The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) became China’s largest trading partner in the first three months of 2020, surpassing both the EU and the United States.
During this period, ASEAN-China trade increased by 6 percent year-on-year to US$140 billion and accounting for 15 percent of China’s total trade volume. This comes as the country’s traditional, largest trading partner, the EU, has been on lockdown.
China’s imports from Vietnam and Indonesia rose by 24 and 13 percent year-on-year, respectively, highlighting the increasingly integrated supply chains between the two regions.
- ASEAN overtook the EU as China’s largest trading partner in the first quarter of 2020.
- This has been attributed to extended lockdown measures within the EU and the bloc will regain its position after the pandemic subsides.
- Electronics, in particular, integrated circuits, have been a major contributor to the Q1 numbers, with China importing US$14.9 billion dollars’ worth over the three months.
- In a post-pandemic economy, it is expected that the ASEAN bloc and China will strengthen their regional trade and become the engine of global growth.
ASEAN had already become China’s second largest trading partner in 2019 with trade valued at US$644 billion, overtaking the US amid friction between the world’s largest economies. To offset the impact of the trade war, China looked to other regions to fill the gap, most notably ASEAN nations.
Analysts, however, expect the EU to regain its top position as China’s largest trading partner as the virus fades considering some 20 percent of the bloc’s total imports come from China.
Electronics pushes ASEAN trade to the top
Electronics have been a major contributor to the Q1 numbers, with China importing US$14.9 billion worth of integrated circuits from ASEAN countries, up from 25 percent in the previous year.
This includes chip capacitors, microprocessor chips, and analog-to-digital converters; China exported some US$6 billion worth of integrated circuits to ASEAN.
With the increasing economic uncertainties caused by the US-China trade war, many Japanese and South Korean companies began transferring production to ASEAN, attracted by lower-wage structures as well as improving infrastructure and legal environment.
These businesses have established integrated circuit factories in Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand, which in turn have been able to cater to the demand of the Chinese market.
These new production hubs do not mean the entire industrial chain has shifted to ASEAN, rather they have become an extension of the industrial chain in China. Many of these factories still require raw materials, equipment, expertise, and technology from China, and many are also dependent on Chinese consumers as their primary markets.
Can ASEAN retain its position?
When the pandemic resides, the EU is expected to regain its position as China’s largest trading partner.
Yet, as China slowly returns to pre-COVID-19 production levels, the country’s demand for mining products will benefit major producers in ASEAN, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Laos. Other sectors set to benefit from the resumption of China’s manufacturing are the region’s semiconductor and electronics industries, spurred by the development of 5G technology and the textiles and garment industry.
In the post-pandemic period, there will be efforts for greater regional trade integration among the ASEAN+3 (ASEAN+ China, Japan, and South Korea) economies, particularly as a counterweight against the rise of protectionism policies, and make these economies more resilient to volatility shocks.
This will be further supported by the finalization of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) free trade agreement (FTA) later in 2020.
The proposed FTA will link the ASEAN members and China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand (India withdrew from the agreement), in what is expected to be the world’s largest FTA, encompassing 3.4 billion people and one-third of global GDP.
Increasing market access, reduction in tariffs, and the opportunity to facilitate small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in ASEAN to integrate regional supply chains will make products from ASEAN more competitive and position the bloc as a key player of global growth, after the pandemic.
This article was first published by ASEAN Briefing, which is produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm assists foreign investors throughout Asia from offices across the world, including in China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, India, and Russia. Readers may write [email protected] for more support.
COVID-19 Vaccine Roll Outs in ASEAN Live Updates by Country
Thailand is currently expecting vaccines to be delivered in mid-2021. The doses would cover 13 million people in a population of about 69 million. Thailand’s National Vaccine Institute signed a non-refundable advance market commitment contract worth 2.38 billion baht (US$79 million) with AstraZeneca to reserve the supplies
ASEAN coronavirus Covid-19 live updates by country
Brunei has joined the global Covax scheme and is expecting to have the COVID-19 vaccine in Q1 2021, having sourced enough supplies to cover 50% of the population. Discussions are on-going with other suppliers.
