Asia's 10 Most Gender Equal Countries
Mar 19, 2019

The Philippines is the only nation from the region to make the Global Gender Gap Index's top 10.

Despite a shrinking gender gap in many parts of the world, a lot of work still needs to be done to fully eradicate inequalities between the sexes.

Asian economies that recognize the contribution gender equality makes to their economic success could lead the way in shrinking the gap further.

Since 2006, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index has raised awareness of gender disparities that exist around the world. The latest report highlights the areas of outstanding performance in Asia’s top 10 gender-equal states by analysing their economic, education, health and political opportunities. It also looks at areas where these countries face challenges in closing specific areas of the gender gap.

1. Philippines

As the only nation from the region to make it into the global top 10, the report’s findings place the Philippines as the most gender equal nation in Asia.

Although this archipelago country slipped three places since last year’s global report, largely due to a performance drop in the report’s Wage Equality for Similar Work indicator, it has closed 79% of its total gender gap.

The Philippines has completely eradicated the gap between the sexes in educational attainment, but has re-opened a previously closed Health and Survival gender gap for the first time since the report was issued.

2. Bangladesh

This South Asian nation has climbed several places since last year’s report, reaching 47th place in the global ranking. Bangladesh has closed almost 72% of its overall gender gap, with advances in every aspect of the Economic Opportunity and Participation indicator.

Improvements have been made in creating equal opportunities for legislator, senior official and manager roles, as well as professional and technical roles.

Greater parity exists in the country’s Estimated Earned Income and Wage Equality for Similar Work indices, despite seeing the healthy life expectancy gender gap widen slightly.

3. Mongolia

Ranked 53 in the global index, Mongolia has climbed the rankings to reach third place in Asia.

As with Bangladesh, the country improved its gender balance among legislators, senior officials and managers, and made great strides forward with political empowerment issues for women.

Mongolia is one of only three Asian countries, along with Japan and Cambodia, to fully close the Health and Survival index gender gap.

4. Lao PDR

Compounding earlier success, Lao is the only country outside of Africa to eliminate the gender gap in labour-force participation (for the second year in a row).

Lao has recorded year-on-year improvements in tertiary enrolment opportunities and improved women’s share of estimated earned income.

Despite these successes, following two years of progress the overall gender gap has widened, caused chiefly by a fall in literacy-rate parity and a drop in wage equality for similar work.

5. Singapore

Close behind Lao, Singapore saw more female participation in the economy, with a notable increase in female labour-force participation and continued a trend now approaching near-parity in technical and professional workers.

Singapore also ranked higher on the report’s Health and Survival sub-index, increasing parity in healthy life expectancy.

Following the report’s restructured scale for the Estimated Earned Income, Singapore widened the gap in estimated earned income.

6. Vietnam

Although Vietnam experienced a decrease in gender parity for women in ministerial positions, it fully closed the gender gap among its technical and professional workers. Likewise, equal opportunities were recorded for enrolment in tertiary education sectors. (Read: Taiwan vs. Vietnam, Who Treats Workers Better?)

7. Thailand

Thailand saw greater gender parity for women in ministerial positions. Also, the country fully closed its gender gap for technical and professional workers and, like Vietnam, saw more parity with enrolment in tertiary education.

8. Myanmar

As a newcomer to the Global Gender Gap Index, Myanmar has eliminated gender differences in secondary and tertiary education enrolment.

In addition to increasing women’s share of technical and professional roles, closing the gap fully, Myanmar has reached near parity in total labour-force participation. However, the country’s women are under-represented in legislator, senior official and manager roles and inequalities exist in basic literacy rates and components of the GGGI report’s Health and Survival subindex.

9. Indonesia

Another country that has gained several places on the global index, Indonesia continues to make ground in closing its gender gap.

Advances have been made in wage equality for similar work and opportunities for political empowerment. However, the previously closed gender gap for professional and technical workers has begun to widen for the second year in a row. (Read: Indonesia, Vietnam: Asia's New Economic Stars)

10. Cambodia

Like Indonesia, Cambodia has climbed a few places on the index and continues to reduce its overall gender gap.

The country’s women enjoy an increased share of legislator, senior official and management roles, and greater opportunities to enrol in tertiary education. Cambodia has maintained a closed gender gap for its Health and Survival index, too.

By Johnny Wood
Edited by Sharon Tseng

Why are Japanese and Filipinos Coming to 'Make Babies' in Taiwan
Mar 18, 2019

Taiwan’s fertility medicine has long enjoyed international acclaim, with many anxious parents from China, Japan, and Southeast Asia coming to Taiwan in hopes of fulfilling their dream of having children. However, as the market has become saturated, fertility clinics have begun to actively seek ways to sustain their businesses, adopting the electronics industry’s division of labor model via new modes of international cooperation.

