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US and EU Must Learn to Share Power as Asia Takes a Larger Role

MD Staff

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With the United States looking set to step back from the international arena, China will likely take on an larger role to preserve the global economic system of which it has been a major beneficiary.

However, the future looks distinctly multipolar, with no single leader emerging to fill the leadership vacuum created by a US retreat. It is important that incumbent powers such as the US and the European Union make space for the rise of Asia and other centres of power.

Mustapa Mohamed, Minister of International Trade and Industry of Malaysia, who was personally involved in Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, said the US withdrawal from the TPP will certainly have an impact on the world economy. He added, however, that China, India and ASEAN are growing fast, confident in their potential, and focused on creating jobs and making growth equitable and sustainable. While supporting the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) being negotiated between ASEAN and six neighbouring countries, and regional integration within Asia, Mohamed underlined the need to continue creating and expanding linkages with the outside world, perhaps by revitalizing the World Trade Organization.

“Things happen for a good reason,” said Li Daokui, Dean, Schwarzman College, Tsinghua University, People’s Republic of China, adding that the TPP was essentially a flawed idea because it makes no sense for a country far from the region to try to forge relations while bypassing China, the biggest trading powerhouse. He said that China would be the natural leader of economic integration in the region. China and ASEAN see eye-to-eye on this, he said, adding that this only leaves India, although China is keen to “get everybody on the bicycle … and pedal hard.”

The United States’ inward turn – at a time when other countries are forging partnerships and creating initiatives such as the BRICS New Development Bank, China’s One Belt, One Road initiative and free trade agreements in the Pacific – will harm the US the most, said Nouriel Roubini, Professor of Economics at the Stern School of Business at New York University, USA.

While China is the undisputed economic and trade leader in Asia, ASEAN is the “great untold success story of our times,” said Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. He said ASEAN has turned the “Balkans of Asia” into a highly prosperous and peaceful region, and has been a key player in the “miraculous, peaceful rise” of China by creating an enabling regional environment of harmony. The China-ASEAN relationship is marked by mutual respect, he noted, and their trade graph is rising steadily. Mahbubani also made a case for China assuming the leadership role to see RCEP through.

Anthony F. Fernandes, Group Chief Executive Officer of AirAsia, Malaysia, said there is significant intra-ASEAN start-up activity, and members must work towards making borders irrelevant, particularly for digital and fintech businesses, to fully realize the potential of this 700-million-strong market.

Li pointed out that China considers its relationship with the US to be most important, and said China’s leadership style – if and when it assumes greater leadership globally – will be very different from the style with which the US has led. Instead, he said, China follows a more Confucian philosophy of leading by action and not words.

Nevertheless, Mahbubani said, China must prepare to take a more assertive stance if the situation warrants, particularly since, as the world’s largest importer and exporter, China has the largest stake in maintaining a peaceful global system. At the same time, he added, incumbent powers must do away with “absurd rules“ such as those that reserve the top positions at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for a US and EU citizen, respectively, and prepare to share power with newly emerging countries.

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Human Rights

COVID-19 stoking xenophobia, hate and exclusion, minority rights expert warns

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A woman wears a medical mask in China. (file photo) World Bank/Curt Carnemark

Combatting the COVID-19 pandemic must also include stamping out what one independent human rights expert has called the “darker sides” of the disease: verbal and physical attacks against Chinese and other minority communities, and excluding them from access to healthcare.

COVID-19 is not just a health issue; it can also be a virus that exacerbates xenophobia, hate and exclusion,” said Fernand de Varennes, the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, in a statement issued on Monday.

He reported that politicians and groups are exploiting fears surrounding the disease to scapegoat certain communities, leading to a rise in violence against them.

This has included physical attacks against Chinese and other Asians, hate speech blaming Roma and Hispanics for the spread of the virus, and calls by some political leaders for migrants to be denied access to medical services.

Safeguard human rights

Mr. de Varennes said countries need to show that the human rights of all people must be protected, particularly the most vulnerable and marginalized.

“Combatting the epidemic requires tackling its darker sides. Firm actions by States and all of us to safeguard the human rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised, including minorities, indigenous communities and migrants, are urgent and necessary”, he stressed.

More than 200 countries have reported cases of the new coronavirus disease, which first emerged in Wuhan, China, last December.

There were 638,146 cases globally as of Sunday, and more than 30,000 deaths, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

“The coronavirus outbreak endangers the health of all of us, with no distinction as to language, religion or ethnicity. But some are more vulnerable than others”, said Mr. de Varennes.

He urged people everywhere to resist the rise in discriminatory and hate speech against Asian and other minorities by using the hashtag #IAmNotAVirus on social media.

Protect people in prisons, detention centres

Meanwhile, authorities are being urged to consider measures to mitigate COVID-19 risk in places such as prisons, immigration detention facilities, closed refugee camps and psychiatric institutions.

The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture issued the advice on Monday, in a call to protect people deprived of their liberty during the pandemic.

