Indonesia military academy hit by COVID-19 outbreak

BANDUNG, Indonesia: Nearly 1,300 people at a military academy in Indonesia have tested positive for the coronavirus, an official said, as the country struggles to contain the epidemic.

The Indonesian Army Officer Candidate School in the country’s most populated province of West Java has been quarantined and 30 people were initially hospitalised with mild symptoms, the army’s chief of staff, General Andika Perkasa, said late Saturday (Jul 11).

Of the 1,280 confirmed infections, 991 were cadets and the rest were staff and their family members, he said. Most had no symptoms.

Seventeen were still in hospital on Saturday.

The outbreak was first detected when two cadets went to a medical facility after complaining of fever and back pain.

Both tested positive for COVID-19, sparking mass swab testing at the academy, which has 2,000 staff and cadets.

It is not clear how the cadets were infected, Perkasa said, but some staff live outside the military complex.

The governor of West Java apologised for the outbreak and urged residents to restrict their movements in and out of the neighbourhood where the academy is located until it is brought under control.

Indonesia is the hardest hit country in Southeast Asia with more than 74,000 known cases of COVID-19 and over 3,500 deaths.

The real toll is widely believed to be much higher, however, with experts saying limited testing was understating the true scale of the crisis.

The World Health Organization recently urged Indonesia to do more testing.

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Start-up city: Vietnam’s young invest ideas in Ho Chi Minh City

HO CHI MINH CITY: A tech-savvy population, a fast-growing economy, and the perks of being first in an emerging market – Vietnamese entrepreneur Le Thanh saw the potential in booming Ho Chi Minh City for his start-up transforming coffee grounds into masks.

The 35-year-old chemistry graduate worked for two multinationals before stepping out on his own three years ago to launch ShoeX – a sustainable footwear company which nimbly pivoted to masks as the coronavirus pandemic struck.

When he entered the workforce, Thanh was drawn to the higher salaries and no-nonsense working culture at foreign companies he assumed were a cut above local firms, tangled up in rules imposed by his country’s staid Communist rulers.

“But now I see there are more openings in a place where things are a bit murky,” Thanh told AFP from his buzzing Ho Chi Minh City co-working space.

He is not alone in believing Vietnam – and especially its southern commercial centre – is poised to become an innovation hub thanks to its young, educated and digitally active population.

READ: New co-working space in Jurong, more funds for deep-tech start-ups to spur innovation

Vietnamese e-commerce and e-payment companies have been “flooded” with private equity in the past couple of years, said Eddie Thai, a Ho Chi Minh City-based partner at venture capital firm 500 Startups.

Their rise has been stellar.

Vietnam-based start-ups made up 18 per cent – or US$741 million – of the capital invested in Southeast Asia in 2019, up from 4 per cent in 2018, according to a report by Cento Ventures.

Although Indonesia remains the leader, the amount pumped into Vietnam start-ups pushed ahead of Singapore for the first time in 2019, the venture capital firm said.

The gold rush comes in spite of cumbersome regulations for foreigners, Thai told AFP, making it difficult to invest and repatriate capital.

Vietnam-based start-ups made up nearly 20 percent of the capital invested in Southeast Asia last
Vietnam-based start-ups made up nearly 20 per cent of the capital invested in Southeast Asia last year. (Photo: AFP/Manan VATSYAYANA)

Last year, popular e-wallet platform VNPay reportedly snagged the largest deal in Southeast Asia, attracting US$300 million from Softbank’s Vision Fund and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC.

And although Thai said investment had paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, Vietnam is well-placed to bounce back.

Its economy unexpectedly grew in the second quarter and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts a 2.7 per cent expansion for the year despite the global downturn.

The country also has a huge pool of software engineers who cost substantially less than their Indian or Chinese peers.

And unlike the tech talent in wealthy start-up hubs such as San Francisco or London, they understand what consumers in the emerging world want, Thai says.

EXCITING, YOUNG ENVIRONMENT

Air pollution – and then the outbreak of COVID-19 – prompted Thanh to take a gamble on sourcing Vietnamese coffee waste material to turn it into masks.

His cutting edge design uses woven fibre made from coffee grounds to make a washable outer layer, with a biodegradable filter inside.