A little over a year ago, a nearly 1,000-square-meter commercial space in a luxury office building just down the street from the Miramar Ferris wheel in Dazhi sold for NT$450 million. The sales price set a new record for commercial real estate in Taipei, becoming a hot topic in the news. Naturally, it piqued quite a bit of curiosity as people wondered just what business with such deep pockets was going to move in.

The answer was revealed in October of 2018 with the grand opening of a fertility clinic, the Taipei branch of Stork 11.

The Stork fertility center, originally from Hsinchu, has staged a stratospheric rise in recent years to become one of Taiwan’s largest fertility clinics. A large number of patients from overseas is one of the clinic’s calling cards, with 700 patients from China, Hong Kong and Macau, and Japan accounting for half of the annual clientele.

Among these, Japanese comprise 20 percent of the customer base.

Why would Japanese couples having difficulty conceiving leave the world-class medical system of Japan and come all the way to Taiwan to seek help?

“Ninety-percent have already tried extracting eggs (oocytes) on multiple occasions, and have been put through the ringer in Japan” (before coming to Taiwan), says Lai Hsing-hua, Stork’s founder and director, formerly a renowned Hsinchu-based gynecologist.

The average age of the mentally and physically exhausted Japanese couples is close to 50. On average, each woman has had 10 and as many as 50 eggs harvested, the equivalent of harvesting an egg once per month each month for four years in a row.

Egg Donor Treatment in Taiwan, One-half of Patients from Overseas

Most of the Japanese patients seeking help are using donated eggs for in-vitro fertilization.

According to statistics from Taiwan’s Health Promotion Administration, in the three-year period between 2014 and 2016, Taiwan saw a tenfold increase in the number of treatment cycles with donated eggs, reaching 2,100. Of these, patients from overseas accounted for one-half of the treatments, chiefly coming from China, Hong Kong, and Japan.

Kyoko Kimura (a pseudonym), nearing 50, is one of them.

During a telephone interview from her home in Gunma Prefecture, about an hour’s drive from Tokyo, she related that she endured 12 years of infertility treatment at six different clinics in Japan, yet was unable to successfully harvest viable eggs. Four years ago, at the recommendation of a doctor at Notre Dame Hospital in northern Kyushu, she sought treatment in Taiwan.

Although Japanese law permits in-vitro fertilization with surrogate eggs, in actual operation there are countless hurdles.

First, only a minority of women is willing to donate eggs anonymously, and most end up having to ask for help from their own sisters or relatives. Further, they are required to undergo counseling during the treatment, as well as approval from the Ethics Committee, complicating the process.

Conversely, eggs are in plentiful supply in Taiwan, and the laws are relatively loose. According to the regulations of the Artificial Reproduction Law, anyone can proceed with artificial fertilization except for direct family up to fourth-degree relatives. Accordingly, the Northern Kyushu Notre Dame Hospital’s website directly lists the contact information and accomplishments of the Honji Fertility Center and the Stork Fertility Center, both Taiwanese fertility clinics.

However, Mr. and Mrs. Kimura hesitated whenever they thought about their child being only half “theirs,” unsure if they could love their child without reservation.

After thinking about it for six months, Mrs. Kimura took her husband to Taiwan to give conceiving a try at both clinics. She made a total of three visits to Taiwan, knowing only that the donor was Taiwanese and vague related statistics about her weight, education, hair color, and complexion, before ultimately confirming her desire to go proceed via email (in general, egg donors can make nearly NT$100,000 to cover “nutrition”).

After two egg extractions and implants, she gave birth to a baby girl weighing 2.3 kilograms. Last year, once again using an oocyte extracted at Stork, she had a second child, with each surrogate egg procedure costing between 1.6-2 million Japanese yen.

Eggs Are Tough Business, with up to 20% ‘Bad Debts’

“The biggest part of our business at this time, or the main source of income, is derived from our donor bank,” admits Lai Hsing-hua. Although Stork is known as Asia’s largest egg bank, the egg business is not as easy as outsiders might imagine. Patients like Mrs. Kimura, who considered the idea for six months before finally coming to Taiwan for a surrogate egg, are not a minority. And the risks the donor egg business carries are not insignificant, as Stork’s “bad accounts” rate of 20 percent demonstrates.

How does the “test tube baby” business have “bad debts”?

In the past, when the technology of egg preservation by freezing had not yet matured, donor eggs were matched fresh. If the donor’s health did not reach required standards, or her egg quantity and maturity was found to be poorer than expected after a luteinizing hormone injection, or in some cases if the donor had a change of heart, the recipient couple’s disappointed expectations aside, calculating the cost was complicated. As a result, many payments that had already been made became bad debts, forcing Stork to absorb the cost.

