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

The Thaiger

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

Malaysia PM imposes nationwide travel ban, lockdown measures due to Covid-19 spike

Caitlin Ashworth

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Malaysia PM imposes nationwide travel ban, lockdown measures due to Covid-19 spike | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Malaysian PM Muhyiddin Yassin - The Star

As the number of Covid-19 cases continues to climb in Malaysia, PM Muhyiddin Yassin imposed a nationwide travel ban and ordered lockdown measures for Kuala Lumpur and 5 other states for the next 14 days. The country’s prime minister says “our healthcare system is at a breaking point.”

Malaysia was able to keep the coronavirus at bay during the early stages of the pandemic with strict disease control measures. Covid-19 cases were consistently around 100 to 200 cases per day and dropped down to zero daily cases for several weeks in July and August.

While lockdown measures were effective at slowing the spread of the virus, it led the country’s first economic contraction in a decade during the second quarter.

The new wave of infections started in September. Yesterday, the country reported 28,554 active Covid-19 cases with 2,232 daily new infections. Since February of last year, Malaysia has reported a total of 138,224 Covid-19 cases and 555 deaths.

Lockdown measures in Kuala Lumpur and 5 states start at midnight Wednesday. Only essential businesses can remain open including those in economic sectors, as long as they reduce capacity. Interstate travel is banned nationwide.

Malaysia secured 12.8 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and recently announced that they purchased 12.2 million more doses. The first batch is expected to arrive by the end of February.

Malaysia PM imposes nationwide travel ban, lockdown measures due to Covid-19 spike | News by The Thaiger

Active Covid-19 cases in Malaysia as of January 11, according to Worldometers.

SOURCE: Reuters

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World

Malaysia coast guard busts record methamphetamine shipment, possibly smuggled from Golden Triangle

Caitlin Ashworth

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Malaysia coast guard busts record methamphetamine shipment, possibly smuggled from Golden Triangle | The Thaiger
PHOTO: New Strait Times

Malaysia’s coast guard made its largest bust, seizing more than 2 tonnes of crystal methamphetamine that was hidden in packets of Chinese tea. The shipment of illegal drugs, worth 105.9 million ringgit, or 789 million baht, is part of a large-scale drug trade across Southeast Asia, China and Australia.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency director general, Mohamad Zubil Mat Som, says the coast guard noticed a recreational boat moving “suspiciously” off Penang island. The coast guard followed the boat, which turned into a chase when the 26 year old Malaysian driver, the only occupant on the boat, refused to stop.

The driver jumped off the boat. The coast guard later found the man and arrested him. There is a mandatory death penalty for convicted drug traffickers in Malaysia.

The coast guard say they found 2.12 tonnes of crystal methamphetamine hidden in packets of Chinese tea, the largest bust in the maritime agency’s 15 year history. Drug shipments busted by the maritime agency in the past were disguised in similar tea packaging. Officials are still investigating to determine where the drugs were shipped from, but Mohamad suspects it came from Myanmar because of the writing on the packaging.

“It is highly possible that the crystal methamphetamine was smuggled from Myanmar’s Golden Triangle.”

Southeast Asian regional representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Jeremy Douglas, says the region needs to step up and think ahead to prevent future drug shipments.

“As big as two-plus tonnes is – and it’s massive – the syndicates that run the drug trade in Asia can easily replace shipments like this… The region needs a forward looking strategy that addresses root causes if they ever hope to get ahead of the situation.”

SOURCE: Reuters| AFP

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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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