SITUATION UPDATE BRIEF – EAST ASIA: COVID-19 OUTBREAK PRECIPITATES DEMOCRATIC BACKSLIDING, DRIVING SECURITY, COMPLIANCE AND REPUTATION RISKS

Key Takeaways

While South Korea has affirmed its status as a regional democratic bastion by holding a free and fair election during the pandemic, elsewhere in East Asia, increasing authoritarianism has been catalysed by the Covid-19 outbreak.

In the Philippines, the current state of emergency and President Duterte’s advice to police to shoot and kill “troublemakers” has shed light on the prevalence of extrajudicial violence, which is likely to endure at least for the remaining two years of Duterte’s presidency.

In Thailand, new restrictions on freedom of speech and the recent dissolution of the main opposition party demonstrate the military-backed government’s increasingly overt suppression of critical voices. With formal opposition channels increasingly closed off, the risk of a return to disruptive anti-government protests in the months ahead is rising.

Sweeping emergency powers granted last week to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen will likely be used to clamp down on dissent even after the pandemic has passed.  With increasing international attention on the repressive nature of the government, as well as other human rights issues such as child labour, businesses operating in the country will face rising sanctions and reputational risks in the months and years ahead.

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