Le Thanh worked for two multinationals before stepping out on his own three years ago to launch
Le Thanh worked for two multinationals before stepping out on his own three years ago to launch ShoeX. (Photo: AFP/Manan VATSYAYANA)

“I took a risk and hoped it would succeed,” he said, adding that there had been a surge in orders of his masks from Europe, the US and Japan since they launched in April.

A similar strain of environmental innovation courses through many other smaller start-ups in a country among the most vulnerable to climate change.

They exploit the high tech literacy of the population – 70 per cent of which is under 35, according to the World Bank – to sell new products to a receptive market.

Bui Thi Minh Ngoc wanted to find a sustainable alternative to standard menstrual products, searching for months to find the right organic cloth for her sanitary pad business GreenLady Vietnam, which she operates largely on Facebook.

“In Vietnam, there are not many specialising in period products and reproductive health,” the 26-year-old said as she checked material samples at a tailor in Hanoi.

“But I like to do things which are difficult.”

Bui Thi Minh Ngoc wanted to find a sustainable alternative to standard menstrual products
Bui Thi Minh Ngoc wanted to find a sustainable alternative to standard menstrual products. (Photo: AFP/Manan VATSYAYANA)

While Vietnam is yet to produce any truly “disruptive technology”, said Trung Hoang of local investment platform VinaCapital Ventures, China has shown what is possible.

The Asian giant – also an autocratic one-party state – has managed to incubate dynamic tech behemoths like Alibaba and Tencent that have risen to the forefront of the industry.

Back in his Ho Chi Minh City office space, packed with young professionals, Thanh fizzes with enthusiasm for Vietnam’s start-up culture.

“I am in this exciting and young environment. It’s inspired us all.”

Indonesia reports another suspected Sumatran tiger poisoning

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia: Another Sumatran tiger has been found dead in the second suspected poisoning of the critically endangered cats in less than a week, Indonesian conservation officials said on Monday (Jun 29).

Authorities said in both cases locals likely targeted the tigers for attacking their livestock, underscoring the increasing human-animal conflict in the Southeast Asian archipelago.

On Monday, the conservation agency in South Aceh on Sumatra island said it found the carcass of a tigress near a farm.

“There weren’t any hunter traps or physical wounds and we suspect (it) was poisoned,” said agency chief Hadi Sofyan, adding that an autopsy was being conducted.

Last week the buried carcass of a male tiger was uncovered in North Sumatra’s Batang Gadis national park with poisoning also the suspected cause of death.

Locals, including a village head, said the killing was orchestrated by farmers who were angry the tiger had killed their livestock, a park spokesman said at the time.

Officials also tranquilsed and relocated another tiger after it was caught in West Sumatra
Officials also tranquilsed and relocated another tiger after it was caught in West Sumatra AFP/ADI PRIMA

READ: Four suspected poachers arrested in Indonesia for killing critically endangered tiger

Also on Monday, a female tiger was relocated from a plantation in West Sumatra.

Conflicts between humans and animals in Indonesia often happen in areas where rainforests are being cleared to make way for palm oil plantations.

In the past year Sumatra has also seen a spate of fatal tiger attacks on humans.

Indonesia is battling rampant poaching which accounts for almost all Sumatran tiger deaths, according to TRAFFIC, a global wildlife trade monitoring network.

Sumatran tigers are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with fewer than 400 believed to remain in the wild.

Tiger parts are widely used in traditional medicine – particularly in China – despite overwhelming scientific evidence they have no beneficial value.

COVID-19: Malaysia to lift restrictions on theme parks from Jul 1

PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia announced on Monday (Jun 29) it would allow theme parks to reopen from Jul 1. 

Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Ismail Sabri Yaakob said it would involve 54 theme parks including water theme parks and a workforce of more than 10,000 nationwide.

“For theme parks, the limit of visitors allowed to enter depends on the capacity and size of the theme park. Visitors also have to register with MySejahtera and undergo body temperature checks and hand sanitisation,” he said in his daily media briefing.

READ: Malaysia resumes travel, haircuts and retail therapy as coronavirus curbs ease

It was also announced that temperature screenings for mall and hotel visitors would be relaxed.

Checks would only be conducted once when they enter the building, Mr Ismail said.

However, he added operators of all theme parks and shopping malls must adhere to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) such as social distancing at all times.

