Coping with COVID-19 the ASEAN way


Authors: Haridas Ramasamy and Wendy He, RSIS

COVID-19 has called into question the practice of regionalism in Southeast Asia. The seemingly slow and reactive responses by ASEAN member states when the virus first hit Thailand on 13 January have led many to wonder if this regional multilateral organisation is up to the task of dealing with the pandemic. How should we assess ASEAN’s response to the global health crisis?Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc addresses a special video conference with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Hanoi, Vietnam, 14 April 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Manan Vatsyayana).

If ASEAN’s response to COVID-19 is assessed against the expectation that with over 50 years of institutional and consensus building, it should have been more proactive in its response to what Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called ‘the gravest public health crisis that mankind is facing in this century’, then yes, ASEAN’s response failed to meet the mark. But if we take a step back and understand ASEAN’s purpose and the ASEAN Way, it has hardly lost its way. ASEAN responded precisely in the way it was designed to.

The impression that ASEAN is not doing enough to combat COVID-19 stems from a longstanding caricature of it as a talk shop. ASEAN’s penchant for issuing statements and its misperception as a mere venue-provider for engagement with larger states over regional issues have given it the reputation of a passive actor. COVID-19 seems to have amplified this perception, especially when the rapid spread of COVID-19 is juxtaposed against the timeline of responses in Southeast Asia.

On 11 March, when the Philippines became the first ASEAN state to implement a lockdown, there were 841 infections and 11 deaths in Southeast Asia. In April, when Cambodia went into lockdown, the number of infections had multiplied almost 20 times to 16,919 and fatalities 54 times to 593. Since the 14 April Special ASEAN+3 COVID-19 Summit, the virus has infected another 3910 people and claimed the lives of 253 more. Though ASEAN leaders implemented a range of measures, this belated push for a whole-of-ASEAN community approach was a case of too little, too late.

But is this a fair assessment? ASEAN is an inter-governmental organisation (IGO), not a supranational body like the European Union. ASEAN does not have an independent executive authority and instead functions on consensus, ultimately relying on the goodwill and cooperation of its 10 member states. This method of operation labelled as the ‘ASEAN Way’ is anchored on ASEAN’s founding principles and allows for regionalism to flourish without negating the primacy of the nation state.

By ensuring political costs are outweighed by the benefits of membership, ASEAN continues to be relevant in an incredibly diverse region. Expecting ASEAN to pivot away from soft institutionalism even amid the current health crisis is unrealistic.

But should ASEAN be let off the hook and allowed to rest on its well-established principle of non-interference during the COVID-19 pandemic? Although the original intent in forming ASEAN in 1967 was not to deal with a global health crisis the likes of which we are witnessing today, still it has grown into a regional organisation with the potential to further develop its mechanisms and capacities without compromising on its core principles. ASEAN’s soft institutional structures do not prevent it from taking necessary actions, even if these actions are ad hoc.

ASEAN has demonstrated agility as an IGO in responding to the pandemic. Within four days of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and a day after its Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, ASEAN activated its seven collaborative health mechanisms. This includes its Emergency Operations Centre Network for public health emergencies guided by the ministerial-level ASEAN Coordinating Council. Track one and two intra-ASEAN meetings held in March led to a slew of policy responses that demonstrate how Southeast Asian states are actively cooperating and seeking ways to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19.

Prompt and collective actions are ensuring existing cooperative mechanisms function efficiently and are keeping regional and extra-regional supply chains intact, while enhancing the sharing of medical information and best practices. Further, ASEAN leaders — while focusing on saving lives — are acutely aware that prolonged economic closures and disruptions can easily ignite domestic social instability.

As the crisis grew, so did ASEAN’s response. In mid-April, ASEAN leaders moved decisively to establish the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund to ensure sufficient medical supplies in the region and activated the ASEAN Plus Three Emergency Rice Reserve to ensure food security. The existence of ASEAN’s Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management with its stockpiles of emergency supplies is also proof that ASEAN has in place the necessary infrastructure to convert much-needed resources slated for use in the event of a natural disaster to a pandemic.

These critical measures implemented by ASEAN should not be overlooked. ASEAN is adeptly dealing with the current crisis. At its core, the ‘ASEAN Way’ is always about getting the job done, even in the absence of fanfare.

Haridas Ramasamy is an independent researcher and graduate student at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore.

Wendy He is a research analyst in the Military Studies Programme at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore.

This article is part of an EAF special feature series on the novel coronavirus crisis and its impact.

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Australia’s new defence geography


Author: Hugh White, ANU

In one of its bolder steps, Australia’s new Defence Strategy and Force Structure Review is proposing a radical redefinition of the geographical reach of Australia’s strategic priorities. It rejects the expansive view of Canberra’s last major defence policy statement — the 2016 Defence White Paper — which accorded equal priority to local, regional and global missions and commitments.

Commander Peter Lockwood from the Guided Missile Frigate HMAS Darwin watches from the Bridge as (L-R) HMAS Hobart, the New Zealand frigate HMNZS Te Mana, HMAS Arunta and HMAS Anzac sail out of Sydney Heads 28 February on their way to intensive warfare training off the coast of New South Wales (Photo: Reuters/Tan).

Instead, the Defence Review says defence planning will focus on Australia’s immediate region — ‘ranging from the north-eastern Indian Ocean, through maritime and mainland South East Asia to Papua New Guinea and the South West Pacific’.

This is — in theory — quite an important shift. The definition of Australia’s area of strategic interest has always been a key factor in determining its strategic posture and the kinds of forces it needs. For decades there has been a policy tug-of-war between those who think Australia’s defence should focus closer to home and those who argue for a broader view.

Since the 1970s the regionalists have mostly prevailed until the 2016 White Paper endorsed a more global view. The Defence Review seems to mark a return to the regionalist perspective, refocussing defence strategy on Australia’s own backyard as strategic risks in Asia grow.

But things are not that simple. The new Review defines ‘immediate neighbourhood’ in a very expansive way, extending from Australia’s territory all the way up through mainland Southeast Asia to the borders of China and India. According to the review, this vast area constitutes a single undifferentiated region of strategic priority for Australia.

