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    The Week in Asia – September 2020

    Published On: 25 September 2020

    Asia House Advisory takes a look at the top developments in Asia this week affecting trade, investment and public policy.

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    FRIDAY 25 SEPTEMBER 2020

     

    WeWork sells control of China operations

    WeWork is selling control of its China operations in a further roll-back of its Asia ambitions. The US flexible office operator will give up majority control in its Chinese joint venture, with its local partner, Trustbridge Partners, investing an additional US$200 million to take a majority stake in WeWork China. WeWork will continue to receive an annual license fee in China and will maintain a seat on the board. The move reflects the company’s diminishing global footprint, following rounds of cost-cutting and last year’s failed IPO. The COVID-19 pandemic has also hit the company hard.

     

    New Chinese government bonds fund debuts in Singapore

    The Singapore Exchange (SGX) debuted the world’s largest exchange-traded fund aimed at investing only in Chinese government bonds this week. SGX said the fund has seen significant investor interest, with initial assets under management of US$676 million. The fund may help to capture the investment opportunities from the booming China onshore bond market. The move is the latest in SGX’s efforts to step up access to China for investors in Singapore, and joins a range of initiatives by SGX to build a portfolio of multi-asset offerings. Last month, SGX announced a deal with UK-based index provider FTSE Russell to jointly develop and market an Asian and emerging markets focused derivatives offering.

     

    Malaysia’s opposition leader declares new majority

    Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim this week said he commands the majority of lawmakers needed to topple Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government. Though Anwar has not revealed specific numbers or parties, he claims to have formed a new coalition with a convincing majority among the 222 elected representatives in the lower house of parliament. However, Muhyiddin has released a statement declaring that he is still the country’s legitimate leader until Anwar is able to demonstrate a majority. Six coalition party leaders have expressed support for Muhyiddin to stay on.

     

    ByteDance applies to Chinese government to export tech for TikTok

    ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, has applied to the Chinese government for a license to export its technology as it seeks to conclude a deal for its US business. ByteDance applied this week to Beijing’s municipal commerce bureau for the license after authorities revised export controls in August to include the algorithms that are behind TikTok. The change has given the Chinese government more oversight on any deal involving TikTok. ByteDance is currently in negotiations with Oracle and Walmart to finalise a deal ahead of a ban of the app by US President Donald Trump. There continues to be disagreement on the final terms of a deal, centring largely on who would own TikTok Global, the new US-based company that would be created and would control TikTok’s algorithm.

     

    Singapore agri-business Wilmar to list in China

    Singapore-based agri-business Wilmar International said this week it will raise US$2 billion through a listing of its core Chinese subsidiary. Wilmar has a distribution network covering more than 50 countries, and has its largest operations in China. The move will make Wilmar the latest in a string of major international companies joining the Chinese IPO market. Wilmar’s Chinese subsidiary, Yihai Kerry Arawana Holdings, based in Shanghai, is likely to list on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange by mid-October. The company first announced IPO plans last year, and received final registration approval for the listing last week.

     

    NEXT WEEK IN ASIA

     

    China PMI due next week: China’s purchasing managers indexes for this month are due on the 30 September. An improvement, showing slight growth, is widely expected.

    Most foreigners allowed to return to China: The country will end a ban which prevented foreigners, other than diplomats, from entering during the COVID-19 crisis. Those holding certain types of visas and residence permits will be allowed to return from 28 September.

     

    COVID-19: ASIA ROUND-UP

    HONG KONG: Hong Kong extended social distancing measures until 1 October, anticipating anti-government protests on China’s national day.

    JAPAN: Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has said the central bank is ready to provide more stimulus.

    INDONESIA: Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan extends large-scale movement restrictions in Jakarta for another two weeks, with only 11 essential sectors allowed to operate at half capacity. Finance Minister Sri Mulyani has forecast a deeper economic contraction in Q3 of between 1 and 2.9 per cent.

    MALAYSIA: Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announces an additional stimulus package worth US$2.41 billion.

    THAILAND: The central bank left its key interest rate unchanged and upgraded its GDP forecast slightly.