Frozen oocytes were Lai Hsing-hua’s solution. Identifying market opportunities, in 2008 he founded Biolove Biotechnology, a company dedicated exclusively to human oocyte cryopreservation (egg freezing).

In-vitro fertilization thus went from matching fresh eggs to the egg bank matching method in 2014. Failure is inevitable even with thawed oocytes, but the bad debt rate has been able to be reduced to the current rate at under 10 percent. However, as Lai Hsing-hua notes, “It goes back to preserving fertility at a young age.”

Stork has developed an app that allows female users to observe images on their mobile phones of their frozen eggs and embryos under the microscope, answering their ineffable expectations.

Overseas Demand for Infertility Treatment Even Higher than Plastic Surgery

Just before the 2/28 Memorial Day holiday in Taiwan, Arman, a four-year-old boy from the Philippines, energetically sang the classic song “You Raise Me Up” at the Lee Women’s Hospital, a half-hour drive from the Taichung High Speed Rail station.

Arman is the successful outcome of 42-year-old Philippine lawyer Violeta Banagen-Kito’s quest for help with conceiving a child. The same day she spoke with CommonWealth, Violeta underwent her second in-vitro fertilization, a nearly three-hour procedure, before heading back to her hotel to rest and recover.

The Lee Women’s Hospital is another famous fertility hospital. Yet, unlike Stork, Lee only uses conventional test tube fertilization, and its clientele consists largely of patients from Southeast Asia.

Lee Women’s Hospital founder and national policy adviser Lee Mao-sheng, who has dedicated the last 30 years to treating infertility, successfully helped create the second “test tube baby” in Taiwan at the Chung Shan Medical University Hospital. Doctor Lee estimates that the international fertility treatment market is worth around NT$300 million per year, which, combined with tourism consumption, drives at least NT$500 million in demand.

Just how strong is the demand for infertility treatment among overseas patients coming to Taiwan? Statistics for 2017 indicate that the international medical clinic hospitalization rate for gynecology ranked second, trailing only health examination centers and exceeding even that of aesthetic medicine (plastic surgery). (Read: The Fertility Effect of National Health Insurance in Taiwan)

Competition Intensifying, Infertility Clinics Double in 20 Years

Despite the considerable commercial opportunities in infertility treatment, competition is also intensifying all the time.

According to the latest statistics from Taiwan’s Health Promotion Administration, over 34,000 in-vitro fertilization cycles were conducted in Taiwan in 2016, nearly four times higher than a decade before. Similarly, the number of resulting infant births climbed from 2,800 to nearly 9,000.

The number of government-licensed in-vitro fertilization clinics like Stork and Lee Women’s Hospital now stands at 82, nearly doubling in the last 20 years.

“(Taiwan’s) fertility medicine space is already saturated, so it must venture outward,” offers Lee Mao-sheng. Not only must it make technical improvements, it should also be in sync with the international community and undertake new multinational division of labor.

The Reproductive Sciences Medical Center (RSMC), a San Diego-based clinic, established operations in Shanghai last year and is one of Lee Women’s Hospital’s new international cooperative partners.

RSMC positions itself as a “one-stop shop,” with services spanning in-vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, pregnancy and birth. Speaking to CommonWealth, RSMC said that the way its cooperative model with Lee works is that patients can undergo in-vitro fertilization therapy at Lee Women’s Hospital, receive injections to stimulate ovulation, and then post-fertilization genetic diagnosis, after which RSMC ships the healthy embryo to the U.S. for implantation in a locally arranged surrogate mother.

The entire process is similar to the division of labor in the electronics industry commonly seen in Taiwan. “We’re responsible for parts and components, and RSMC (in San Diego) finishes the job,” quips Lee Mao-sheng.

By Sydney Peng
Translated by David Toman
Edited by Sharon Tseng

Uncovering an Emissions Controversy
Mar 07, 2019

Pollution data suggests Taiwan’s air quality should be getting better. But a CommonWealth Magazine investigation has found that the data may be tainted, with companies using various tactics to hide high air pollution emissions readings.

A gray smog engulfs western Taiwan, setting off red alarms at air quality monitoring stations up and down the coast and hiding from view Dadu Mountain in Taichung, the 85 Sky Tower in Kaohsiung and Dawu Mountain in Pingtung County.

The air quality monitoring results announced by Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration at the end of every year claim that Taiwan’s air quality has steadily improved from year to year, but good luck getting the average citizen to believe that.

Many of them probably feel the same way as Innolux honorary chairman and anti-pollution advocate Tuan Hsing-chien, who wondered: “Why does it feel like air pollution is getting worse? Why is it that a lot of people who don’t smoke, don’t cook and don’t have a family history still get lung cancer?” (Read: LCD Panel Boss Takes Aim at Air Pollution)

The dissatisfaction with Taiwan’s air quality was in evidence in November 2018 when Taiwan held nationwide elections for local government offices. People held anti-pollution rallies ahead of the Nov. 24 elections, and the air pollution issue factored heavily in the races for mayor and county commissioner.

