A fortnightly snapshot of what’s making headlines in South East Asia.

ASEAN leaders to meet over Myanmar

It is reported that Brunei, the 2021 ASEAN chair, has called for a regional leader’s meeting to discuss the situation in Myanmar. Since the military coup on 1 February, activists say that at least 557 people have been killed in a violent crackdown by the military junta. Internet access has also been severely restricted.

Following a meeting between Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, a joint statement was released confirming that both countries had asked their ministers and senior officials to commence the “necessary preparations for the meeting to be held at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia”. China and Russia are reported to back an ASEAN summit.

Thailand shares a border with Myanmar and has been offering humanitarian assistance to those fleeing from the violence. According to Thai officials, roughly 3,000 people from Myanmar’s Karen state crossed into Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province following military air strikes.

While Thailand has more recently expressed harder language on Myanmar’s violent crackdown, some analysts are of the view that close military ties between the two countries and fear of a refugee influx will mean Thailand may remain out of step with other ASEAN states.

Singapore’s Deputy PM Heng Swee Keat steps aside

The unexpected announcement confirms that Heng Swee Keat, the leader of the fourth-generation (4G) of ministers and the designated successor to current premier Lee Hsien Loong, is no longer in the running to become the next Prime Minister of Singapore.

In the press conference Mr Heng cited his age and health reasons for stepping down:

“I would have too short a runway should I become the next prime minister then. We will need a leader who will not only rebuild Singapore post-Covid-19, but also lead the next phase of our nation-building efforts”, he said.

A cabinet reshuffle is set to take place in the coming weeks and a new Finance Minister will be appointed. Political analysts are expecting that the new leadership candidate for the
People’s Action Party (PAP) 4G team, and potential successor to the current PM, will likely be one of the four core members: Mr Chan Chun Sing, Mr Ong Ye Kung, Mr Lawrence Wong or Mr Desmond Lee.

In 2020, the PAP received its worst-ever election result with Mr Heng receiving only 53% of the vote in his constituency. Some analysts have cited this as a lack of public support for his expected future premiership. As Singapore’s finance minister, Mr Heng directed the city-state through the GFC, and in the context of the pandemic has handed out billions of dollars in stimulus in response to Singapore’s worst-ever recession.

Vietnam picks new PM and President

Earlier this week former intelligence official Pham Minh Chinh was inaugurated as Vietnam’s new prime minster. The appointment came as a surprise to many analysts, with many referring to Pham Minh Chinh as a ‘dark horse’ candidate.

PM Chinh succeeded Nguyen Xuan Phuc who was named president—which is mostly a ceremonial job.

These latest appointments come a week after the country’s nearly 500 lawmakers approved Vuong Dinh Hue as the next chairman of the National Assembly. The votes now complete the renewal of Vietnam’s four highest ranking leadership posts: the general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP), the prime minister, the president, and the chair of the National Assembly.

Analysts have been quick to list the challenges PM Chinh will face, including increasing aggression in the South China Sea and domestic challenges as a result of the pandemic.


Dr Lucy West is a Senior Research Assistant at the Griffith Asia Institute.