This departs from how regionalist policymakers have traditionally seen the region. Key policy statements like the 1987 and 2000 Defence White Papers divided the wider region into a series of concentric bands and gave a higher priority to those closer to Australia. This provided a robust basis for setting Defence Force priorities by making it clear, for example, that forces for maritime operations in Australia’s immediate approaches had a higher priority than forces for land operations on the Asian continent.

At the core of Canberra’s regionalist policies over many decades is the priority given to the defence of Australia itself from direct attack. This priority seems to have been completely dropped in the Defence Review. The defence of Laos now seems to have the same priority for Australia’s armed forces as the defence of its own continent.

This seems absurd, but it meshes with another significant shift in the way the Review describes Australia’s defence policy. Since the early 1970s every Australian government has committed itself to the goal of defence self-reliance — the idea that Australia should be able to defend itself against direct attack without relying on the armed forces of its allies. This commitment was heavily watered down for the first time in the 2016 White Paper and it has almost entirely disappeared in the Defence Review.

The natural conclusion to draw from this is that the government has abandoned the idea of self-reliance and now believes that its security depends on fighting alongside allies as far from its shores as possible. This marks a return to the policy of ‘forward defence’ which shaped Australian forces and drove its commitments in the 1950s and 1960s.

Forward defence fell out of favour after the failures of the Vietnam War, but perhaps it helped Australia and its neighbours to navigate the turbulent 1950s and 1960s. And one could argue that self-reliance was only ever taken seriously in relation to the relatively weak threats that could be posed by Indonesia. No government has seriously thought of defending Australia independently against a major power like China, which is the contingency we must take seriously today.

So perhaps a return to forward defence is a good idea? That depends on three things.

First, can Australia be sure of finding allies in its new and expansively-defined ‘immediate neighbourhood’ to fight alongside? The Defence Review talks a lot about cooperating with Asian neighbours to uphold regional peace and stability, and assumes that the United States will be there too. But this cannot be taken for granted. Countries closer to China have very different interests and priorities to Australia’s, and the extent of the future commitment of the US to Asia is uncertain as the costs and risks of confronting China grow.

Second, if the crunch came, would Australians be willing to fight so far from their own shores? The memory of Vietnam should create caution about committing future security to wars in Asia.

And third, can Australia be sure that it could make an effective military contribution to a major Asian war so far from its shores? Not on the evidence of the Defence Review, which despite all the hype leaves Australia’s future force plans and Defence budget virtually unchanged.

So a return to forward defence looks, at this stage, a risky and ill-considered policy. And this matters because these policy concepts shape real decisions involving many billions of dollars. The new Defence Review’s priority for its super-sized vision of Australia’s ‘immediate neighbourhood’ will drive investment towards power projection forces which are going to be sitting ducks for the new maritime denial forces proliferating in the region.

It will also drive investment away from Australian maritime denial forces, which are necessary to defend Australia’s real immediate neighbourhood and territory and safeguard it against power projection by others. Working out how to do that, even against China, is the great defence policy challenge Australia faces today. And the new Defence Review completely fails to address it.

Hugh White is Professor Emeritus at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, The Australian National University.

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Advancing gender equality in Southeast Asia after COVID-19


Author: Kelly Gerard, UWA

Economic crises have disproportionately negative effects on women and these gendered impacts linger long after markets recover. This was observable during the 1997 Asian financial crisis and it is being experienced again with COVID-19 — but far more acutely.

Indonesian Muslim women wearing protective masks in Bekasi, on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia, 24 May 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Willy Kurniawan).

Measures to stop the spread of the virus have decreased women’s opportunities for paid work. Women across Southeast Asia dominate sectors that are facing immediate losses of employment, work hours and pay — notably retail, textile and garment manufacturing, tourism and hospitality. In garment production, 150 of 600 factories in Myanmar have shut down with 58,000 workers ‘laid off’. A total of 200 out of 600 factories closed in Cambodia and 60,000 workers have been ‘suspended’.

Women are also overrepresented in the health sector, where they face a high risk of exposure along with abuse and stigma. Migrant domestic workers also face heightened insecurity over contracts and work arrangements, affecting their ability to support their networks through remittances. And with a significant (and growing) digital gender gap, women are at risk of being left behind in the rapid shift to tech-oriented work modalities.

COVID-19 has also increased household labour. Women across the region do a much greater share than men and it is these unpaid care economies that are again being relied upon to cushion ‘crisis shocks’. Women are taking on home-schooling, along with more cleaning and the challenge of provisioning the household under social distancing measures, reducing their capacity for paid work and increasing levels of stress and depletion.

Women are also at a heightened risk of domestic violence at a time when support services are being reduced. Before the crisis, more than 40 per cent of women in Southeast Asia experienced violence at the hands of their intimate partners. This number likely jumped during lockdowns — in Malaysia a domestic violence hotline reported a 57 per cent increase in calls when the country’s movement control order was in force. Previous pandemics reduced women’s health outcomes and there are concerns this will be repeated with COVID-19, with pressure on health services reducing access to pre- and post-natal health care and contraceptives.

The situation has not been aided by misogynistic comments from political leaders, such as the Indonesian Security Minister Mohammad Mahfud comparing COVID-19 to a wife. The Malaysian Ministry for Women, Family and Community Development also issued a series of online posters urging women during the lockdown to not nag their husbands, to dress up and wear makeup.

But the crisis also provides an opportunity to do things differently. Central to gendering policy responses is the reporting of sex, age and disability disaggregated data (SADDD) which shows who is affected and how, allowing for more targeted policy responses.

Stimulus packages and other recovery measures must meet the needs of those most acutely affected. It is central that affected women are brought into the policy conversation because a lack of female leadership and participation in responses will only further entrench women’s economic vulnerability. Discriminatory recovery responses are also likely to generate less growth and weaker recoveries.

In calibrating policy responses to the gendered impacts of the crisis, governments should not increase women’s already unequal burden. Women’s empowerment initiatives over the past decade have focused almost exclusively on women’s market inclusion — access to finance, markets, skills, training and business development services.

