CARI Captures Issue 498: Facebook, Google to build undersea cables linking Southeast Asia to the US to advance connectivity between the Asia-Pacific region and North America
(2 April 2021) Facebook and Google are building two new undersea data cables linking Southeast Asia to the US, marking the latest attempt to improve access and infrastructure in major markets like Indonesia and Singapore. Facebook has announced plans to lay two underwater cables connecting the US to Indonesia and Singapore, the first set of cables directly linking Southeast Asia to North America. Facebook says that the Echo and Bifrost trans-Pacific cables, as the company is calling them, will increase the capacity for data transfer between the Americas and Southeast Asia by 70%. The Echo cable is also backed by investment from Google, which says that the cable will run from “Eureka, California to Singapore, with a stop-over in Guam, with plans to also land in Indonesia. Additional landings are possible in the future.” The move is the latest in a growing trend of tech companies like Microsoft and Facebook investing in connectivity infrastructure around the world. Google is an investor in six undersea cables that have already been completed. Until recently, projects like fibre optic cables were primarily undertaken by telecom firms. Around 98% of the world’s internet and telephone communications are now carried by undersea cables, with about 400 in existence as of March 2021, according to Bloomberg. For the firms building the new cables, the projects are about expanding their networks by supporting growth within Southeast Asia.
(5 April 2021) The ASEAN manufacturing sector returned to growth in March, following declines in February, as output and orders increased during March. According to the latest data on the IHS Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), the headline PMI increased to 50.8 in March, from 49.7 in February, signalling a slight improvement in the health of the manufacturing sector. IHS Markit reported that four of the seven ASEAN constituent nations witnessed expansions during March, with Vietnam (53.6) leading the fourth consecutive month of improvement. Indonesia and the Philippines also saw sustained growth during March. Singapore also registered an improvement in manufacturing conditions during March (with the PMI at 50.7), indicative of a slower growth rate than in the past three months. At the national level, Myanmar registered a record-low headline figure of 27.5 as factories remained closed amid political turmoil. In Malaysia, the headline index was registered at just below the 50.0 mark, indicating stable health of the Malaysian goods-producing sector. Meanwhile, in Thailand, the downturn had eased since February, but the PMI at 48.8 signalled a modest rate of contraction overall.
(7 April 2021) Nestlé (Malaysia) Bhd has 7 April launched its pioneering plant-based meal solutions manufacturing facility, the first in ASEAN and one of only two in Asia. The new facility in Shah Alam will cater to the rising demand for plant-based foods and will supply local demand as well as exports. Nestlé Malaysia said it had invested a total of RM150 million in the facility, which has been the main contributor to the RM280 million capital expenditure in 2020, the company’s highest in the last six years. Nestle S.A vice president and chief executive officer for Asia, Oceania and sub-Saharan Africa Chris Johnson said it had chosen Malaysia, and Selangor particularly, as the location of the new manufacturing hub as it had found here the right infrastructure, trade links and access to talent and capabilities. Nestle Malaysia CEO Juan Aranols said the production site would allow it to supply locally produced, high-quality, great-tasting and Halal certified plant-based meals. Nestlé’s new plant has already commenced production of its new Harvest Gourmet plant-based products for the out-of-home market and is soon to launch its consumer range, to be available in retailers nationwide and via eCommerce.
THE PHILIPPINES, ASEAN
(8 April 2021) The Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) launched an incentive fund for Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states collaborating with the Philippines on March 15 during the “The Philippines: Let’s Create Together Country Session”. The ASEAN Co-production Fund (ACOF) is for feature films with a director of ASEAN nationality minority or majority co-producing with the Philippines. It is the latest Film Philippines Incentives Program of the FDCP following the Film Location Incentive Program (FLIP), International Co-production Fund (ICOF), and Film Location Engagement Index (FLEX). Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat opened the Country Session with a statement on how a film is crucial in promoting tourism and culture to local and international audiences. “A memorable, well-made film has a greater capacity to promote tourism and foster cultural understanding than any other medium,” stated Romulo-Puyat. “Even though the pandemic kept people apart, the movies bring us closer together.” Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Undersecretary Rafaelita M. Aldaba noted that there is an increasing demand for new, entertaining, and engaging content across the world. “The generation and production of content are not just limited to a particular market but are undertaken with the potential of being appreciated globally anytime, anywhere,” said Aldaba.