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In Thailand, it’s statues of democracy leaders that are disappearing

BANGKOK: Certain historical statues have been disappearing in Thailand, but they are not effigies of colonialists or slave owners torn down by protesters.

Instead, Thailand’s vanishing monuments celebrated leaders of the 1932 revolution that ended absolute monarchy in Thailand, who were once officially honoured as national heroes and symbols of democracy.

Reuters has identified at least six sites memorialising the People’s Party that led the revolution which have been removed or renamed in the past year.

In most cases it is not known who took the statues down, although a military official said one was removed for new landscaping.

Two army camps named after 1932 leaders were rechristened on the orders of the office of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, according to an item published without comment in the Royal Gazette.

Officials in the military, government and the palace declined to answer questions submitted by Reuters regarding the removal of statues and renaming of military camps.

Some historians say the missing monuments reflect an ideological battle over Thailand’s history.

On one side is military-royalist conservatives whose supporters idealise traditional culture, with loyalty to the monarchy and King Maha Vajiralongkorn seen as the highest virtue.

On the other are populist parties, activists and academics who have risen to prominence in the last two decades, culminating in two military coups that ousted elected populist governments in 2006 and 2014.

In recent years, the conservatives have been in the ascendancy. Elections last year kept coup leader Prayut in power through a vote that opposition parties said was rigged – an accusation that he and Thailand’s courts deny.

Since the election and last year’s elaborate coronation of King Vajiralongkorn, a major People’s Party monument in Bangkok and at least three prominent statues of People’s Party leaders at military sites have been removed, and a museum commemorating the revolution in the northern city of Chiang Rai was renamed.

Months after King Vajiralongkorn took the throne, a plaque marking the spot where the 1932 coup was proclaimed was replaced with one bearing a royalist slogan. No explanation for the change was given.

A representative of the National Defence Studies Institute – where a statue of 1932 revolutionary Plaek Phibunsongkram disappeared in January from the front of its headquarters – said on condition of anonymity that it had been moved for landscaping outside and could not say when or if it would be returned.

PEOPLE’S CONSTITUTION

Thailand officially has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932, and its traditional culture is deeply invested in the monarchy as a unifying – and for some, semi-divine – institution.

The king remains powerful and the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the current monarch’s father, was widely revered during his 70-year reign until his death in 2016.

Tradition mandates all Thais prostrate themselves before the king and his immediate family, and insulting the monarchy is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

In recent years, successive military leaders including Prayut have portrayed their critics as potential threats to the monarchy.

But since last year’s disputed election, demonstrations against military dominance have increasingly identified with the 1932 revolution, said Chatri Prakitnonthakan, an architectural historian at Silpakorn University.

Wednesday (Jun 24) is the 88th anniversary of the revolution, and pro-democracy activists plan to defy coronavirus bans on gatherings to protest what they say is the subversion of the principles of democracy by the military.

“We want to commemorate the 1932 revolt,” said activist Anon Nampa, who is organising a pre-dawn protest at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, the largest and most prominent remaining symbol of the 1932 revolt.

“I think the young generations are looking back at that era and draw parallels about today, about how power is being abused.”

In remarks on Tuesday, Prayut did not directly address the protests, but he told people “don’t violate the monarchy and don’t violate the law.”

China reports 12 new coronavirus cases on the mainland

SHANGHAI: China had 12 new coronavirus cases on the mainland on Jun 23, down from 22 during the previous day, the country’s health authority said on Wednesday (Jun 24).

Seven of the total were located in the capital Beijing, down from nine on the previous day. The capital has seen a new outbreak linked to a wholesale food market, with more than 250 people infected since Jun 11.

China also reported three new imported cases, down from nine a day earlier, and three new asymptomatic cases, down from seven.

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North Korea suspends military action plans against South Korea

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has chaired a meeting of the ruling party’s Central Military Commission and decided to suspend military action plans against South Korea, official KCNA news agency reported on Wednesday (Jun 24).

The meeting also discussed documents outlining measures for “further bolstering the war deterrent of the country,” KCNA reported.

Political tensions between the rival Koreas have been rising over plans by groups in the South to fly propaganda leaflets over to the North, which Pyongyang claims violates an agreement between the two aimed at preventing military confrontation.

In recent weeks the North blew up a joint liaison office on its side of the border, declared an end to dialogue with the South, and threatened military action.

Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, warned last week of retaliatory measures against South Korea that could involve the military, without elaborating.

The General Staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) later said it has been studying an “action plan” to re-enter zones that had been demilitarised under an inter-Korean pact and “turn the front line into a fortress.”

North Korea’s military was seen putting up loudspeakers near the demilitarised zone (DMZ), a military source told Reuters on Tuesday. Such systems were taken down after the two Koreas signed an accord in 2018 to cease “all hostile acts.”

Satellite images suggest Chinese activity at Himalayan border with India before clash

NEW DELHI: In the days leading up to the most violent border clash between India and China in decades, China brought in pieces of machinery, cut a trail into a Himalayan mountainside and may have even dammed a river, satellite pictures suggest.

The images, shot on Tuesday, a day after soldiers engaged in hand-to-hand combat in the freezing Galwan Valley, show an increase in activity from a week earlier.

India said 20 soldiers were killed in a premeditated attack by Chinese troops on Monday night at a time when top commanders had agreed to defuse tensions on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), or the disputed and poorly defined border between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

READ: India says 20 soldiers killed in deadliest clash with China in decades

China rejected the allegations and blamed frontline Indian soldiers for provoking the conflict which took place at the freezing height of 4,300 metres in the western Himalayas.

The 4,056-kilometre border between India and China runs through glaciers, snow deserts and rivers in the west to thickly forested mountains in the east.

The Galwan Valley is an arid, inhospitable area, where some soldiers are deployed on steep ridges. It is considered important because it leads to the Aksai Chin, a disputed plateau claimed by India but controlled by China.

The satellite pictures, taken by Earth-imaging company Planet Labs and obtained by Reuters, show signs of altering the landscape of the valley through widening tracks, moving earth and making river crossings, one expert said.

The images shows machinery along the bald mountains and in the Galwan River.

“Looking at it in Planet, it looks like China is constructing roads in the valley and possibly damming the river,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at California’s Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

“There are a ton of vehicles on both sides (of the LAC) – although there appear to be vastly more on the Chinese side. I count 30-40 Indian vehicles and well over 100 vehicles on the Chinese side.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said he was unaware of the specifics on the ground but reiterated that the Indian army had crossed into Chinese territory in several places in recent days and that they should withdraw.

BACKLASH

The clash was the most serious since 1967. Since early May, soldiers have faced off on the border where India says Chinese troops had intruded and set up temporary structures. The confrontation turned into a deadly brawl on Monday.

The fighting was triggered by a row over two Chinese tents and observation towers that India said had been built on its side of the LAC, Indian government sources in New Delhi and on the Indian side of the border in the Ladakh region said.

China had sought to erect a “structure” in the Galwan Valley on India’s side of the LAC even after military officials had reached an agreement on Jun 6 to de-escalate, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told China’s senior diplomat, Wang Yi, in a phone call on Wednesday, the Indian Foreign Ministry said. It was not immediately clear to what structure he was referring.

The problem arose when an Indian patrol visited the area near a ridge to verify a Chinese assertion that its troops had moved back from the LAC, the two government sources aware of the military situation said.

The Chinese troops had thinned out and left behind the two tents and small observation posts. The Indian party demolished the towers and burnt the tents, the sources said.

The satellite images show possible debris from the observation posts on Tuesday morning on a ridge on India’s side of the LAC. There was no such structure in the image taken a week earlier.

A large group of Chinese soldiers arrived and confronted the Indian troops, led by Colonel Santosh Babu. They were lightly armed in line with the rules of engagement at the LAC, one of the sources said.

India and China have not exchanged gunfire at the border since 1967, despite occasional flare-ups. Soldiers are under instructions to keep their rifles slung at their backs.

It was not clear what happened next, but the two sides soon clashed, with the Chinese using iron rods and batons with spikes, one of the sources said.

Colonel Babu was one of the 20 victims, they said. More Indian troops were rushed in and the confrontation turned into an hours-long brawl eventually involving up to 900 soldiers, the source said. Still no shots were fired on either side.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao rejected the Indian version of the events. “The rights and wrongs of this incident are very clear. The responsibility does not lie with China.”

North Korea remains an ‘extraordinary threat’: US

WASHINGTON, DC: North Korea remains an acute threat to the Indo-Pacific region, a senior Pentagon official said on Thursday (Jun 18) after Pyongyang blew up its liaison office with South Korea.