But these initiatives fail to address the structures that perpetuate gender inequalities over time, and so rarely lead to far-reaching change for those they affect. As feminist scholars have long argued, women entering labour markets may not tackle gender inequalities because this simply adds paid labour to their unpaid labour. Policy responses need to transform the drivers of gender inequalities — what UN Women has called ‘building back better’.

State economic planning across the region has long had an anti-welfarist orientation. But such a position looks less attractive with limited access to affordable healthcare in countries such as the United States leaving millions vulnerable. Now is the moment for expanding healthcare and childcare. There is a diversity of healthcare systems across the region, including Singapore’s globally renowned system.

While many countries have taken steps towards universal healthcare coverage, access still typically varies in line with broader inequalities. It is the coverage of the most marginalised — such as undocumented migrant workers — that is crucial for public health, so patching up coverage gaps is critical. Childcare provisions can similarly be expanded, even through small steps such as leave entitlements for parents when their child’s school is closed. In Japan, for example, parents can access such leave with employers subsidised by up to 8330 yen (US$78) per person per day.

For men fortunate enough to be able to work from home during lockdowns, there is now an opportunity to observe and get involved in household tasks, covering not only cooking and cleaning but also managing the mental load required for a household to function.

Advertising campaigns, such as the #KitaMulaiSekarang and #LetsStartNow campaign, can help drive reform, as can support networks for men who make this shift. Businesses can also facilitate change — and develop their gender credentials — through flexible work arrangements, onsite childcare and paternity leave.

Crisis responses will determine how the region tracks not only in terms of minimising mortalities and recovering economically but in building regenerative communities, and not losing the gender equality gains that have been won.

Kelly Gerard is a Senior Lecturer in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Western Australia.

This article is part of an EAF special feature series on the novel coronavirus crisis and its impact.

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Australia and Japan as anchors to regional recovery and cooperation


Author: Shiro Armstrong, ANU

Australia and Japan have been among the global front runners in managing the COVID-19 health crisis and are positioned to lead the lifting of economic restrictions and economic global recovery, if they are able to contain second wave outbreaks of the pandemic.

The Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison shakes hands with the Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe during a bilateral meeting ahead of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, 27 June 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Du XiaoyI)

A virtual summit today between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Prime Minister Scott Morrison provides a chance to deepen the bilateral relationship and signal commitment to broader regional cooperation that can help improve outcomes in the post-COVID-19 world.

High on the agenda is how to influence Chinese and US behaviour and engagement, and outcomes between the two superpowers.

The Australia–Japan relationship today is seen as a model relationship, serving as the anchors of prosperity and openness in the Asian region. It wasn’t always so. Their modern relationship is underpinned by a deep economic complementarity and people-to-people exchanges that have sustained the growth of a close political and growing security relationship.

Announcements from the virtual summit are likely to focus on security developments, following Canberra’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update and progress on the Visiting Forces Agreement between the two militaries.

Japan is Australia’s second largest trading partner with $88.5 billion in two way goods and services trade that accounts for roughly 10 percent of Australia’s total trade. Japan is the second largest source of foreign direct investment in Australia, creating jobs, trade links and increasing asset values. Many famous Japanese brands sold in Australia are shipped from Australia’s largest trading partner, China, and Japanese businesses in Australia sell actively into the Chinese market.

Australia matters for Japan by underpinning its economic security as the supplier of close to two thirds of its resource imports like iron ore and a quarter of its energy imports, by far the largest single source of these strategic raw materials. Japan relies on imports for almost all its resource supplies and 90 percent of its energy needs. As Japan shifts its energy mix away from oil to gas, Australia has become strategically more important to Japan compared to the Middle East.

Already there is rapidly growing cooperation in hydrogen energy and the expansion of renewable energy in Japan is an opportunity for Australia to become a more, not less important energy partner because of its huge natural endowments.

This bilateral relationship will be important for recovery from the worst crisis we have experienced since the two countries were at war 75 years ago. The progress that’s been made in building trust and a deep interdependence from complementarity and far-sighted leadership since then is now a source of stability in Asia.

Japan and Australia share a strong interest in managing US–China strategic competition, managing the rise of China, maintaining an open, rules-based order, pushing back against a US retreat from multilateralism, preserving regional stability and assisting regional recovery from COVID-19.

The times call for a strong initiative from Australia and Japan in shaping regional outcomes. There is a history of such bilateral action, including that when both countries signed onto the creation of APEC.

Japan’s partnership with Australia will be key to creating a region that welcomes a particular form of Chinese rise: one that does not abandon but helps strengthen multilateralism, prosperity and security. The virtual summit will limit the frank exchanges possible on what to do about the other superpower, the United States. That will be in the minds of both leaders as they search for a way to maintain US engagement that contributes to stability rather than undermines it. The challenge is to create a region that enmeshes the United States into mixed-interest outcomes, including positive-sum economic exchange, and disincentivises the US inclination towards unilateral or bilateral action. That will only be achieved via broader collective action especially with other partners including China within the region.

Economic cooperation can bring a peace dividend in normal times but in these abnormal times that peace dividend can be compounded with cooperation that helps other countries recover and transition from COVID-19.

Australia and Japan can help lead an Asian compact of initiatives that promote more rapid recovery from COVID-19 and reconstruct the regional order in the post-COVID-19 world. That would involve regional effort to keep markets and supply open for food, medical and protective equipment, energy and trade. Concluding East Asia’s Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement by November while continuing to engage India in regional economic cooperation is a crucial part of that agenda. But more will need to be done to protect open markets and expand rules and cooperation in Asia and with global partners.

A potential second wave of COVID-19 infections could delay a travel bubble between the two countries but standards and protocols for movement of people for business, education and eventually tourism are an immediate agenda. Japan is likely to be one of the first countries Mr Morrison will visit when he can travel. If Mr Abe and Mr Morrison attend the Washington G7 meeting planned in September, there will be a chance to stopover in Japan for a summit then.

The crisis has also created the opening to improve the digital infrastructure and region-wide regulations that bring transparency to supply chains, balance privacy protections and accelerate digital transformation.

Asia’s most vulnerable will need countries like Australia and Japan, working with other regional partners, to help strengthen financial safety nets. Indonesia and other emerging economies cannot finance their crisis responses with debt like the advanced economies can, and will need support from the global capital markets.

