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BGA analysis on how COVID-19 is shaping the region’s current and future course
How Will Covid-19 Reshape Asia’s Security?
As BGA’s ongoing Asia-Pacific Beyond Covid-19 report series as demonstrated, the pandemic has reshaped a range of sectors in the region with important implications for companies, governments, and publics. Among these, few have attracted more headlines than the defense space, which was the subject of our report released in late August.
The report focuses on five key Indo-Pacific states from across the region – Australia, India, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Thailand. It delves into not just the trends and developments affecting these countries today, but how their responses are affecting their postures, alignments, and purchasing decisions with implications that will last for years to come.
The report highlights some general trends as well as some country-specific findings. On the former, while the pandemic has led all five of these countries to reexamine their strategic calculus and boost their domestic defense capabilities in some way, there are also some key differences that come across with respect to how they are adjusting their defense spending, how they have adjusted their alignments, and the degree to which they have used their security forces in responding to aspects of the pandemic.
On the latter, each of the country cases reinforce the importance of understanding the nuances of evolving national responses, which is at the core of BGA’s research process. Australia’s defense approach amid Covid-19 has been notably comprehensive, with keen attention to not only offensive military capabilities but also securing its economy and supply chains. India has had to juggle contending with the pandemic and active border tensions with China and Pakistan, and that has only reinforced existing areas of focus such as strengthening ties with like-minded democracies. And in Indonesia, the pandemic has changed the focus of the Ministry of Defense from “hard” security issues to a broader set of national security issues, including ensuring security and accelerating the national effort to mobilize available resources to produce critically needed health equipment such as ventilators.
To be sure, as with other sectors, the exact impact of the pandemic on the defense sector will be difficult to forecast precisely since it is still playing out across the Indo-Pacific region. But as the report illustrates, Covid-19 is already changing not just specific budget numbers or purchases that are the focus of headlines, but also how countries are thinking about the idea of security itself.
Managing Travel in the Asia-Pacific Beyond Covid-19
While Covid-19 had initially made it difficult for people across the world to travel, countries and companies alike have since been thinking through ways to both manage existing challenges as well as position themselves for future opportunities while keeping safety top of mind.
In a recent column for The Kathmandu Post, BGA Senior Advisor Sujeev Shakya offers some insights as to how countries are coping with this new normal and looking ahead. In the piece, Shakya notes that it is not surprising that instances of forward-thinking have come from extremely trade-reliant and agile countries such as Singapore. “Countries like Dubai and Singapore know a good part of their economy depends on being a transit air point for air passengers. They are quick to get processes done and make people feel welcome.”
But there are also cases outside of Asia that might have lessons for countries within the region to learn from. Fresh off of a trip to Rwanda – one of the first countries to declare itself open to tourists since the pandemic hit – he notes that while challenges and constraints do continue to exist, there have been clear efforts to manage aspects such as Covid-19 testing and information sharing. This opportunity is no coincidence, says Shakya, because Rwanda knows it “can make good facilitation and service a comparative advantage – continuing to push their image as an emerging hub in Africa.”
Shakya notes that these are lessons that some developing Asian countries looking to position themselves can learn from as well, including Nepal where he is based. “The country that can manage this will be the new destination for tourism, investment and economic activities,” he argues. “Nepal needs to learn from countries like Rwanda on how good planning and execution are a must.”
In a reflection of these on the ground developments, BGA’s Asia teams have been monitoring how countries and companies are adjusting to travel and tourism amid Covid-19 and looking beyond it as well. For more, check out some of the previous reports the company has been releasing since June as part of what is now being termed as its Asia-Pacific Beyond Covid-19 series.
“We will build back better from the Covid crisis. Better, stronger, with an answer to the many challenges New Zealand already faced.”
Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand
January 7, 2021
Dear BGA Clients,
In our report this week, as the world turns the page to 2021, the Covid–19 pandemic has continued to afflict nearly every country in the world. Vaccines continue to be developed and approved, leading to cautious optimism that the end of the pandemic is in sight. However, the near simultaneous emergence of highly transmittable variants of the virus has complicated the path forward, tempering optimism with realism.
Vaccine approval continues haltingly across the region. Though leading vaccine candidates have been approved for emergency use in many major markets, including the United States and China, other countries, like Japan, are taking a more cautious approach to approval. Moves by the World Health Organization to endorse certain vaccines have accelerated even some of the more conservative approval timelines, as has the emergence of new viral threats.
Despite the progress on the approval front, distributing and administering vaccines remains a hurdle for every country. Even countries that have contracted enough doses to theoretically cover their whole population this year now face the gargantuan task of immunizing enough of their population to achieve herd immunity. Logistical tradeoffs between efficacy and ease of storage are complicating these debates. Meanwhile, though the COVAX facility will help ensure that the poorest nations will be able to obtain enough of the vaccine to immunize the most vulnerable in 2021, even some major markets, like Indonesia, are unlikely to be able to reach widespread vaccine availability before 2022 or even 2023.
Finally, the rapid spread of new variants found in the United Kingdom and South Africa has sent a number of markets back into travel isolation, either with those countries directly or more broadly. Even without the new variants, countries with strong track records so far, such as Thailand, are seeing unprecedented resurgences of cases. A combination of apathy, frustration and exhaustion is undermining containment protocols in many markets, and policymakers have struggled to balance popular resentment with the needs of the moment.
Questions and comments are welcome and can be directed to BGA Head of Research Murray Hiebert at email@example.com.
Director of Research, BowerGroupAsia