- Brunei recorded one new case on May 8, bringing the total to 330 cases amid three deaths.
- Brunei saw one new case on May 7, taking the total to 229 cases amid three deaths.
- Brunei recorded one new case on May 4, taking the total to 228 amid three deaths.
Cambodia is expected to import vaccines from both China and Russia. China’s vaccines are still undergoing clinical trials while Russia has already commenced production. Australia has offered financial support to aid vaccine coverage in several southeast Asia countries including Cambodia.
- Cambodia recorded 538 new cases on May 8, bringing the total to 18,717 cases amid 114 deaths.
- Cambodia recorded 558 new cases on May 7, taking the total to 18,179 cases and 114 deaths.
- Cambodia reported 650 new cases and four deaths on May 6, bringing the tallies to 17,621 cases and 114 deaths.
Indonesia has commenced vaccinations with just over nine million doses being given to front line workers from last month. China’s Sinovac is in discussions with Indonesia to provide supplies, however, the Government faces difficulties with a large population of 268 million and price sensitivity at Sinovac’s estimated costs at 200,000 rupiah (US$20) a dose.
Indonesia’s Health Ministry’s Disease Control and Prevention Director-General Achmad Yurianto said that vaccinations would only be provided to citizens aged 18-59. The vaccine has also been required to pass halal certification prior to use and it is uncertain how the country can source enough vaccines to reach a sizeable part of its population. Australia has stated it will also provide financial support to solve these issues.
- Indonesia recorded 6,130 new cases and 179 deaths on May 8, bringing the totals to 1,709,762 cases and 46,842 deaths.
- Indonesia saw 6,327 new cases and 167 deaths on May 7, bringing the tallies to 1,703,632 cases and 46,663 deaths.
- Indonesia reported 5,647 new cases and 147 deaths on May 6, bringing the totals to 1,697,305 cases and 46,496 deaths.
Laos has been trialing the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and is also in discussions with China about acquiring supplies.
- Laos recorded 28 new cases on May 8, bringing the total to 1,233.
- Laos saw 28 new cases on May 7, taking the total to 1,205.
- Laos saw 105 new cases on May 6, taking the total to 1,177.
Malaysia is to provide vaccines free of charge to its nationals, but foreigners will need to pay for the treatment, according to the Malaysian Minister of Health, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who has signed a deal with Pfizer for 12.8 million doses.
These will be administered in two stages of 6.4 million people each, with the program to commence in Q1 2021. The country aims to inoculate between 80-100% of its citizens.
- Malaysia reported 4,519 new cases and 25 deaths on May 8, taking the tallies to 436,944 cases and 1,657 deaths.
- Malaysia saw 4,498 new cases and 22 deaths on May 7, bringing the tallies to 432,425 cases and 1,632 deaths.
- Malaysia recorded 3,551 new cases and 19 deaths on May 6, taking the totals to 427,927 cases and 1,610 deaths.
Myanmar is seeking assistance from the Gavi and Covax programs to acquire vaccines, while Australia is also providing financial relief. At present, the Government aims to treat 20 percent of the ‘most at risk’ in the country with vaccines. The Government is struggling with finances and logistics and is also under US sanctions, while cases are surging. The Government has banned the celebration of Christmas and other seasonal celebrations.
- Myanmar recorded 31 new cases on May 8, taking the total to 142,934 amid 3,210 deaths.
- Myanmar saw 29 new cases on May 7, taking the total to 142,903 amid 3,210 deaths.
- Myanmar recorded 16 new cases and one death on May 5, bringing the total to 142,874 amid 3,210 deaths.
The Philippines aims to commence vaccinations from June 2021 and expects to inoculate about 25 million people (about 25 percent of its population) over the course of the year. The country has been badly affected by the virus and has the second-highest rate in Southeast Asia.