These efforts can support Asia’s most vulnerable economies, engage India, Indonesia and other partners while helping to nudge Chinese and American behaviour towards cooperative outcomes.

The world faces big choices as it tries to climb out of the deepest economic hole since the Great Depression in the 1930s and tries to avoid the huge mistakes that followed. Absent the usual global leadership and with most of the world still struggling to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, prime ministers Morrison and Abe have a particular opportunity to exert a positive influence in the post-COVID world.

Shiro Armstrong is the Director of the Australia-Japan Research Centre at The Australian National University.

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Vigilance and civic responsibility critical to East Asia’s success


Authors: James Hou-fu Liu, MU, Chan-Hoong Leong, SUSS, Shu-yi Huang, NTUH, Sylvia Xiaohua Chen, HKPU, Hoon-Seok Choi, SKKU, Susumu Yamaguchi, UTokyo, I-Ching Lee, NTU and Yumi Inoue, CUHK

The COVID-19 outbreak that started in China’s central Hubei province is devastating the global economy. Yet some of China’s major trading partners — Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan — are avoiding the high levels of infection and death that plague China’s two largest trading partners in the United States and the European Union.Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike announces the three-step road map for the easing of measures against the new coronavirus at the Tokyo Metropolitan government office in Tokyo, Japan, 22 May 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Yoshio Tsunoda/AFLO).

China has been more successful in containing the spread of COVID-19 than the United States and many EU member states. Singapore is also doing well, despite early exposure to the virus. The reasons why these diverse East Asian societies are slowing or stopping the spread of COVID-19 provide lessons for other countries. Observers suggest that their relative success is due to a cultural emphasis on collective interest and deference to authorities on matters of national interest.

In China, the spread of COVID-19 from a wet market with wild animals for sale demonstrates the continued challenges to China’s regulation of such food markets. Some local government officials suppressed early notification reports and COVID-19 was not officially announced until 31 December 2019.

This delay contributed to a major outbreak requiring the central government to take heavy-handed measures. China locked down Wuhan on 23 January 2020 and tried to prevent travel during Chinese New Year. Social distancing was imposed and the country’s resources were mobilised to fight the outbreak. These efforts flattened the infection growth curve by February and reduced new cases to a trickle by March.

Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 was exceptionally fast. Its experience of being shut out of the World Health Organization during SARS led to the creation of a National Health Command Center for coordinating responses to epidemics. Border controls were the centrepiece of the government’s prevention strategy. These were enforced from 31 December 2019, when airline passengers from Wuhan were tested for pneumonia. Taiwan escalated to an even higher alert level in January and direct flights from Wuhan were banned on 23 January.

The Taiwanese response was threefold. First, it involved early and increasing border stringency, with targeted passenger-testing and tracking. Second, authorities ensured adequate reserves of and widespread use of masks and protective gear. Third, the government communicated extensively to the public. Despite having 850,000 of its 24 million citizens living in China — and also hosting around 2.7 million mainland Chinese tourists annually — Taiwan has had fewer than 450 infections and just seven deaths due to COVID-19.

South Korea is at the forefront of developing technology for rapid testing, tracking and treatment after an early and massive outbreak of COVID-19. The development of medical technology was fast-tracked by emergency use authorisation, a process legalised after South Korea’s experience of the 2016 MERS epidemic.

South Korea instituted roadside testing alongside health treatment at public health centres organised at city, county and district levels. Mass testing is providing South Korea with the most comprehensive database on the epidemiology of COVID-19. This is supported by the provision of sophisticated testing, tracking and healthcare.

Hong Kong and Japan were both constrained in possible prevention measures at the outset of the pandemic. Hong Kong was not allowed to close its border with China, and the Japanese government was focussed on maintaining its prospects for hosting the 2020 Olympics. Yet Hong Kong has an exceptionally low number of cases and deaths, while Japan also has a relatively low number of confirmed cases — although there is concern this may be due to lack of reporting and testing.

There has been little communication from the Japanese government about its strategy for combatting the pandemic. But it does encourage voluntary social distancing and working from home while rolling out economic stimulus without any lockdown. Citizens also voluntarily adopted the use of masks.

The top-down system of democracy in Singapore afforded its government a free hand and immediate access to all the resources needed to deal with the pandemic. It had initial success in containing COVID-19 through border controls, testing, and by mandating wearing masks — though a second wave of infections recently hit poor migrant workers living in cramped dormitories.

Most East Asian societies imposed a more nuanced and technical solution than lockdown to fight COVID-19. The exceptions are China — which was forced into a regional lockdown — and Singapore, after it experienced a second wave. But the best results were obtained by Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea after they implemented the three T’s — testing, tracing and treatment.

Early testing involves tight border controls at international airports and ports, and includes targeted testing of high-risk passengers. Incoming travellers, especially from places with high infection rates, need to have their movements traced. If large public gatherings are allowed, contact tracing of guests at events is important.

But contact tracing must be weighed against privacy concerns, so debate about surveillance and public safety is needed. The treatment of infected people depends on the availability of quarantine facilities and protocols, in addition to healthcare infrastructure.

Disparate policies across Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and China suggest that authoritarianism was not a common ingredient for success. Some governments faced strong opposition parties, while others did not. Some governments communicated a clear strategy, while others failed to do so.

The common element was a strong sense of vigilance in civil society. Collectivist norms contributed to the widespread practice of wearing masks and compliance with social distancing regulations to ensure the safety of others. These may have been East Asia’s secret weapon in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

James Hou-fu Liu is Professor of Psychology at Massey University, New Zealand.

Chan-Hoong Leong is Associate Professor at the Centre for Applied Research, Singapore University of Social Sciences.

Shu-yi Huang is Assistant Researcher at National Taiwan University Hospital.

Sylvia Xiaohua Chen is Professor at the Department of Applied Social Sciences and Associate Dean of Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Hoon-Seok Choi is Professor at the Department of Psychology, Sungkyunkwan University.

Susumu Yamaguchi is Professor Emeritus at the Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology, The University of Tokyo.

I-Ching Lee is Professor of Social Psychology at National Taiwan University.