What are the secrets being hidden by Taiwan’s skies? Why is the data improving, but people are complaining more than ever? Could it be that sources of pollution are being secretly concealed?

To answer those questions, CommonWealth Magazine partnered with nonprofit data platform Data for Social Good (D4SG) on a six-month project that brought together top data specialists for a big data analysis of readings from Taiwan’s continuous emission monitoring system (CEMS).

326 Smokestacks Missing Data

The study was initiated to look at the sources of Taiwan’s pollution in depth at a time when debate is raging throughout society on whether power generation by coal-fired and other thermal power plants should be cut and whether those plants should be decommissioned early.

We wanted to know how much pollution was being generated by each source, whether excess emissions were bellowing into Taiwan’s skies, and whether there were even accurate figures to measure Taiwan’s pollution.

Another factor behind the study was the existence of real-time CEMS data for major industrial pollution sources in Taiwan. The EPA began releasing such data in January 2017, enabling the public to monitor spots where pollutants are being generated.

The system covers 326 smokestacks at 111 factories around Taiwan in the petrochemical, steel, cement, paper and energy sectors along with incinerators and power plants that are seen as major sources of air pollution. These smokestacks account for 73 percent of the country’s industrial pollution emissions (sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides).

It takes readings of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide concentrations every 15 minutes, and is directly connected to the EPA so that the agency can monitor air pollution and collect pollution fees.

CommonWealth Magazine and D4SG retrieved 29.3 million measurements collected through the CEMS system from January 2017 to September 2018, and used big data analytics to figure out what they all meant. Each reading comes with a code indicating the circumstances under which the reading was taken and its validity. (Check out the Interactive digital news report)

The findings were startling, uncovering serious gaps in the number of readings from each smokestack. The codes given indicated that readings went missing or lacked accurate values because tests were done during periods of factory maintenance and repairs or when machines were idle because of breakdowns.

Those are all deemed legitimate reasons under standard CEMS protocols for readings to be declared invalid, but the sheer volume of the problem readings have created a headache for local environmental protection departments, which must be wondering if factories are illegally emitting pollutants on the sly.

In all, there were 6.2 million measurements that were coded as “invalid” because of such stated factors as temporary equipment stoppages or calibrations, breakdowns and maintenance of the measuring devices, and were not included in calculations of total particulate emissions. In other words, about a fifth of all data collected just “disappeared” from official records.

Also, of all of the measurements, 182,000 readings showed excessive levels of pollution, but 136,000 of those were deemed “invalid.”

In other words, out of every four readings showing higher-than-allowed emissions, three were declared invalid, meaning those smokestacks never officially exceeded pollution standards.

But does that mean that no pollution was emitted when the readings did not produce a value or were coded as invalid?

Data Poorly Explained, Hurt by False Excuses

To find out, CommonWealth Magazine visited locations with smokestacks with particularly high numbers of readings that showed excessive emissions or were changed, including the Taichung City Refuse Incineration Plant and the Chiahui Power Plant in Chiayi County.

Our on-site investigation found that the vast majority of the readings at the Chiayi power plant showing excessive emissions were listed as invalid. The same pattern surfaced at the Taichung incinerator, where emissions readings often eclipsed permitted levels but were coded as invalid, seemingly to make the numbers look better than they should have been.

In the Taichung case, CommonWealth found that sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide readings were often 10 or even 100 times higher than the existing standards at 7:45 a.m., but those readings were given a “00” code, meaning that the “source of pollutants was temporarily idle.”

To date, Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration and Taichung’s Environmental Bureau, which oversees the incinerator, have been unable to explain the high pollutant numbers or how so much pollution can be generated when the plant is idle.

Kou Hsien-wen, a professor in National Yang-Ming University’s Institute of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences who has long studied the health risk posed by the Taichung incinerator to the health of local residents, says every high reading should be examined and discussed. The idea that these are being discarded as a matter of course represents a major danger to the public’s health, Kou says.

CommonWealth Magazine also examined data from Formosa Plastics Group plants and found a pattern of “false breakdowns but real pollution.”

One of those was Formosa Chemicals & Fibre Corp.’s third aromatic hydrocarbons plant in the Sixth Naphtha Cracker Complex in Mailiao in Yunlin County. Among 40,000 pieces of data, several readings from April and May 2017 that detected pollution levels exceeding permitted levels were coded as “invalid because of failures in CEMS monitoring equipment.”

That immediately led to the question of how a company such as the Formosa Plastics Group, which insists on getting to the bottom of problems and constantly improving, would admit to an equipment failure. The company was eventually fined NT$100,000 by the Yunlin County government because it could not produce the minimum amount of valid emissions data from the CEMS program required by law.