    SINGAPORE: Singapore will introduce a new outbound business travel pass for senior executives with international responsibilities. COVID-19 task force chair Lawrence Wong outlined some options for a third phase of reopening, and some social distancing measures were further eased this week, including increasing the number of guests allowed at weddings and the reopening of some workplaces.

     

    These COVID-19 insights are taken from Asia House Advisory’s focussed monitoring service, one of the ways in which Asia House is providing analysis on economic and public health policy measures taken by governments across Asia and the Middle East. Please reach out to Ed Ratcliffe, Head of Advisory, at ed.ratcliffe@asiahouse.co.uk for further details on this and our other advisory services.

     


    FRIDAY 18 SEPTEMBER 2020

     

    Yoshihide Suga elected Prime Minister of Japan

    Yoshihide Suga was confirmed the 99th Prime Minister of Japan this week. Suga has chosen to retain a number of ministers from the previous administration in his cabinet – a sign that he is placing high priority on political stability and continuity. Key ministers continuing in post include Finance Minister Taro Aso, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, and Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura. Taro Kono, a rising star and favourite for the premiership in the future, has been appointed Minister for Administrative and Regulatory Reform, and will be responsible for delivering on some of Suga’s highest priorities. The new government is seen as being carefully balanced among the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s internal factions.

     

    Hitachi exits UK nuclear project

    Hitachi announced it is ending its involvement in a nuclear power station in Wylfa, Wales, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason behind the decision. Hitachi, which purchased the Wylfa site in 2012, suspended the project in 2019 after the company failed to finalise a financial agreement with the UK government. The decision is seen as another blow to the UK’s climate change ambitions, particularly in meeting targets of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The UK government has said it is open to discussing new nuclear projects with viable companies and investors.

     

    Oracle reaches preliminary tie up with TikTok in the US

    Oracle, a leading enterprise software provider, has reached a preliminary technical partnership with TikTok parent company ByteDance for its US operations, beating Microsoft to a deal. However, the partnership only gives Oracle a minority stake in the company’s US business, with existing ByteDance investors also likely to have stakes. As part of the deal, Oracle will have to address the national security concerns raised by US President Donald Trump and his administration, and the partnership still requires the support of both the US and Chinese governments. Trump has already raised concerns about the partnership, saying he would not be happy if the deal allowed ByteDance to retain a majority stake. Oracle is set to see gains to its cloud computing business should the tie up go ahead. The Trump administration announced today it will ban TikTok and WeChat from American app stores from Sunday.

     

    Social media giants in Australia stand-off

    A battle in Australia over news sharing on social media has continued to heat up this week. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), in response to a digital platforms inquiry in December, proposed that Facebook and Google should pay local media outlets for content shared on their platforms. In response, Facebook announced it would stop Australians from sharing local and international news on its website if the proposal becomes law. This week the ACCC said that Facebook will be “weakened” if it stops Australians from sharing news so that the company can avoid paying for content, with users likely to move to other platforms for news updates. The ACCC and Facebook are continuing negotiations ahead of the regulator’s final recommendation to the government. The proposed move has drawn strong opposition from US companies that would be affected and could have global implications for digital firms as governments look to find ways to make them pay for content shared on their platforms.

     

    Emerging Asia to see first recession in 60 years

    The Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) latest projections show that developing economies in Asia are expected to shrink by 0.7 per cent this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This will move the region into its first recession in almost 60 years, and shows how quickly the regional outlook deteriorated following the pandemic. The ADB had downgraded the regional growth outlook to 2.2 per cent in April, before cutting it further to 0.1 per cent in June. Now, the region is expected to shrink by 0.7 per cent, although it is expected to recover with 6.8 per cent growth next year.

     

    NEXT WEEK IN ASIA

     

    Ant Group to seek approval for listing on Hong Kong exchange: Ant Group, the financial services unit affiliated with Alibaba, may seek approval for listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange next week. It is set to be one of the world’s biggest IPOs, raising close to US$30 billion.

    China’s central bank to meet: The People’s Bank of China will meet next week and will likely decide to keep key rates on hold. The central bank has held the one year and five year loan prime rates at current levels since April, and is likely to keep that steady.