(8 April 2021) Singapore will revise its port dues rates to fund the increased costs of operating and maintaining the Port of Singapore, according to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA). MPA said the revision is also to encourage vessels to make faster turnarounds in the port to allow more ships to be served within the limited anchorage space in the port. MPA noted that these costs have increased since port dues rates were last revised in 2014. Following consultations with industry partners including the Singapore Shipping Association and the Association of Singapore Marine Industries, MPA said the port dues rates will be adjusted over two phases to give companies time to adjust to the new rates. Under Phase 1 which will take effect from Jan 1, 2022, vessels calling at the Port of Singapore to load/unload cargo or to embark/disembark passengers with port stays between two and four days will experience an increase in port dues of up to around 6.0%. Meanwhile, under Phase 2 which will take effect from Jan 1, 2023, the port dues rates for vessels that stay in port for one day or less for purposes including loading/unloading of cargoes, embarking/disembarking passengers, taking bunker or supplies and changing of the crew will also increase.
(7 April 2021) Sony Pictures Entertainment has teamed up with Thailand’s Amazon Falls to set up an amusement park based on productions from its Columbia Pictures studio, in the Southeast Asian country, the companies said on 6 April. The 14-acre Columbia Pictures’ theme and water park, Aquaverse, will be open for the public from October 2021 and feature rides and attractions based on the studio’s popular movies including “Ghostbusters”, “Jumanji”, “Bad Boys”, “Men in Black” and “Hotel Transylvania”.
(5 April 2021) Vietnam’s National Assembly on 5 April elected Pham Minh Chinh, 63, to be the country’s next prime minister, tasked with reviving the economy in the wake of the pandemic while navigating growing U.S.-China tensions. Chinh rose through the ranks of Vietnam’s national security apparatus and has a PhD in Law, was the only candidate for prime minister put forward by the Politburo. He also served on a powerful anti-corruption steering committee. General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, 76, was re-elected to a rare third term on January 31 by the National Party Congress during the once-in-five-year leadership transition wrapping up this week. Former Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, 66, was elected president, allowing him to stay among the country’s top leaders. Vuong Dinh Hue, 64, a former minister of finance and ex-deputy prime minister, was approved as chairman of the National Assembly. In a speech before parliament, Chinh said his administration will “drastically and persistently push for anti-corruption” measures while “continuing with economic reforms, developing the digital economy and focusing on solving difficulties for industries and businesses.”
(8 April 2021) Seven Chinese businesses were added to the so-called Entity List on 8 April to restrict US firms from dealing with the companies. The newly blacklisted companies include Tianjin Phytium Information Technology, Shanghai High-Performance Integrated Circuit Design Center and Sunway Microelectronics, as well as four National Supercomputing Centers in Jinan, Shenzhen, Wuxi and Zhengzhou. The department’s Entity List has existed for years. But during the Trump administration, the US government began adding Chinese businesses to the list at a faster pace, beginning with companies such as Huawei, the global telecommunications giant. The Biden administration is reviewing many of the Commerce Department’s Trump-era policies. So far, officials appear poised to maintain the US government’s confrontational posture toward China. President Biden’s infrastructure plan, for example, highlights the strategic threat posed by China, describing it as a competitor in technology and R&D.
(9 April 2021) Australia has doubled its order of the Pfizer Inc COVID-19 vaccine, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on 9 April, as the country raced to overhaul its inoculation plan over concerns about blood clots’ risks with the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine. Until 8 April, Australia based its vaccination programme largely on an AstraZeneca shot, with an order for 50 million doses, enough for the required two shots for its entire 25 million population, to be made domestically by biopharma CSL Ltd. But Australia has now joined a host of countries in restricting the use of the vaccine due to clotting concerns. Local health authorities have changed their recommendation to say the country’s nearly 12 million people aged under 50 should take the Pfizer product instead. The policy change to Pfizer effectively ends plans to have the entire population vaccinated by the end of October.
(9 April 2021) South Korea unveiled its homegrown supersonic jet fighter on 9 April, joining an exclusive club of military aviation giants and setting the stage for a US$5.2 billion program it hopes will be a top export driver and jobs creator. President Moon Jae-in said after ground and flight tests are completed, mass production of the KF-21 will begin with a goal of 40 jets deployed by 2028 and 120 by 2032. “When full-scale mass production begins, 100,000 additional jobs will be created and we’ll have an added value of 5.9 trillion Korean won (US$5.2 billion). The effect will be much greater if they’re exported,” Moon said. The KF-21 is a joint project between South Korea and Indonesia in which Seoul holds 80% of shares while Jakarta seeks 20%. South Korea says Indonesia is behind in payments to the project, but negotiations will continue. “When the final tests are completed in the future, South Korea will become the eighth country in the world that has developed an advanced supersonic fighter,” a government statement said. Those countries are the United States, Russia, China, Japan, France, Sweden and a European consortium of the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Spain.