Yumi Inoue is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Japanese Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

This article is part of an EAF special feature series on the novel coronavirus crisis and its impact.

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Modernising the Philippine Navy


Author: Shang-Su Wu, RSIS

The upcoming commission of two purpose built Jose Rizal-class frigates is unprecedented for the Philippines. Since independence, the Philippines has relied heavily on secondhand warships — mainly from the United States — to protect its large archipelagic land, waters and other maritime entitlements. But this strategy has proven flawed.

Members of the Philippine Marines on BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated Philippine Navy ship (Photo: Reuters/Erik De Castro).

Vessels decommissioned from foreign service are technologically outdated with a limited lifespan. US Navy vessels are often not fit-for-purpose for the Philippine Navy.

The US Coast Guard’s Hamilton-class cutters were the best ships on offer to Manila in the last decade and they did beef up naval capacity. The Philippines conducted more naval operations — including joint exercises and citizen evacuations — than ever before.

But these ageing vessels are not designed to deal with modern military threats from the air, surface or underwater. With increasing strategic pressure from China in the West Philippine Sea, Philippine defence planners conducted their first procurement of two modern Jose Rizal-class frigates. The build was contracted by South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries.

Although the two frigates are inferior to China’s fleet in the region, they are tactically and strategically beneficial. Strategically, with its decades-long security dependence on the United States, the Philippines has lagged in building its own naval capacity. These frigates offer greater capabilities than the former Hamilton-class vessels and can conduct overseas exercises, such as Combined Task Force 151 deployments for countering piracy or other coalition operations.

The frigates can also participate in warfighting if needed. The self-funded naval expansion may also enhance Manila’s relationship with the United States and other states. But defence diplomacy is not limited to events led by the United States. It also includes other international occasions that benefit the Philippines’ national interest.

Tactically, two capable frigates provide operational flexibility. The Philippine Navy is currently operating without modern arms — either missiles or torpedoes — and is unable to handle any at-sea scenario higher than ramming and water cannoning. These are common tactics at the level of an exchange of fire. Beijing could therefore use an escalation or a threat of escalation to press Manila in a confrontation. With more capable vessels, the Philippines has more options than merely avoiding escalation.

Improved surveillance will provide greater situational awareness in addition to a mechanism to deter escalation. Beijing would therefore need more assets for its so-called ‘grey zone operations’. The Philippines will eventually have better submarine tracing capability, including boarded AW-159 anti-submarine helicopters. Overall, improved naval capability is another facet of upholding sovereignty across the Philippine archipelago. Further, these two frigates will generate a talent pool of officers, sailors and mechanics skilled for the use and management of modern naval technologies who will be able to accommodate a larger and more advanced naval fleet in the future.

But these two ships are still not fully capable because they are not pre-fitted with several weapon systems. This included a lack of a close-in weapon system (CIWS), a vertical launching system (VLS) and a towed array sonar system. As both CIWS and VLS are crucial for intercepting approaching anti-ship missiles, their absence leaves the air defence of the frigates to only 76mm naval guns and Mistral surface-to-air missiles. Weak air and missile defence means inferior survivability in scenarios of conventional naval warfare. The frigates may not have much capacity for escalation in a confrontation with their Chinese counterparts and thus Manila’s strategic options remain relatively narrow.

Since a towed array sonar system is important for a surface combatant to find and track submarines, the two frigates’ underwater surveillance capability is also restricted. The fully equipped Jose Rizal-class frigates could possess similar capabilities to other frigate projects in Southeast Asia, such as the Thai Bhumibol Adulyadej-class and Malaysian Maharaja Lela-class frigates. But short of those major weapon systems, the Philippine frigates fall behind the naval capabilities of regional counterparts.

Commissioning the Jose Rizal-class frigates is an important milestone for the Philippines on its journey towards self-sufficiency in maritime defence, especially after decades of dependence. But after commissioning the two frigates, there remain challenges for Manila in naval defence. The government must consider how soon to complete installation of those essential arms on the waiting list.

Defence planners must maximise the strategic value of the two frigates through appropriate deployment. Technological and operational mastery of the vessels will also be critical. These issues will pose challenges to both defence and diplomacy. A comprehensive plan for naval modernisation to expand capacity beyond the two Jose Rizal-class frigates is crucial. The ongoing project of building two more corvettes would help to realise the long-term goal of developing a modern navy. But the Philippine’s journey to meet the defence demands of its immense maritime territory will be a long one.

Shang-Su Wu is a research fellow in the Regional Security Architecture Programme at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore.

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Safeguarding food security amid COVID-19


Authors: Kijin Kim, Sunae Kim and Cyn-Young Park, ADB

The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting the entire food value chain from farm to fork as lockdowns and export restrictions hit food supply chains across the Asia Pacific. This is adversely affecting consumers’ choice of food and posing immediate threats to food security for the poor and vulnerable.

A farmer harvests rice on a field in Lalitpur, Nepal 15 November, 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Chitrakar).

Farms and agricultural businesses are facing labour shortages due to lockdown measures and a decline in migrant workers. Transporting harvests to markets is another a challenge, and unsold seasonal vegetables and fruits are going to waste as restaurants, hotels and schools close. While disruptions in food production, processing and distribution are causing farm-gate prices to fall for perishable products, retail prices of some staple food items, fresh vegetables and fruits are rising sharply due to panic buying and higher transportation costs.

Sudden border closures and trade restrictions add temporary strain on food security for import-dependent countries. The retail prices of rice and wheat rose in several developing economies as countries adopted temporary trade restrictions aiming to stabilise their domestic food supply. Major rice exporters including Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar imposed export restrictions on rice while Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine did the same for wheat.

The pandemic is shining a spotlight on Asia’s stark inequalities. Household food consumption and nutrition may be significantly affected by loss of jobs and income as well as by limited access to food. The economic slowdown has already dealt a devastating blow to vulnerable workers in developing countries. According to the International Labour Organization, the Asia Pacific region — where seven out of ten workers are in the informal sector with limited social protection and low wages — is suffering the large impact in terms of lost working hours. In the second quarter of 2020, there has been an estimated 13.5 per cent reduction in working hours or an equivalent of 235 million full-time job losses.