“Governments have to take precautionary measures necessary to prevent the spread of infection, and to implement emergency measures to ensure detainees have access to appropriate levels of health care and to maintain contact with families and the outside world”, said Sir Malcolm Evans, the Committee Chairperson.

Measures include reducing prison populations by allowing early or temporary release of low-risk offenders, and extending the use of bail for all but the most serious cases.

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World Bank to Help Improve Business Environment and Justice Service Standards in Croatia

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The World Bank Board of Executive Directors today approved a loan to the Republic of Croatia for the Justice for Business Project in the amount of EUR 100 million (US$110.3 million equivalent) aimed at improving business regulatory procedures and justice service standards for businesses and citizens.

The project will support the implementation of reforms that will improve the country’s business environment and justice sector services under the leadership of the Ministry of Justice, in coordination with the Ministry of Economy, Entrepreneurship and Crafts and the Ministry of Construction and Physical Planning. A first set of activities will focus on reducing the administrative burden for companies to interact with government, focusing on removing regulatory barriers for firms to enter the market and operate and by simplifying dealing with construction permits and improving market functioning in the construction sector.

The project will also improve justice services. For example, the use of electronic services will be expanded to speed up response times and integrate case management systems across different courts. The Zagreb, Vinkovci, Kutina and Varazdin courthouses will be rehabilitated and upgraded for better court performance and user experience, and these transformational investments will help develop standard investment designs to be replicated across the country.

“Increasing the capacity of the state to swiftly respond to the needs of citizens and firms, particularly during these times of crisis, is especially important. Improved justice sector infrastructure and services will benefit both citizens and businesses. Businesses will benefit from having a simpler and more transparent way to interact with government agencies and faster and more responsive mechanisms to interact with the courts, and all citizens will benefit from more effective, efficient and reliable administration of justice and rule of law,” said Elisabetta Capannelli, World Bank Country Manager for Croatia and Slovenia. “In such a difficult time for Croatian citizens, caused by the multiple emergencies to the health system, the city of Zagreb and the economy, this project can also contribute to providing an economic and confidence boost to the country.”

In the past years, Croatia has made significant efforts to improve the country’s public sector performance, which is falling behind European Union (EU) averages across most governance, business environment and human capital indicators. While key government institutions, most notably the public administration and the judiciary, are still underperforming according to both EU and global benchmarks, the Government of Croatia is committed in its effort to modernization its administration.

Since joining the World Bank Group in 1993, Croatia has benefited from the World Bank’s financial and technical assistance, policy advice, and analytical services. To date, the World Bank has supported more than 50 operations amounting to around US$3.5 billion. The Bank’s current engagement focuses on transport, health, innovation, business environment, land administration, agriculture, economic development of the Slavonia regions and support for the preparation of the National Development Strategy. 

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Human Rights

Coronavirus pandemic threatens to plunge millions in Arab region into poverty and food insecurity

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Food insecurity is on the rise in Gaza as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens a steep spike in poverty throughout the Arab region. WFP/Wissam Nassar

COVID-19 will be responsible for pushing a further 8.3 million people in the Arab region into poverty, according to a new policy brief issued on Wednesday by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

And the pandemic could also bump up the number of undernourished people there by some two million. 

Current estimates show that there are some 101.4 million in the region who already live in poverty, according to official criteria, and around 52 million undernourished.

“The consequences of this crisis will be particularly severe on vulnerable groups”, said ESCWA Executive Secretary, Rola Dashti, pointing especially to “women and young adults, and those working in the informal sector who have no access to social protection and unemployment insurance”. 

Because of a high dependence on food imports within the Arab world, a disruption in global medical supplies to deal with the pandemic, will also have a severe impact on food security there, says ESCWA. 

Meanwhile, in addition to food loss and waste, worth around $60 billion annually across the region, the brief highlighted other likely economic losses, due to knock-on effects of the virus.

What action can be taken to lessen the impact?

According to ESCWA, reducing food loss and waste by 50 per cent would not only increase household income by some $20 billion, but also significantly improve food availability, reduce food imports and improve the balance of trade throughout the region.

Ms. Dashti encouraged Arab Governments to ensure “a swift emergency response to protect their people from falling into poverty and food insecurity owing to the impact of COVID-19”. 

Last week, she called for the establishment of a regional social solidarity fund to care for vulnerable countries. 

“The regional emergency response must support national efforts and mobilize resources and expertise to protect the poor and vulnerable”, concluded the Executive Secretary. 

At the same time, Khalid Abu-Ismail, Senior Economist at ESCWA, highlighted four measures that can be taken to mitigate the crisis, beginning with extending credit to small businesses and enterprises.

He also stressed the importance of building on social networks and expanding on cash and other transfers to the poor and vulnerable and encouraged countries to give “more access to the food insecure population” through the existing voucher system.
Mr. Abu-Ismail also highlighted the importance of other initiatives such as Arab Food Security Emergency Funds. 

As one of five UN regional commissions, ESCWA supports inclusive and sustainable economic and social development in Arab States and works on enhancing regional integration. 

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