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Volume I No.4


Published 29 December 2020

Dear Reader,
We are coming to the end of a horrible year, during which many of us lost a loved one or a friend. A huge number of lives were lost to the Covid-19 Pandemic. More than 1.77 million worldwide, as I write. More than 21,000 in Indonesia.

Once again, this is your Briefer, Jamil Maidan Flores, writing and observing the World, Region and Nation from Jakarta.

First, let me share this thought with you: that the mournful statistics of the Covid-19’s progress do not tell the full story of human suffering that the pandemic has wreaked. They do not include the suicides and the deaths from starvation as a result of the lockdowns, the deaths from exposure of those who lost their jobs and couldn’t pay the rent and were evicted, the overdose deaths of people who resorted to drugs in the throes of depression, the nosedive of millions into poverty—to name a few of the tribulations of an unspeakable time. But there is reason to hope.

Vaccine inequality

There is light at the end of the tunnel, yes. And the light seems to get brighter every day as vaccines are getting certified safe and effective by medical authorities, and are being rolled out. Vaccines are now being rolled out in the US, in China, in Russia and in Europe. Several more vaccines will soon be certified safe and effective. It’s only a matter of time before some 90 percent of humankind gets vaccinated. We would then enjoy herd immunity, right?

Wrong. For a long time to come there will be countries, and there will be people in some countries who will not get the vital jab in the arm. This is because of a human condition called inequality.

Covid-19 vaccine being distributed in cold-chain boxes. (Photo: Sanofi Pasteur)

While the developed countries of Europe and North America have gotten a firm hold on most of the currently available vaccines, thereby ensuring their economic recovery, most of the countries of the developing world, home to most of humankind, are left to fend for themselves. As the poor countries struggle to fund the rollout of vaccines among their peoples, they are likely to pile up their debts to lenders in the developed world. The global distribution of vaccines will give new meaning to the terms “haves” and “have nots.”

Go here to get a more detailed view of the global vaccine situation.

Vaccine diplomacy

When it comes to vaccines, the ASEAN region is neither in an ideal situation nor in the gutter. It does not produce its own Covid-19 vaccines, but it is not a poor region either. After all if ASEAN were a single country, it would rank no.8 in the world in terms of economic clout.

And it is far from being friendless. China has assured the Mekong River System countries—Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia—priority in its Covid-19 vaccine export program. The same assurances have been conveyed to the Philippines, which is already guaranteed of a large supply of Russia-made Sputnik vaccines. Indonesia has already received 1.2 million doses of a vaccine made by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd, and will be rolling them out by late January 2021.

Indonesian government convening a simulation of Covid-19 vaccinations in Bogor, West Java. (Photo: Antara)

Reacting to China’s vaccine charm offensive, Australia has infused $58 million to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) to ensure access to vaccines for the Mekong River countries, Indonesia, Timor-Leste and eight Pacific Island countries.

And where is “America First” in this picture? Well, reacting to China’s vaccine diplomacy, the US has ballooned its Covid-19 funding commitment to Southeast Asia from USD 18 million to USD 77 million. For more details on the geopolitics of the Covid-19 vaccines, click here.

Thus the stage has been set for Covid-19 vaccines to serve as munitions in the Cold War between China on one hand and the US and its allies on the other.

Update 29 November 2020

Today the deadly march of the Coronavirus continues all over the world, in the ASEAN region, and in Indonesia. With this we bring you the latest data gathered from:

The Global Situation

The total number of confirmed cases, as of 29 November 2020 stood at 62,712,622 cases. Deaths numbered 1,460,792 at a Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of 2.3 percent. Covered in this report are 219 infected countries and 178 Local Transmission Countries. The total new cases for today is 157,468 and the total new deaths around the globe reached 3,245. Taken from:

The ASEAN Talley

As of 29 November 2020, the total number of confirmed cases in the ASEAN region stood at 10,688,202. The aggregate total of deaths was 162,778 for a Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of 1,5 percent. The data on a country-by-country basis are as follows:

Taken from:

The Indonesian Total

Indonesia saw 6,267 new cases and 169 deaths on November 29, bringing the total to 534,266 cases and 16,815 deaths, a Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of 3.1 percent. These numbers cover 505 affected Districts-Cities.  For more detailed statistics, click here.

The Virus of Repression

As has been widely reported, the Covid-19 virus has mutated and probably keeps mutating. Medical authorities, however, are confident it will not blunt the effectiveness of the vaccines now being gradually rolled out to control the pandemic. Neither will the new virus strain affect, for better or for worse, the capacity of illiberal populist leaders to consolidate their power by taking advantage of the pandemic.

In the face of the opportunistic assault of these populist leaders against democratic institutions and norms, Joshua Kurlantzick, senior fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations (CFR) and a regular Pinter Politik contributor, has suggested various ways of pressuring governments to do the right thing with the freedom and rights of their constituents and their democratic institutions.

As a way of shedding light on the dynamics of populism and democracy at a time of pandemic, WRN Pinter Politik is publishing here, in four installments, a paper that Joshua has written on that topic. To read the first part of his paper, “Addressing the Effect of Covid-19 on Democracy in South and Southeast Asia,” proceed here.

It turns out that it’s not only in South and Southeast Asia that democracy needs a booster shot. Democracy in the United States, the “city on a hill,” is also in need of some vaccination.

According to Lawrence McEvoy, an Irish American who served for 25 years as a researcher and speechwriter at the Indonesian Mission to the UN in New York, the vestiges of racism and white supremacy still abound in the US. He equates the centuries-long subjugation suffered by the Irish people with the ordeal of slavery and discrimination inflicted on the African Americans since the nation was founded. Click here to read what Larry recommends should be done to bring about social reform in the US. It’s not so different from what Joshua would propose.

And now, finally, for some good news…

An Indonesian legacy

One of the most heartening bits of news to come out of this annus horribilis numbered 2020 is about the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Representatives of Asian countries participating in the 4th Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Summit and deciding to virtually sign the agreement on 15 November 2020. (Photo: CGTN)

Much has been said about the partnership bringing together about one-third of all humankind, and adding USD 209 billion to world GDP and USD 500 billion to world trade within the next decade. Just as important are its non-trade provisions—on investment, on development cooperation and capacity building.

Moreover it provides a much-needed framework for cooperation among three geo-economic powerhouses: China, South Korea and Japan, which will benefit the entire region.

What are not so well known about the RCEP are its Indonesian and ASEAN origin, and the considerations behind the launching of the RCEP process in 2011. Former Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has put these on record in his seminal book on why ASEAN matters, and you can read that untold story of the RCEP by going here.

That is all for now. Here’s wishing you the best of the holidays and a more auspicious new year 2021.


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