A particular concern is the nutrition status of those most vulnerable to the crisis. As schools close, school meal programs are being suspended, significantly affecting access to healthy and balanced diets for children in low-income households. Pregnant women, lactating mothers and young children need access to micronutrient-rich food — such as fresh vegetables, fruits, fish and milk — but these foods are perishable and more vulnerable to supply chain disruptions.

Compared to the 2007–08 food crisis when poor harvests, low grain stocks and high energy prices drove up global prices of major cereal crops, rice and wheat prices have not risen to alarming levels. Driven largely by supply chain disruptions and trade restrictions, the current food security crisis is manageable as long as the pandemic is contained relatively soon.

Still, should the lockdowns be extended, labour and input supply shortages could reduce the scale of crop production. Prolonged disruptions in food supply chains and higher costs in logistics would also limit smallholder farmers’ choices of better priced markets, negatively affecting farm incomes.

Swift, bold and innovative policy interventions are needed to secure food supply chains and mitigate the immediate impact of the crisis. Policy interventions should aim to protect consumers and public health, secure supply chains for producers, and support fair labour, trade, macroeconomic policies and regional cooperation.

Regional authorities should increase the reach and enhance the benefits of social protection programs so that vital support reaches the most vulnerable. Immediate support should also be provided to enhance smallholder farmers’ access to markets.

It is critical to provide financial relief and liquidity support to farmers, agribusinesses and food processors who are under financial stress. Many governments in the region are rolling out fiscal measures aimed at cushioning the immediate impact on farmers, agri-firms and other stakeholders along the food supply chain by providing loans and subsidies for working capital and allowing for debt rescheduling or restructuring.

Increased food prices during the 2007–08 food crisis was largely attributed to export bans on staple food items. Policymakers need to be more careful this time not to turn a health crisis into a food crisis by imposing trade restrictions on food. Enhanced regional cooperation mechanisms such as the ASEAN Plus Three Emergency Rice Reserve could help strengthen the food supply safety net.

Post-COVID-19 agricultural reforms should support a long-term transition from a labour-intensive supply chain to a more resilient and efficient agriculture system that uses smart agriculture and mechanisation. This will help mitigate the impacts of climate change, environmental degradation, and shrinking natural resources on food security. During the transition, adequate support should be provided to smallholder farmers and low-income agricultural communities to increase their profits from farming and benefit from off-farm income generation opportunities. One example is increasing access to affordable digital infrastructure and training.

Wider adoption of agricultural technology such as remote sensing and Geographic Information System-based land and soil management will be needed to address the challenges associated with scaling up agricultural production capacity. These challenges include a lack of financing or public–private cooperation, cumbersome regulatory environments, and policy inconsistencies across various economic sectors.

The COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity for developing economies to start implementing long-sought agricultural reforms. A recent move by India is a good example — India announced in May 2020 a long-awaited plan that deregulates the production, supply, distribution and prices of key food commodities to help provide price assurance for farmers, and allow farmers to freely choose the market.

A shift toward digital agriculture and mechanisation may accelerate in the post-COVID era, and Asia’s developing countries will need to adjust to this new environment to make the agriculture sector more competitive.

Cyn-Young Park is Director for Regional Cooperation and Integration at the Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department of the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Kijin Kim is an economist with the Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department, ADB.

Sunae Kim is a natural resources and agriculture specialist with the South Asia Department, ADB.

This article is drawn from an ADB Policy Brief titled ‘Food Security in Asia and the Pacific Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic’.

This article is part of an EAF special feature series on the novel coronavirus crisis and its impact.


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China–India relations plummet to new lows in the Himalayas


Author: Manjari Chatterjee Miller, Boston University

The relationship between China and India has reached a dangerous low. The recent clash between Chinese and Indian troops resulted in the deaths of at least 20 Indian soldiers and the injury of many others. The conflict took place in the Galwan River Valley in the Himalayan border region of Ladakh at the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Demonstrators shout slogans as they burn an effigy depicting Chinese President Xi Jinping during a protest against China, in Kolkata, India, 18 June, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri).

The clash was unsurprising to India and China watchers because the China–India border has been disputed since the two countries went to war in 1962. The past few years have seen increasing skirmishes but the deadliness of this incident and the subsequent speed with which both sides scrambled to hold talks to ‘cool down’ the situation marks a new level of escalation.

The ferocity of the clash threw one fact into prominent relief — there has been a historical failure on both countries’ parts to initiate a Nixonian moment in their relationship. Former US president Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 transformed the China–US relationship, allowing it to grow to include commonalities beyond geopolitical rivalry. China and India have failed to take leadership in producing such a transformative moment. Nearly six decades after the Sino-Indian war, this highly consequential bilateral relationship is still predominantly defined by the border dispute.

The 1962 border war was primarily fought over two frontier territories that remain contested today. The first is the western sector which includes Aksai Chin on the western side of the India–China border, surrounded on three sides by Ladakh. The second is the eastern sector on the India–China border near Myanmar which is north of Assam and comprises the Assam Himalaya region and its foothills.

After India lost the 1962 border war, it reassessed its strategic priorities and began investing in its military. When it acquired nuclear weapons in 1998, the Indian government cited the ever-present threat posed by China. China for its part remained wary of India, but its strategic priority was the United States. Due to India’s threat perception and China’s indifference, the bilateral relationship remained fragile.

Research shows that the resilience of any bilateral relationship is a spectrum. While material exchanges such as trade or defence ties are important, they are insufficient in ensuring resilience by themselves. Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China resulted in a sea change in the resilience of US–China relations. It was not simply that the economic relationship became closely intertwined, but that the visit paved the way for ongoing political, diplomatic and cultural exchanges that provided long-term ballast for the relationship.

It led to the proliferation of Chinese-speaking experts in the United States, many of whom conducted field work in China. China similarly produced many experts on the United States. Decades of laying a foundation for the relationship has meant that even when mutual trust dips, there are influential moderate voices from experts on both sides calling for a constructive agenda.