Commonwealth asked Wu Yi-chan, the director of environmental assessments in Formosa Plastics’ Environmental Health and Safety Department, about the numbers, and he admitted “it was because the worker handling the tests was not familiar with the law. When he found the numbers were not stable, he coded the test data as a CEMS failure.”

In other words, the equipment was fine but it was the worker’s fault for calling the readings showing excessive emissions “invalid values.” Whatever the reason, however, the pollutants were still released into the air.

This also presents a major challenge to local environmental protection bureaus in trying to figure out whether the moves were deliberate attempts to cheat the system or honest oversights by workers? Proof is hard to come by, so the only option left to agencies is to impose fines for a lack of data or falsified data.

Formosa Plastics also has several smokestacks for which data is lacking or non-existent.

“It’s likely due to a problem in the design of the EPA’s public transmission software. We’ve told environmental protection units about this,” Wu says.

But Chien Tsung-wen, an assistant researcher with National Cheng Kung University’s Sustainable Environment Research Laboratories and an expert on CEMS regulations, does not buy Wu’s argument.

“There’s no problem with the public transmission system. It’s likely Formosa Plastics’ own problem,” Chien says.

Sadly, the longer authorities wrestle with these issues and polluters find ways to circumvent the system to avoid fines or fees for polluting, the harder it will be to come to grips with Taiwan’s air pollution problem and devise solutions that can actually work.

By Yuping Kang, Kwang-Yin Liu, Kuo-Chen Lu

Translated by Luke Sabatier
Edited by Sharon Tseng

Hong Kong in March: A Mecca for Art and Local Culture Enthusiasts
Mar 07, 2019

Explore Art Basel, the city’s diverse art happenings and much more in Hong Kong Arts Month

HONG KONG & LOS ANGELES - During the month of March, visitors in Hong Kong will enjoy a plethora of arts and cultural events around the city, including the internationally renowned Art Basel Hong Kong and Art Central, which provides rare occasions for appreciating famous art pieces and a journey through the city's fascinating cultural life. In addition to the latest cultural venues and street artworks that have emerged in Hong Kong in recent months, art and culture enthusiasts will find Asia's World City the perfect subject matter to immerse in art and culture ambience.

International Art at Art Basel Hong Kong and Art Central

Visitors can immerse themselves in a lavish visual feast at Art Basel Hong Kong (March 29 - 31) and Art Central (March 27 - 31), the mainstays of Hong Kong Arts Month. Now in its seventh year, Art Basel Hong Kong will return to the conveniently located Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre with 242 galleries from 36 countries. Also boasting a strong line-up is Art Central, where over 100 galleries will showcase art from around the globe. The fifth edition will also feature carefully created performances, large-scale installations, new media art and talks. Aside from the incredible art, patrons will be served a mesmerizing view of Victoria Harbour and the city’s signature skyline at the Central Harbourfront venue.

New cultural hotspots capture a slice of history

A variety of important cultural venues have surfaced in the city in recent months. In January, the Xiqu Centre opened, becoming the first venue in the much-anticipated West Kowloon Cultural District. The Xiqu Centre is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Cantonese opera, featuring a striking architectural design that contrasts traditional and modern elements. With a futuristic form and a steel structure, the eight-storey structure is a reinterpretation of the traditional Chinese lantern, whereas its façade is shaped to resemble the parted curtains on a performing stage. While admiring the architecture, visitors are encouraged to enjoy an intimate Cantonese opera viewing experience over traditional tea and dim sum at the Tea House Theatre.

Another new development is The Mills, an innovative cultural hub transformed from a textile factory. Situated in Tsuen Wan, once an industrial area and now a major residential district, The Mills celebrates the golden days of Hong Kong’s textile industry and carries on the legacy by nurturing the city’s creative talents. Inside the Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile (CHAT) visitors can learn about the history of Hong Kong’s textile industry and the current local and global textile arts landscape. Visitors are warmly invited to experience the manual cotton-spinning process using traditional spinning instruments at CHAT’s Welcome to the Spinning Factory! Exhibition. Starting March 16, 2019, visitors can appreciate the array of contemporary textile arts displayed at the Unfolding: Fabric of Our Life Exhibition.

Also new is a key heritage site that opened in the past year, Tai Kwun, one of the city’s largest heritage revitalization projects which took a decade to complete. Three iconic declared monuments are now part of this cultural destination that houses a world-class museum, some of the city’s trendiest boutiques and restaurants, and sleek bars including Behind Bars, a stylish venue repurposed from the former Central Police Station prison cells.