     

    COVID-19: ASIA AND MIDDLE EAST ROUND UP

     

    CHINA: China has suspended imports from a poultry plant in Arkansas due to COVID-19 cases among workers. The government has also imposed a full lockdown on the city of Ruili in Yunnan province, on the border with Myanmar, in response to new cases of COVID-19 being reported there.

    HONG KONG: Hong Kong has further relaxed social distancing measures today, with theme parks, swimming pools, and bars set to reopen. However, all venues must close by midnight. 1.78 million residents have participated in the China-backed COVID-19 mass testing programme.

    JAPAN: The Bank of Japan maintained its easy monetary policy stance and emergency loan programmes for the economy. Newly elected Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said his priority will be to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has committed US$165 million in funds for the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 vaccine programme, COVAX.

    INDONESIA: Bank Indonesia kept its benchmark rate unchanged for a second straight month, citing the need to maintain stability in the financial markets.

    THAILAND: The government has planned cash handouts worth US$1.64 billion to boost domestic consumption and support the domestic economy.

    NEW ZEALAND: New Zealand reported its quarterly GDP this week, falling into its deepest economic recession on record. GDP contracted 12.2 per cent quarter-on-quarter, and 12.4 per cent year-on-year. The country will lift COVID-19 restrictions across the country, except in Auckland, on 21 September.

    SAUDI ARABIA: The country has partially lifted its suspension of international flights to allow ‘exceptional categories’ of citizens and residents to travel.

    UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: The UAE has issued emergency approval for the use of COVID-19 vaccine that is currently in Phase 3 trials. Front-line workers will have first priority in receiving the vaccine.

     

    These COVID-19 insights are taken from Asia House Advisory’s focussed monitoring service, one of the ways in which Asia House is providing analysis on economic and public health policy measures taken by governments across Asia and the Middle East. Please reach out to Ed Ratcliffe, Head of Advisory, at ed.ratcliffe@asiahouse.co.uk for further details on this and our other advisory services.

     


    FRIDAY 11 SEPTEMBER 2020 

     

    Huawei to replace Google Android on all of its smartphones

    Huawei announced this week that it will install its own operating system on all of its smartphones and expand its app ecosystem. All Huawei phones will run on HarmonyOS, the company’s version of Google’s Android operating system, from 2021. The move to deploy HarmonyOS suggests that Huawei may not resume its collaboration with Google in light of the increasing tensions it faces in both the US and China. Huawei is also hoping, through the development of its own operating system, to help other Chinese developers expand more quickly into the global market and to help global developers better serve Chinese users.

     

    UK-Japan FTA agreed

    A trade deal between the UK and Japan has been agreed in principle, the Department for International Trade announced this morning. The “historic” deal, as Trade Secretary Liz Truss described it, marks the UK’s first free trade agreement since leaving the European Union. Under the terms of the agreement, 99 per cent of UK exports to Japan will be tariff free, while Japanese companies such as Nissan and Hitachi – which have major operations in the UK – will face reduced tariffs on parts imported from Japan. The deal, which will need to be approved by Japan’s parliament, also represents a step forward in the UK’s ambitions to join CPTPP. This week, senior UK trade officials joined discussions with Chief Negotiators from all 11 CPTPP members to explore potential UK accession.

     

    India’s Reliance to raise US$1 billion from Silver Lake for retail arm

    Indian company Reliance Industries this week announced that its retail arm, Reliance Retail Ventures, will receive a US$1 billion investment from US tech fund Silver Lake. The investment will give Silver Lake a 1.75 per cent stake in the company, and is the second investment by the fund into the Reliance Industries conglomerate. Silver Lake earlier this year invested US$1.35 billion in Jio Platforms. The move also comes days after Reliance announced it was buying retail group Future Group’s main units through its retail arm. This will could enable Reliance to compete more effectively with rivals Flipkart and Amazon.

