Bador told Bernama that “We cannot allow them to move freely… as it will be difficult for us to track them down if they leave identified locations.”

“Those detained would be placed at a single location for monitoring until the movement curbs were lifted.”

There’s been a wave of public anger and xenophobia in Malaysia over recent days about the presence of foreign migrant workers, particularly aimed at Myanmar’s Rohingya refugees. The accusations, largely unfounded, include them spreading the virus and “being a burden on state resources”.

Malaysia has around 2 million registered foreign workers but authorities estimate many more are living in the Southeast Asian country without proper documents.

Meanwhile former Malaysian PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad has joined the chorus condemning the rejection of Rohingya refugees, saying the authorities’ recent decision to turn away a boat carrying some 400 of them was “inhumane”. Thousands of Rohingya ‘boat people’ take to the sea each year as a way of escaping the attacks from the Tatmadaw, the Burmese militia, and persecution from Buddhist-majority Burmese.

In a blog post, Mahathir said the authorities should instead have given them food and fuel so that they could make their way to another country or return to Myanmar.

SOURCE: Reuters

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Coronavirus Asia

Vietnam flings open the doors, Thailand and Malaysia peek through the curtains

The Thaiger



Vietnam flings open the doors, Thailand and Malaysia peek through the curtains | The Thaiger

Peeking through the curtains and testing the water, or flinging wide the door and going for it. Or somewhere in between.

Some South east Asian countries are starting to make cautious preparations to lift lockdown and travel restrictions. But this isn’t a competition – each country is having to look at the myriad of local issues as they factor in steps to re-open their economies. And every South east Asian country has different priorities.

Vietnam has already ended the government’s “social distancing measures” this week, except in some districts of the northern capital Hanoi. The Vietnamese health authorities reported no new cases for seven days in a row, giving them the confidence of being the first of the ten nations to reboot their economy.

But compared to the rest of the world the numbers in South east Asia have been tiny. In fact, all added up, South east Asia’s reported cases make up a minuscule 1.3% of the world’s cases (despite widespread belief that the numbers in Indonesia are actually a lot higher than reported). In comparison, the case numbers in the US have burst through the 1 million mark in the past 24 hours, with more than 56,000 deaths. Spain, Italy, France and the UK are also still struggling to contain the coronavirus, all with more than 20,000 deaths.

Singapore, an island state of only 5.6 million people, leads the way in the region with nearly *15,000 cases (mostly migrant workers). Meanwhile the most populous of the South east Asian nations, Indonesia, with a population of 264 million, is in second place with *9,511 reported cases. But Reuters today published a report that there have already been 2,200 deaths in the archipelago, three times the officially of *773 deaths.

The stark difference in the tallies, relative to their populations, has been put down to the quality of the testing regimes in the two countries – none of the region’s epidemiologists believe Indonesia is correctly reporting case numbers. The city-state has struggled to control the epidemic, mainly among migrant workers. Singapore has discovered over 7,000 new cases in the past seven days alone.

* Figures as of 1930 Tuesday, Thai time

Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines imposed levels of restrictions after infections started to climb. In Thailand there was a national nighty curfew, closure of all non-essential shops, rules about the wearing of masks and travel restrictions, keeping Thai’s within the borders of their provinces (and some cases within the boundaries of their suburbs).

Today Thailand has extended it emergency decree, a state of emergency giving their prime minister sweeping powers to make instant decisions. The state of emergency now runs to the end of May despite the number of ne cases slowing to a trickle over the past week.

But preparations for easing restrictions around Thailand are now apparent. The cabinet is considering decreasing the level of intensity and scope of restrictions that affect the normal operation of Thai businesses. Thais look forward to a gradual easing of the draconian restrictions in coming weeks.

But the nation’s most pressing problem will be to figure out how to salvage it’s valuable tourism industry, said to contribute from 15-18% of the country’s total GDP. The tourist magnets, like Phuket and Pattaya, have been devoid of tourists for nearly two months and the shops and bars remain shuttered. Although restrictions may soon be lifted, allowing some semblance of trade, there is unlikely to be any resurgence in Thai tourism until sometime in 2021.

A lot will depend on other countries re-opening their borders, the aviation industry finding a way to sustain scheduled flights and a willingness of international travellers to get back on planes. And will they have the money anyway? And will insurance companies provide insurance for travellers until a viable vaccine is on the market?

Bangkok and Phuket remain the areas in Thailand with the most infections and they will be among the last to have restrictions lifted.

Malaysia and the Philippines have both report fewer cases over the past seven days than in the previous seven days. But Malaysian PM Muhyiddin Yassin has now extended the government’s restrictions on internal travel until at least May 12, the third such extension. Like its northern neighbour, Malaysia is, too, being cautious about opening back up too quickly and risking a second wave of infections.

Last week the Philippines’ President Duterte extended the lockdown in Manila, and other high-risk areas until the middle of May 15.

But as South east Asia’s economies peak through the curtains, glimpsing at creating a new-normal, the world’s fastest growing economies now face their biggest test yet – have they opened up again too early?

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