Local Street Art

The art experience in Hong Kong is not limited to standalone events and places. From a street perspective, art has penetrated the corners of different neighborhoods, inviting the curious to explore living “street art museums.” A stroll through Central, Sheung Wan and the latest “ARTLANE” in the hipster Sai Ying Pun area, featuring murals by local and overseas artists can be found on walls of old buildings and staircases. Travelers can capture photos in front of the popular street art; hunt for shutter art around Hong Kong painted by young local artists under an initiative aptly called “HK Urban Canvas”, depicting the unique personalities and stories behind local shops; and keep an eye out for buzzing street scenes, intriguing contrasts and all the oddities that make Hong Kong an arts oasis.

"Hong Kong's flourishing arts scene takes center stage this month, further cementing the city as the cultural hub of Asia," said Bill Flora, U.S. director at the Hong Kong Tourism Board. "From the world-renowned Art Basel to community activities in Hong Kong's neighborhoods, Hong Kong Arts Month offers something for every type of arts and culture lover."

More than meets the eye and the lens

Those who seek more sensory stimulation will find an abundance of performing arts events, the most notable of which is the Hong Kong Arts Festival. With a history of over four decades, the annual event featuring opera, theatre, music, dance and more has been an artery of the city’s cultural life. Visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy 166 performances and over 300 exciting array of outreach activities by more than 1,700 artists from around the world during the month of March.

About Hong Kong: Hong Kong's storied history, award-winning food and libations, vibrant arts and culture scene, and stunning great outdoors has made it widely-known as one of the most exhilarating destinations in the world. Its mesmerizing contrasts of east and west, modern and ancient, and urban and natural leaves its visitors endless choices when planning a trip to Asia's World City. Visit for more information; follow Hong Kong Tourism Board on Twitter at @HongKongTourism for the latest Hong Kong news and trends.

For media enquiries, please contact:
Paul M. Garcia/Brea Burkholz
Hong Kong Tourism Board
(323) 938-7265 / (323) 938-7274

- ASIA TODAY News Global Distribution

Youth volunteers build houses in Habitat for Humanity’s 2019 Asia and Pacific Builds
Mar 07, 2019

Manila, March 06, 2019 – International volunteers from Habitat for Humanity break ground today in Fiji for this year’s Pacific Build, following in the footsteps of other volunteers at the Asia Build in Myanmar last month.

Fifty-two young Japanese volunteers spent 10 days from February 10 to 20 to help build four strong, disaster-resilient homes using bamboo technology in Sonpi Village, Thanatpin Township in Bago, Myanmar. Another team of 20 Japanese youth will work from March 6 to 16 to build a safe home for a family in Korobebe village, a mountainous area in Nadi, Fiji.

Rick Hathaway, Asia-Pacific vice president of Habitat for Humanity International said, “Having the heart of a volunteer creates good things, as shown by these young people who help build houses and spend time with families and communities that we are supporting. From this annual activity, we hope to build a generation of young leaders who will raise awareness and resources to help families build strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter.

Now on its second run, The Asia and Pacific Builds are an initiative of the 2019 Habitat Young Leaders Build that provides youth across Asia-Pacific opportunities to join international volunteer trips, raise awareness about the issues of decent housing, and interact with local youth volunteers and community members. It gives young people an avenue to support the work of Habitat for Humanity.

The volunteer trip to Myanmar is 19-year-old Rino Yoshida’s second Global Village trip with Habitat, having previously helped build a house in Battambang, Cambodia. When she heard about the #HabitatYLB Asia Build from a school friend, she decided to volunteer again. “I wanted to learn how to build a bamboo house,” she said. “When I first saw the family whose house I will help build, I felt awkward. I saw that their temporary house was fragile and vulnerable. Once the house is finished and the family has moved in, I wish that they will have a better life.”

The 2019 #HabitatYLB Asia and Pacific Builds also marks the 30th anniversary of Habitat’s Global Village, an international volunteer program that organizes short trips abroad for volunteers to work hand-in-hand with families to build simple, decent houses. Over the years, the program has helped provide homes to hundreds and thousands of families, empowering them to lead meaningful lives.

U Thein Naing, 49, is one of the four new homeowners in Bago district. Despite all their efforts, he and his wife, Daw Khin Aye, 54, find that their monthly income of 100,000 Myanmar kyat (US$65) is just enough to pay for their children’s school fees and food. They had no money left over to shoulder house repairs. With the support of Habitat and the Asia Build volunteers, he was able to build a disaster-resilient house that will not leak during the rainy season.

“The first time I saw the volunteers, I already felt like they were part of the family. No words can express my happiness. Without them or Habitat, there is no way we could afford a strong house. My favorite part of the build was when we built the stairs and the water tank, because I never had those before,” U Thein Naing said.