     

    Election campaigns kick off in Myanmar

    Election campaigns kicked off in Myanmar on Tuesday, ahead of elections on 6 November. The election puts 498 seats up for election in the Union Parliament. Of the seats being contested, the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party has to win more than two thirds in order to retain its majority in parliament. In 2015, the party won 80 per cent of contested seats, though notably 25 per cent of all parliamentary seats are appointed by the military. The NLD this year may face stiffer competition from ethnic minority parties as well as the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.

     

    Telkom Indonesia and eBay’s e-commerce site closes in Indonesia

    Blanja.com, a joint venture between Telkom Indonesia – the country’s largest telecommunications company – and eBay, has closed operations. Blanja.com announced a cease in operations from 1 September, citing a change in business strategy. It was hoped that Blanja.com would be able to claim a dominant position in the e-commerce sector by connecting millions of merchants directly to consumers. There are reports of ongoing discussions on merging the platform with Bhinneka.com, one of Indonesia’s oldest e-commerce companies, with Telkom looking at acquiring a 51 per cent stake in the company.

     

    Beyond Meat increases China presence

    Vegan food company Beyond Meat has announced it will build a factory in an economic and technological development zone near Shanghai to manufacture its plant-based meat. The move makes Beyond Meat the first company specialising in plant-based meat to build production facilities in the country. China, which consumes around a third of the world’s meat, is a key potential market for the fast-growing plant-based meat industry, who are hoping that there will be rising appetite for alternative protein products. Nestle last year announced an investment into a plant-based production facility in northern China, and Beyond Meat’s main competitor, Impossible Foods, is exploring opportunities in China.

     

    NEXT WEEK IN ASIA

     

    China-EU high level talks: China and the EU are set to hold high-level talks next week, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel expected to speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Germany currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, and stronger ties between the EU and China is one of Germany’s key foreign policy goals for this year.

     

    Thai anti-government activists to hold overnight rally and protest next week: Anti-government activists are planning an overnight protest and rally of up to 100,000 people next week, to increase pressure on the military-backed administration to step down.

     

    COVID-19: ASIA ROUND UP

     

    HONG KONG: The government is further relaxing social distancing measures this week, with gatherings of up to four people allowed, and a number of venues allowed to reopen including museums and most athletic facilities.

    INDIA: The country is reporting huge numbers of daily cases. However, in New Delhi, bars and restaurants will be able to reopen on a trial basis until 30 September, and a partial reopening of schools for older students will be allowed on a voluntary basis from 21 September.

    JAPAN: Tokyo next week will no longer request restaurants to close at 10pm and will lower its alert level by one notch. The International Olympic Committee has confidence in its preparations for next year’s Tokyo Olympics but is keeping all possible scenarios in mind.

    INDONESIA: Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan has announced the return of strict lockdown measures in the capital city from next Monday – but this has been strongly criticised by the country’s economic minister.

    MALAYSIA: The central bank kept interest rates steady at a record low of 1.75 per cent after four consecutive rate cuts this year.

    SINGAPORE: The government will start distributing contact-tracing tokens from next week in an effort to better track the spread of COVID-19.

    MYANMAR: The government has intensified lockdown measures in Yangon as the country sees record daily rises in cases.

    These COVID-19 insights are taken from Asia House Advisory’s focussed monitoring service, one of the ways in which Asia House is providing analysis on economic and public health policy measures taken by governments across Asia and the Middle East. Please reach out to Ed Ratcliffe, Head of Advisory, at ed.ratcliffe@asiahouse.co.uk for further details on this and our other advisory services.

    Asia House Advisory helps organisations understand new operating environments and meet business-critical challenges. Find out more.

     


     

    FRIDAY 4 SEPTEMBER 2020

    India bans 118 Chinese apps

    The Indian government has banned a further 118 Chinese apps, including Alibaba payments app Alipay and Baidu’s flagship mobile app, as tensions between the two countries continue to rise. The move comes after a ban earlier this summer on 59 Chinese apps including TikTok and WeChat. India is a huge market for many of the apps, with some seeing as many as 175 million installations. The Indian government this week said that the newly blocked apps were “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting” user data to foreign servers. The ban follows increased tensions and skirmishes along the India-China border in Ladakh.