This foundation is lacking in the China–India relationship. After the 1962 war, no Indian leader emerged who was willing to brave the deep anti-China sentiment and take steps to build a constructive relationship. Nor did any Chinese leader consider India a top priority. Bilateral trade did not take off until the early 2000s when then Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and then Chinese president Hu Jintao took steps toward building a robust trading relationship.

China became India’s largest trading partner in 2008, and in 2015 the two countries sought to increase their bilateral trade to $US100 billion. But even though India is China’s largest trading partner in South Asia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka still receive larger amounts of Chinese foreign direct investment. India–China two-way investment remains surprisingly low and their bilateral trade target of $US100 billion remains unmet.

Development in areas that could deepen the relationship, such as people-to-people engagement, communications, expertise and civil society, remain lacking. There are still very few China experts in India. Top Indian universities do not have excellent language programs nor do they require students to receive training in Mandarin. Visiting Chinese scholars are routinely denied visas to India.

China has very few experts on India, and those they do have tend to be located in the southern provinces rather than in Beijing. One of the numerous US experts at the influential Chinese Institute for Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) recently told me that the institute had only one real India expert. There are no national political committees focusing on China in India or vice-versa. China is discussed as a constant threat in Indian newspapers, while India, if discussed at all in Chinese newspapers, is characterised by its weaknesses, poverty and corruption.

The recent border clash may have been triggered by the Chinese construction on the Indian side of the LAC. But since the two governments fundamentally disagree not only on where the historic borders lie but even on the LAC, it is hard to say precisely. The Indian media has castigated the government’s handling of the crisis and has called for the government to address the ‘inequitable’ trade relationship. Meanwhile, the strictly-controlled Chinese media has mostly ignored the incident.

The significance of the China–India relationship is ‘jaw-dropping’, yet ‘[their] understanding of the West is much greater than their knowledge of each other’. There is much space for cooperation aside from trade that could define the relationship beyond their border dispute. Water sharing, climate change, peacekeeping and even space exploration are all areas with significant potential.

But measures to expand the relationship require commitment and initiative from government leaders regarding long-term policies, including the training of country expertise, that would increase the resilience of the relationship. In the absence of such leadership, the China–India relationship is doomed to produce clashes like that recently witnessed in the Himalayas.

Manjari Chatterjee Miller is Associate Professor of International Relations at the Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University, and a research associate at the School of Global and Area Studies, Oxford University. She is the author of Wronged by Empire: Post-Imperial Ideology and Foreign Policy in India and China (Stanford UP, 2014) and co-editor of the Routledge Handbook of China–India Relations (2020).


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Stemming India’s deepening gender inequality during COVID-19


Authors: Kalyani Raghunathan, IFPRI and M Niaz Asadullah, University of Malaya

India is slowly re-opening its US$5 trillion economy following two months of nationwide lockdown. The temporary shutdown of the world’s second-largest labour market to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has come with significant costs on multiple fronts. The unemployment rate stands at a staggering 23 per cent. Studies predict a rise in headcount poverty of more than 12 million. Food insecurity is on the rise, and the public healthcare system is being seriously disrupted.

Women pray as a Hindu priest (not pictured) performs a 'Yagya', a Hindu ritual, for the eradication of COVID-19 in Kolkata, India, 28 April 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri).

For the country’s 600 million women, the impacts could be long-lasting. Without corrective measures to protect female workers, women’s food security, and reproductive health, the pandemic will further entrench existing economic inequality.

Even before the pandemic, India had some of the worst gender statistics in the developing world. The female labour force participation rate is only 25 per cent. And among India’s working women 90 per cent are engaged in informal employment — unpaid or irregular work — in the formal and informal sectors. The hardest hit formal sectors during the pandemic include retail, hospitality and the service industry, which employ a large share of women. Many workers in these sectors are at risk of a permanent exit from the labour market, or of being forced into more vulnerable jobs.

The return of male migrant labourers from towns and cities also means a further reduction in economic opportunities for rural women. This includes both private agricultural jobs and social protection schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). This will lead to greater income poverty among women and a sharp fall in their command over market income — both key predictors of household wellbeing and food security.

Food and nutrition insecurities worsen during economic crises. But gender inequality also deepens. Cultural traditions dictate that women are the first to experience hunger when resources are in short supply — even in normal times, Indian women consume nutrient-rich foods less frequently than men. Short-term malnutrition can lead to permanent exclusion from the labour market and government workfare schemes, contributing to a new cycle of poverty among working-class women.

Beyond reduced food consumption, the pandemic will widen gender inequalities in access to healthcare. According to government data, 55 per cent of women report not using public health services, and only one-third of households have at least one member covered under health insurance. This also exhibits a clear gender bias — evidence shows that parents invest first and to a greater degree in boys than in girls.

COVID-19 is also disrupting contraceptive supply chains. The ban on exporting progesterone and the halt in producing IUDs in India is further restricting the already limited access to birth control. This means a rise in unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases in post-pandemic months. The experience of the Ebola and the Zika virus outbreaks showed that the health consequences of such disruption falls disproportionately on women — as they lost control over their sexual and reproductive lives, maternal mortality rose sharply.

A third of married women in India report experiencing spousal physical, sexual or emotional violence. Loss of employment and close confinement under lockdown could lead to increased stress levels, especially among women. This could translate into higher incidences of gender-based domestic violence. And with higher rates of maternal stress and depression linked to child development outcomes, this could further exacerbate investments in child education, health and nutrition.

Several schemes that served as critical delivery platforms for women’s health and nutrition interventions have been suspended during the lockdown period. Recent survey reports show high unmet demand for reproductive and post-natal health and nutrition services. Under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), the country’s 1.3 million Anganwadi centres that provide critical nutrition counselling and supplementary food to pregnant and lactating mothers have been closed since 24 March. Though several states are beginning doorstep delivery of supplementary nutrition, other services like immunisation remain suspended.

The need for social distancing is also disrupting self-help groups that are credited with improving women’s wellbeing and empowerment. With the lockdown in place, female members are at risk of being cut off from credit and information as they are unable to meet and mobilise funds. If and when these services move online, women are likely to be left out again — only 46 per cent of Indian women have mobile phone access.

Without policy reinforcement, COVID-19 will only deepen existing social and economic inequalities for Indian women. So, what should be done to help women as the Indian economy prepares to open further?