“As we’ve been starkly reminded in recent days, North Korea continues to present an extraordinary threat to the region and which demands our continued vigilance,” said David Helvey, the acting assistant secretary of defence for Indo-Pacific security affairs.

“It’s hard to tell what’s going to unfold over the next few days and weeks. But I do think that it’s important to say that we remain vigilant against any types of threats and provocations,” said Helvey.

The demolition on Tuesday of the liaison office in the Kaesong Industrial Zone – just across the border in Northern territory – came after Pyongyang vehemently condemned Seoul for anti-Pyongyang leaflets sent by defectors into the North and raised tensions on the Peninsula.

READ: North Korea blows up liaison office with South in Kaesong

The destruction of the office made good on a threat by Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. She had threatened last week to reduce to ruins an institution she called useless.

READ: North Korean leader’s sister emerges as policymaker in spat with South Korea

Helvey was cautious when asked about calls for strengthening the US military presence in South Korea and resuming military exercises that had been suspended to encourage US talks with the North on its nuclear program. The discussions have gone nowhere.

“I don’t want to get ahead of any decisions that would be made,” he said.

“But this is one of the things that we are constantly talking to our South Korean allies about,” he said.

“And quite frankly, it’s something that helps to preserve our interests and preserve peace and stability across the Indo-Pacific region,” said Helvey.

Barisan Nasional, independent candidate from Bersatu will contest Chini by-election

PEKAN, Pahang: Pekan United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) division committee member Mohd Sharim Md Zain has been named as Barisan Nasional’s (BN) candidate for the Chini state by-election.

Pahang BN chief Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail announced this at the Pekan UMNO hall on Thursday (Jun 18).

He said Mohd Sharim, 41, a second-generation Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) settler, was selected mainly because he was a local and was well acquainted with the leadership of the late Chini assemblyman Abu Bakar Harun.

The Chini by-election was called after Abu Bakar died on May 6 from a heart attack.

Wan Rosdy said Pahang BN had been thorough in its selection process to pick someone who fulfilled the criteria set by the top leadership.

“Besides having worked closely with the late Abu Bakar, Mohd Sharim is a local who knows the community in the Chini constituency and is suitable to be the people’s choice,” he added.

Even though the Chini by-election will be held during the recovery movement control order (MCO) period, the BN machinery is ready for the battle, said Wan Rosdy, who is also the Pahang chief minister.

Mohd Sharim thanked the BN leadership for placing its trust in him.

INDEPENDENT CANDIDATE FROM BERSATU

The deputy chief of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) Pekan division, Tengku Zainul Hisham Tengku Hussin also announced his intention to contest the Chini state by-election as an independent candidate.

Tengku Zainul Hisham, 64, will be using the manifesto “Becoming the Voice of the People of Chini”, and described his decision to contest after taking into account feedback from Chini residents.

“The decision was taken after careful consideration and I am prepared to face any risk that the party may have in my decision to contest, taking into account the collaboration of Perikatan Nasional between Bersatu and UMNO.

READ: Commentary: What’s behind Mahathir’s sacking and Malaysia’s new political drama

“As an independent candidate, I cannot promise the moon and the stars to the people, but I have my own support and as a native of Pekan, I have listened to the problems of the local residents for a long time,” he told a press conference at Felda Chini 2 on Thursday.

Tengku Zainul Hisham promised to be the voice of the people of Chini if they dared to “change the tradition” by accepting an independent representative, besides believing that voters have the will to bring change to what is known as an UMNO stronghold.

Tengku Zainul Hisham, a businessman and retired policeman, also appealed to voters to give him a chance to serve in the short period left before the 15th general election.

The Election Commission set Jun 20 for nominations and Jul 4 for polling.

The by-election will be the first to be held since the imposition of the MCO on Mar 18 to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The Chini seat is one of the four state constituencies under the Pekan parliamentary constituency.

In the 14th general election, Abu Bakar retained the Chini seat with a 4,622-vote majority, beating Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) candidate Mohd Fadhil Noor Abdul Karim, who received 5,405 votes, and Mohamad Razali Ithnain from Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), who obtained only 1,065 votes.

Chini has 20,900 registered voters, comprising 20,972 regular voters and 18 early voters.

Those aged 40 and below make up 56 per cent of the voters.