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Southeast Asia Must Prepare For The Worst This 2021




  • A retired Singaporean diplomat has a dire warning for Southeast Asian nations: 2021 may not be a better year than 2020.
  • According to Bilahari Kausikan, challenges are expected to come, especially as the pandemic has exposed bad leadership among governments.
  • Some countries will continue to be overwhelmed despite the vaccine roll out, he said.

With people bracing for the upcoming year, ready to permanently say goodbye to the nightmare called 2020, one retired Singaporean diplomat unfortunately has a gloomy message for those living in Southeast Asian countries.

In an opinion piece written for NikkeiAsia, former Permanent Secretary of Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bilahari Kausikan said that those hoping for a brighter year up ahead “will be disappointed.”

Bilahari Kausikan, a Singaporean academic and former diplomat said 2021 could be a challenge for Southeast Asia.

Kausikan wrote:

“The trajectory of developments within Southeast Asia and in the region’s relations with the U.S. and China will not shift substantively, at least not for the better. We will do well if things do not get worse.”

Kausikan pointed out that the Covid-19 pandemic “has exposed serious failures of governance in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.”

While vaccines will begin to roll out within 2021 for most countries, Kausikan added that “a vaccine is not a panacea for bad governance. These countries will still struggle to avoid being overwhelmed.”

New infection waves are also a possibility as some people start dropping their guards because of pandemic fatigue.

“If the pandemic speeds digitalization, the more advanced economies like Singapore could steal a march on competitors not just in the immediate region, but globally,” he continued. “Other Southeast Asian countries could benefit from the movement of companies out of China and elsewhere.”

Moreover, political power shifts and domestic turmoil may also have a direct effect on the region.

“Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand face serious domestic political uncertainties,” Kausikan explained. “Do not be surprised by surprises. Vietnam and Laos will hold Party Congresses in early 2021 and will play for safety for some time after. The outlook for Myanmar and the Philippines is, as always, uncertain, particularly in the latter which will hold presidential elections in 2022. Even in Singapore, a new generation of leaders must contain anti-foreigner sentiment in the context of a political transition that looks likely to be delayed.”

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