The business community has reacted, more than 30 local companies signed an agreement to purchase at least 2.6 million vaccine doses from AstraZeneca in the country’s first such deal to secure coronavirus vaccines, ten days ago. They plan to donate a large part of the doses to the government for its planned vaccination program and use the rest to inoculate their employees.
- The country saw 6,979 new cases and 170 deaths on May 8, taking the totals to 1,094,849 cases and 18,269 deaths.
- The Philippines reported 7,733 new cases and 108 deaths on May 7, bringing the tallies to 1,087,885 cases and 18,099 deaths.
- The Philippines saw 6,637 new cases and 191 deaths on May 6, bringing the totals to 1,080,172 cases and 17,991 deaths.
Singapore has been working on producing its own ‘Lunar’ vaccine, in a joint venture between the US company Arcturus together with the Duke-NUS medical school. It is a single dose, mRNA shot, developed from genetically engineering COVID-19 genes into an otherwise harmless virus. This technique is marginally safer than other vaccines which rely on dead Covid-19 material to provoke an immune response. The vaccine is expected to be available from Q1 2021. High-risk personnel will receive the vaccine first in a process to be determined by the government.
- Singapore recorded 20 new cases on May 8, taking the total to 61,331 cases amid 31 deaths.
- Singapore saw 25 new cases on May 7, taking the total to 61,311 cases amid 31 deaths.
- Singapore saw 18 new cases on May 6, bringing the total to 61,286 cases amid 31 deaths.
Thailand is currently expecting vaccines to be delivered in mid-2021. The doses would cover 13 million people in a population of about 69 million.
Thailand’s National Vaccine Institute signed a non-refundable advance market commitment contract worth 2.38 billion baht (US$79 million) with AstraZeneca to reserve the supplies. Discussions are also on-going with Oxford University in the UK to secure a vaccine that could be available in Q1 if trials are completed in time.
- Thailand reported 2,419 new cases and 19 deaths on May 8, taking the tallies to 81,274 cases and 382 deaths.
- Thailand recorded 2,044 new cases and 27 deaths on May 7, taking the totals to 78,855 cases and 363 deaths.
- Thailand reported 1,911 new cases and 18 deaths on May 6, taking the tallies to 76,811 cases and 336 deaths.
Vietnam’s National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE), a division of Vietnam’s Ministry of Health, has signed an agreement with Medigen Vaccine, a Taipei, Taiwan-based vaccine company to secure the supply of 3 million to 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in 2021. Medigen is currently conducting Phase II studies of the vaccine, co-developed with the USA’s National Institutes of Health (NIH), in Taiwan and Vietnam with a view to a Q1 2021 rollout.
Vietnam is also working on producing its own vaccine, with the Institute of Vaccines and Medical Biologicals (IVAC) in Nha Trang City, partnering with New York City-based Icahn School of Medicine and the global health non-profit organization PATH. Phase 1 trials are already underway in Vietnam, while Phases 2 & 3 will be conducted at the beginning of 2021. The institute plans to submit documents for approval to the health ministry as early as April next year and claims to be capable of producing 30 million doses a year, expecting that a national vaccine could be distributed to the general population in October 2021.
- Vietnam saw 15 new cases on May 8, taking the total to 3,152 cases amid 35 deaths.
- As of May 7, 2021, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health confirmed a total of 3,091 cases of COVID-19. However, 2,560 of the affected patients have recovered and been discharged from hospitals. Vietnam has also recorded 35 deaths due to the pandemic. The latest community transmission cases have been reported from Hanoi, Vinh Phuc, Thai Binh, Bac Ninh, and Da Nang among others. 16 local cases are linked to the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi’s Dong Anh district.
- As of May 6, 2021, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health confirmed a total of 3,030 cases of COVID-19. However, 2,560 of the affected patients have recovered and been discharged from hospitals. Vietnam has also recorded 35 deaths due to the pandemic. The latest community transmission cases have been reported from Hanoi’s outskirts district of Dong Anh.
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