The annual Habitat Young Leaders Build will culminate on 13 April 2019, with young people taking part in a multitude of activities across the region. These include house construction, school cleaning, hygiene and sanitation education, fundraising events, and advocating for decent housing on social media. Since 2012, over 12.5 million Habitat Young Leaders Build supporters have raised US$7.5 million in funds to help build houses and supported more than 29,000 families across the Asia and the Pacific.

Join the Habitat Young Leaders Build community on Facebook Post on social media with the hashtag #HabitatYLB. Follow on Instagram @HabitatYLB.

– ends –

Aaron Aspi
+63 920 956 9181

- ASIA TODAY News Global Distribution

Malaysia To Unveil Home-Made Flying Car
Investvine, A Company of Inside Investor, Ltd.
Mar 04, 2019

Malaysia plans to unveil its first flying car prototype to the public this year, Minister of Entrepreneur Development Mohd Redzuan Md Yusof said on February 26 at the launch of the “Growth Malaysia” initiative in Kuala Lumpur.

The prototype, which was developed domestically by national car maker Proton, was “safe and capable of flying at low altitude at a reasonable speed,” he said.

“This year is a realistic target because we have the technology already. It is all about speed of implementation,” said Redzuan.

Investment to build the prototype would be slightly over one million ringgit ($245,500), he added. The vehicle would be used in the agriculture and aerospace sector, among others.

“We will use local capabilities to build the flying car. We will only refer to foreign parties when it comes to exchanging information over the car’s safety,” he told Malaysian media.

It was reported a few months back that Proton will collaborate with China’s Zhejiang Geely (which recently purchased flying car developer Terrafugia) to build a “concept of a passenger vehicle that flies like an air plane in the air and drives like a car on the ground”.

The minister also noted that the flying car project was a way for the government ”to create an environment that stimulates people to think about new technology.”

“We are providing the catalyst and ecosystem to stimulate the people to think beyond what we do today,” he said.

Company Investvine, A Company of Inside Investor, Ltd.
Contact Imran Saddique
Filipinos Spend More Than Ten Hours Online Per Day – World Record
Investvine, A Company of Inside Investor, Ltd.
Feb 08, 2019

The Philippines are topping the global country ranking of Internet usage per day with an average ten hours and 2 minutes of screen time. The country was joined in the top five by Thailand and Indonesia, according to findings in a new report on online habits released by HootSuite and We Are Social.

Filipinos are also the world’s most voracious users of social media, spending around four hours and 12 minutes on various social media platforms every day. Based on the latest report, Internet users in the Philippines raised their average daily time online from nine hours and 29 minutes last year.

Filipinos’ latest average daily use of the Internet also far exceeds the global average online time of six hours and 42 minutes daily. Social media usage is also now nearly double the global daily average of two hours and 16 minutes.

Ranked third, people in Thailand were found to spend an average nine hours and 11 minutes online each day, while those in neighbouring Indonesia also devoted more than a third of their day to screen time, clocking in at eight hours and 36 minutes on average.

Developing nations from Southeast Asia and Latin America dominated the Internet usage index, with Brazil and Colombia ranked second and fourth, respectively.

Asia also featured at the other end of the spectrum, with people in Japan spending the least amount of time online – at an average of three hours and 45 minutes.

“Asia is one of the world’s fastest-growing regions for Internet and mobile usage, and with that comes a huge appetite for technological adoption, foreign investment and digital innovation. Brands and companies are recognizing this opportunity and demonstrating a strong sense of urgency to integrate digital and social media into their business,” said Roger Graham, Hootsuite’s head of Asia.

Photo by Tim Bennett on Unsplash

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10 Biggest Health Threats Listed by WHO
Feb 08, 2019

While some parts of the world have limited access to vaccines, patients in other regions are reluctant to use them, partly because of the anti-vaccine movement. Another area of huge concern is the toll that pollution and climate change take on health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified 10 of the biggest threats to world health in 2019. WHO policymakers have devised a new 5-year strategic plan to address these problems, which aims to improve the lives of up to 3 billion people worldwide.

The following 10 major dangers are among the most serious health threats facing the world.

Air Pollution and Climate Change

Each day, approximately 90% of the world’s population breathes polluted air, which contains microscopic particles that penetrate respiratory and circulatory systems. These pollutants damage the lungs, heart and brain and result in 7 million premature deaths each year from cancer, stroke, heart and lung conditions. The vast majority of pollution-related deaths occur in low and middle-income nations.

Burning fossil fuels is a major cause of pollution, especially in industrializing nations, and a catalyst for manmade climate change.

Noncommunicable Diseases

Approximately 41 million people die of non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease. That’s more than 70% of all worldwide deaths. Incidents of these diseases are dramatically higher in low and middle-income countries than wealthier nations, due to a combination of high tobacco and alcohol use, polluted air, unhealthy diet and little exercise.

