Covid for Asia Street

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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?

Murray Hiebert

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

Sujeev Shakya

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.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is a test of global solidarity and global leadership. The virus thrives on division but is thwarted when we unite.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,
World Health Organization Director-General 

 

February 4, 2021

Dear BGA Clients,

As we go deeper into 2021, the outlines of national vaccination strategies have solidified across much of the region. Even some of the least-resourced countries surveyed have finally begun outlining concrete plans to at least vaccinate health care workers in the coming few months, though nationwide vaccination strategies may continue into 2022 or even 2023 in some markets.

In some markets, previously conservative estimates of first vaccinations in mid-2021 have been revised to more aggressive targets in the nearer future. Domestic pressure for governments to begin rolling out vaccinations, even if only to limited parts of the population, has accelerated timelines in many markets. Public deliberations have also resulted in most countries adopting a posture of first prioritizing health care workers, then the elderly and most vulnerable and then other “front-line” workers. In some countries, this definition is limited to public services, while in others front-liners include workers in vital industries, be they exports, services or transportation.

The rise of more transmissible or vaccine-resistant varieties has also emphasized the need to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines across the region. Public health experts stress that allowing certain areas, especially population-dense countries, to go without vaccines for extended periods of time will raise the chances that deadly new variants emerge, undermining the vaccination process worldwide. While the vaccines developed by major global researchers are so far at least somewhat effective against all new variants, a major shift that further reduces efficacy could set the Asia-Pacific back precipitously.

Governments in the Asia-Pacific also remain steadfast in their determination to combat the virus, with little evidence of major relaxation in movement restrictions — especially in light of recent outbreaks in countries like Thailand and Vietnam. Cautious optimism abounds that 2021 will see the corner turned in the fight against Covid-19, especially as the economic effects of the virus have continued to foment political and social unrest in countries across the region. However, policymakers are nearly uniformly adamant that reopening to international travel is impossible without widespread vaccination.

Questions and comments are welcome and can be directed to BGA Head of Research Murray Hiebert at mhiebert@bowergroupasia.com.

February 4, 2021

Best Regards,

Murray Hiebert,
Director of Research, BowerGroupAsia

Archived Updates: COVID-19

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