The first priority should be to restore pre-existing health services and social safety net schemes for women and adolescent girls. This includes home delivery of public supplementary nutrition services and nutrition counselling. Second, provisions that leverage women’s economic and social empowerment at the community level need to be put in place. Self-help groups and other women’s groups must be repurposed to create economic opportunities for women that also serve the needs of the pandemic. Third, gender-disaggregated data on employment and health impacts should be collected to help inform policy decisions.

Involving more women lawmakers in post-pandemic recovery plans is also vital. The southern state of Kerala, which has been lauded for successfully containing the virus with a combination of medical and humanitarian measures, has a female health minister. This may be no coincidence. Putting women in leadership positions in local government can ensure greater investment in public goods that serve women’s needs.

Globally, gender inequalities have always worsened during pandemics. For India to avoid this fate, it must leverage female agency and adopt more gender-inclusive policy planning and implementation to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kalyani Raghunathan is a research fellow in the Poverty, Health and Nutrition Division of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), New Delhi.

M Niaz Asadullah is Professor of Development Economics at the University of Malaya and Southeast Asia Lead of the Global Labor Organization.

This article is part of an EAF special feature series on the novel coronavirus crisis and its impact.

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Navigating ASEAN’s post-COVID-19 energy transition


Author: Han Phoumin, ERIA

Daily global carbon emissions dropped by 17 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 compared with 2019 levels. While this is positive in mitigating climate change, the drop is due to the COVID-19 and measures to stop it spread such as nationwide lockdowns and travel restrictions. The COVID-19 induced economic downturn is contracting global energy demand and energy-related emissions. But this crisis is temporary — both energy demand and carbon emissions will bounce back once the global economy starts to recover.An employee of PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN) cleans the surface of solar panels at a solar power generation plant in Gili Meno island, in this 9 December 2014 photo taken by Antara Foto (Reuters/Antara Foto/Widodo S. Jusuf.).

Emerging economies in Asia now account for half of the global growth in energy demand. This trend will continue for ASEAN countries as they will need more energy to drive future economic growth. Two major factors will be responsible for the predicted doubling in energy demands between 2015 and 2040: sustained economic growth and an increasing population in the ASEAN region.

Primary energy demand in ASEAN countries is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 3.6 per cent between 2015 and 2040. In absolute terms, it will increase from 666.61 million tons of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 2015 to 1623.63 Mtoe in 2040. Oil is currently the dominant energy source, followed by coal and natural gas. But coal’s share is projected to soon be the largest and may reach up to 53 per cent by 2040, a significant increase from 32.9 per cent in 2015.

Both ASEAN and developing countries face challenges in matching energy demand with sustainable energy supply as they transition to a lower-carbon economy. There is a heightened need to accelerate the development of greener energy sources, including renewables, hydrogen and clean technologies.

The prospect of switching out internal combustion engines that are dependent on oil and gas for hybrid or electric vehicles is promising and is clearly on ASEAN’s agenda. But coal use in the ASEAN region is projected to rapidly increase in order to meet the region’s growing electricity demand.

The main argument behind using coal for power generation is its affordability, price stability and supply. Coal demand has slowed down globally, but is expected to increase in Southeast Asia. The use of coal for power generation in Southeast Asia will have negative effects on the region’s environmental security and sustainable growth. With the projected increase in coal-fired generation capacity, local pollutants — carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — will become major issues for the world and developing Southeast Asia.

These trends highlight the importance of addressing the environmental sustainability of Southeast Asia’s economic development. It is essential to develop environmental technologies such as Clean Coal Technologies (CCTs) with Carbon Capture Sequestration and Storages, among others.

The world is undergoing an energy transformation. In order to reduce GHG emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change, the world is moving away from fossil fuels towards cleaner energy sources. This energy transition is a common global objective reflected in the agreement reached at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference where global leaders negotiated the Paris Agreement to set a goal of limiting global warming to ‘well below 2 degrees Celsius’.

Although a common goal has been established, policy measures undertaken in each county have varied depending on their different socio-economic, political and geographical contexts. The energy transition is an economic problem, since the present financial system tends to prioritise immediate profit, discounting medium and long-term advantages. From this perspective, new and clean technology seems more expensive than conventional fossil fuel-based energy systems. The policy challenge here is figuring out how to allocate economic resources to drive this transition in such a way that ensures equitable and affordable energy access for everyone.

The shift towards cleaner energy systems will have a fundamental impact on the global economy. One of the greatest challenges of this energy transition is the associated technology, infrastructure and cost required to adopt a more renewable-based energy system.

Policymakers need to consider the cleaner use of fossil fuels and innovative technologies that can reduce carbon and GHG emissions. Urgent steps need to be taken to decarbonise the energy sector, which will require a rapid deployment of cleaner fossil fuel technologies, renewable energy development and a doubling of energy efficiency, given that the energy sector accounts for two thirds of global GHG emissions.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to implement energy policy changes that otherwise would not be possible due to their economic impact. A key concern surrounding the transition towards renewable energy was its impact on the price of electricity and the cost competitiveness of locally produced goods and services. ASEAN leaders now have a chance to take bold action to remedy energy policy.

One option is to remove blanket energy subsidies during periods of slow demand, reduced growth and cheap oil. Energy subsidies for the poor will need to continue, but they must be delivered effectively to avoid leakage of resources to untargeted groups. Further, ASEAN leaders should use this opportunity to introduce more renewable energy sources to reduce emissions.

The immediate problem in the aftermath of the pandemic is to restore the economy by boosting employment. ASEAN governments will need to consider stimulus packages that simultaneously help the environment, boost renewable energy investment and bring back jobs. For example, building energy efficiency through retrofitting will provide local jobs and help businesses recover from the crisis too.

Without bold action, energy consumption and harmful emissions will rebound after the COVID-19 crisis subsides. It is critical for ASEAN leaders to act now to drive the energy transition from a fossil fuel-based system to a cleaner energy system.

Han Phoumin is Senior Energy Economist at the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), Jakarta.

This article is part of an EAF special feature series on the novel coronavirus crisis and its impact.

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