    Citi becomes first US bank to receive fund custody license in China

    Citigroup is the first US bank to receive a fund custody license in China. The license will allow Citi to act as a custodian bank and hold securities on behalf of mutual and private funds in China. The bank has said there are huge opportunities for global players to participate in the recent financial sector reforms taking place in China. Foreign financial services firms have been lobbying for greater participation in the Chinese market, and reforms that have come into place this year are now allowing foreign companies to hold greater stakes in the market. The granting of a license to Citi comes amid a wave of US financial services companies looking to expand further into the Chinese market, despite ongoing tensions between Washington and Beijing.

    Indian Supreme Court gives Vodafone Idea reprieve

    The Indian Supreme Court this week ruled that telecommunications companies could take 10 years to pay back retrospective license fees and penalties. Vodafone has struggled with its Indian venture, Vodafone Idea, as Delhi sought to make major telecoms companies pay a combined US$13 billion in retrospective dues. The judgement provides much needed relief to Vodafone Idea and other companies, which were initially required to pay back the US$13 billion within weeks. The ruling provides some breathing space for the company, but doubts remain as to whether Vodafone Idea, the country’s third largest mobile operator, can survive in India.

    Laos faces sovereign default

    Laos’ foreign exchange reserves have fallen below US$1 billion, less than the country’s annual debt payments. The country is now facing a growing risk of debt distress and sovereign default. Laos Ministry of Finance officials have asked China, their biggest creditor, for advice on possible restructuring. Moody’s last month said that Laos faced “severe liquidity stress, given the sizeable debt payments due this year and persisting until 2025.” Laos faces more than US$1 billion in annual debt repayments until the end of 2024, but reserves were at US$864 million in June. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the strain on the country’s economy.

    Japan adds India and Bangladesh to ‘China exit’ government programme 

    The Japanese government has added India and Bangladesh to a new scheme aimed at diversifying the country’s supply chains. Japanese manufacturers will be eligible for subsidies from a pot of up to US$221 million if they shift production out of China to a list of earmarked countries. The government programme aims to reduce the country’s reliance on a handful of countries in its supply chains, particularly China, and became a more pressing issue at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic with a number of national shutdowns. Earlier this summer, the first round of subsidies were granted to 30 companies relocating manufacturing operations out of China into Southeast Asia.

    NEXT WEEK IN ASIA

    Malaysian central bank to meet: The country’s central bank will meet next week to discuss options to respond to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bank may take the overnight policy rate down by 25 basis points.

    Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) foreign ministers to meet: The SCO meeting of foreign ministers is expected to take place on 10 September in Moscow. The meetings come at a time of heightened tensions between two key members, India and China.

     

    COVID-19: ASIA ROUND UP

    HONG KONG: Hong Kong has relaxed social distancing measures further, with sports facilities reopened and fewer restrictions for dine-in services. Face-to-face classes at school will resume from 23 September.

    INDIA: India’s GDP contracted 23.9 per cent year-on-year in the April to June quarter.

    AUSTRALIA: The national economy shrank seven per cent in the April to June quarter, marking the country’s worst downturn on record.

    THAILAND: The country’s 100-day streak of zero local transmissions has ended, with a prisoner testing positive. The government has also announced US$2.2 billion in cash handouts and job measures.

    VIETNAM: Vietnam will restart international flights with six Asian cities from mid-September: Guangzhou, Seoul, Vientiane, Phnom Penh, Taipei, and Tokyo.

    SOUTH KOREA: South Korea and Singapore have agreed on a ‘green lane’ for essential business travel between the two countries. The government has also announced plans to increase spending aggressively by 8.5 per cent to US$468.3 billion next week to safeguard jobs and boost welfare.

    These COVID-19 insights are taken from Asia House Advisory’s focussed monitoring service, one of the ways in which Asia House is providing analysis on economic and public health policy measures taken by governments across Asia and the Middle East. Please reach out to Ed Ratcliffe, Head of Advisory, at ed.ratcliffe@asiahouse.co.uk for further details on this and our other advisory services.

    Asia House Advisory helps organisations understand new operating environments and meet business-critical challenges. Find out more.