SOVINDA PO |
ASEAN’s response to China lifting its travel restrictions
China abruptly lifted its Zero Covid Policy, on 8 January 2023, allowing travelers to move in and out of the country with no quarantine. Some countries are imposing travel restrictions on Chinese travelers to decrease the spread of COVID-19. including ASEAN countries which have varied responses.
Brunei and Myanmar lifted their travel restrictions on all travelers which have been in place since 2022. Cambodia welcomed the return of Chinese tourists with no quarantine, or prior testing, and will prepare a welcome event for the inbound Chinese travelers. The Cambodian government also urged all private businesses to provide good services and hospitality for Chinese tourists. Similarly, Indonesia and Laos welcomed the inflow of Chinese visitors but their travel must be in accordance with the respective country’s COVID-19 policy, with the government stressing they will be cautious regarding foreign travelers’ regulations. Jakarta is also confident that its target of receiving 253,000 Chinese tourists can be achieved this year while Laos similarly, is hoping for an increase in Chinese travelers.
In contrast, Malaysia will create a special entry point for the arriving Chinese tourists. The government will establish special thermal screening procedures for Chinese arrivals while those who have any COVID-19-related symptoms will undergo further examination. The Malay government encouraged its citizens not to overreact to the incoming Chinese travelers as there has not been any COVID-19 case reported yet. The Philippines, on the other hand, is confident that its current protocols are adequate as most of its population is vaccinated and has adapted to the ‘new normal’. Despite that, Manila still requires incoming Chinese tourists to present the negative COVID-19 test result and is strengthening its monitoring systems for safety assurance.
For Singapore, the government will not impose any restrictions on inbound Chinese visitors but will strictly monitor COVID-19 infection cases. The Singaporean government will uphold its regulations which require all incoming tourists to present their negative COVID-19 test result or their fully vaccinated documentation before arrival as the country is still concerned about the new virus variants.
Similar to Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam have also welcomed Chinese tourists with open arms. In fact, the first group of Chinese travelers to visit Thailand were greeted by three Thai Cabinet ministers while the Vietnamese authorities will set out a plan to quickly attract Chinese tourists. No restrictions, quarantine, or COVID-19 tests are required from Chinese tourists visiting Thailand while Vietnam will put more efforts into improving the quality of its tourism sector to attract Chinese travelers.
Even though South Korea, Japan, Germany, France, the US, among others, are still hesitating to open up to Chinese tourists, many believe the welcoming gesture from ASEAN states was due to the economic benefit brought by the Chinese visitors which is needed for the region’s post-COVID economic revival. Other observers have argued that Chinese travelers are coming to ASEAN countries to receive better COVID-19 vaccines which have been viewed as a concern of the COVID-19 outbreak in ASEAN countries.
Whether ASEAN countries will experience a spike in COVID-19 cases due to the inflow of Chinese travelers remains uncertain, the region’s reopening and associated policies will undoubtedly contribute the ASEAN economic recovery in the long run.
New ASEAN Secretary General assumes his role
The Cambodian Minister Attached to Prime Minister – Kao Kim Hourn – assumed his role as the new ASEAN Secretary-General, appointed at the 2022 ASEAN Summit on 9 January.
The new ASEAN chief highlighted six important priorities, known as the “six P’s” for ASEAN. Those are:
- Peace – focusing on regional stability and security;
- Prosperity and planet – stressing the importance of natural resources, green economy, and climate change;
- People – boosting youth through the bloc’s community building;
- Partnership – enhancing the region’s external cooperation; and,
- Potentials – to maximize the region’s profit and outcome.
With this plan, the new ASEAN Secretary General seeks to empower the region’s young population through strong intra- and inter-regional partnerships. However, realizing this plan will be difficult for the ASEAN chief as significant challenges such as the global recession, geopolitical tensions, and the Myanmar crisis requires nuanced approaches. This is not to mention the maintaining of a good partnership with ASEAN’s external and internal partners.
While the new ASEAN chief has inherited both the achievements and challenges of ASEAN, many hold a strong belief that Kao Kim Hourn will be able to carry out the role effectively with his vast experience in ASEAN affairs.
Myanmar’s Ousted Government raise funds to topple the junta
The Myanmar shadow government, the National Unity Government (NUG), announced that it had gathered over USD 100 million in its effort to bring down the junta. The funds were raised by auctioning properties linked to the military, however, buyers will not gain access until the junta is displaced. Properties sold at auction include the junta’s chief two mansions and other properties obtained by the junta.
Another method of acquiring funds is through the sale of the Spring Revolution special treasury bonds which accounted for 45% of the total funds gathered by the NUG. These bonds allowed buyers from all over the world to easily participate in the NUG’s fundraising efforts.
The exiled government pledged to utilise blockchain and cryptocurrencies with its ambition being to successfully create the Spring Development Bank by February. Although there is no response from the junta yet, the shadow government’s Minister of Planning views these strategies as a means to help bring down the junta within one year, adding that he is confident in regaining control of Myanmar soon.
The effort of the NUG is gaining momentum with this latest fundraiser not just merely as a way to garner funds, but also as a process to apply pressure on the junta in hopes of toppling the regime and reinstating democracy in Myanmar.
Sovinda Po is a Research Assistant at the Griffith Asia Institute.