Global Influenza Pandemic

According to the WHO, anticipating the next influenza pandemic is about “when” it strikes, not “if” it strikes. Although influenza may not be considered a serious threat by some, seasonal influenza kills up to 650,000 people each year. The global spread of influenza viruses is monitored, but the defense system relies on the effectiveness of emergency response around the world.

Fragile and Vulnerable Settings

More than a fifth of the world’s population live with protracted drought, famine, conflict or mass displacement as part of their daily life. People living in fragile settings exist in most world regions, often with no access to basic healthcare.

Antimicrobial Resistance

The development of antibiotics, antivirals and antimalarial medicines have helped suppress serious infections like pneumonia and tuberculosis. But the overuse of antimicrobials in people, animals used in food production, and the environment, has allowed bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi to develop a resistance to the drugs. As well as allowing infections to reassert themselves, antimicrobial resistance could also compromise surgery and procedures like chemotherapy.

Ebola and Other High-threat Pathogens

Deadly pathogens like the Zika virus or Ebola outbreaks spread quickly and can have devastating consequences. Outbreaks in rural areas can quickly reach densely populated urban areas, which require different methods of containing the spread and treating those infected. The WHO has devised a list of priority diseases and pathogens that pose the most serious risk to human life due to their epidemic potential.

Weak Primary Healthcare

Doctors, community nurses, local clinic staff or other health professionals are usually a patient’s primary care providers. Primary healthcare often meets most of a patient’s needs throughout their life.

A strong national healthcare system has its roots in establishing comprehensive, affordable, basic health provision. But in some low and middle-income countries a lack of resources can leave patients with limited or no access to primary care, which makes them vulnerable to numerous health risks.

Vaccine Hesitancy

Vaccines are one of the most effective and cost-effective weapons in the fight against infectious diseases, preventing 2 to 3 million deaths each year. However, some countries that have all but eliminated diseases like measles have seen a resurgence due to people’s reluctance to vaccinate. This could be due to complacency about the threat of a specific disease, inconvenience in accessing vaccine provisions or a lack of confidence in the effectiveness of immunizations.

Dengue Fever

Spread by mosquito bite, dengue fever is a growing threat throughout the rainy season in countries like Bangladesh and India. Once contracted, dengue’s flu-like symptoms kill up to 20% of those with severe cases. Once associated only with tropical climates, dengue fever is now spreading to more temperate climates.


Great strides have been made bringing HIV under control and antiretroviral drugs have enabled many people with the disease to lead normal lives. But in some parts of the world, the epidemic is still in full flow.

Groups of infected people are often excluded from health service provision and currently HIV/AIDS kills almost a million people each year.

Edited by Tomas Lin

Original content can be found at the website of World Economic Forum: Anti-vaccine sentiment one of 10 biggest health threats, says WHO

CO2 Can Be a Valuable Raw Material. Here's How
Jan 24, 2019

What if we did something with carbon emissions, instead of continuing to try and contain them on a massive scale?

The world is off track on climate action, with global warming heading towards 3°C this century, according to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). We used to think that if we could keep warming below 2°C, then the changes we would experience would somehow be manageable. But the IPCC’s report states that even going past 1.5°C is gambling with the planet's liveability.

While the negotiators at the 24th UN Climate Conference in December 2018 secured agreement on a range of measures that will make the Paris Agreement operational in 2020, now is high time to plan action - in cities, rural areas, energy systems, construction, transport and industry.

Action is expected from the sector that I represent - the chemical industry. It produces many useful products that we can hardly do without, from medications, adhesives and cleaning products to high-quality engineering plastics. However, producing these materials consumes a great deal of energy and natural resources, and releases a significant amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere.

Thanks to modern processes and constant efforts, a lot less is released than previously. However, in Europe alone, industrial processes are the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Still, the chemical industry is a key enabler for a more sustainable future, and part of the solution.

One example of thinking differently is CO2. What if we did something with it, instead of continuing to try and contain it on a massive scale? One promising pathway is using this climate destroyer as a useful raw material, to provide the valuable carbon that the chemical industry so heavily relies on. In doing so, we would need fewer raw materials from fossil sources such as petroleum.

There is a growing movement utilizing non-fossil resources, such as carbon dioxide and plants. This constitutes an important facet of the circular economy, which is still in its infancy. But moving in a circle doesn’t just mean recycling; rather, the entire cycle must be considered.

All the various actors in the cycle must cooperate. A prime example of collective action in terms of material cycles is Carbon4PUR. This pan-European, large collaborative project studies how smelting gases, including CO2, from steel production can be used to produce chemicals and end products. The consortium is made of 14 partners from seven countries and comprises the whole value chain.

I’m certain that sooner or later, CO2 as a resource will become an economic factor. Several companies around the world are already developing new technologies and business ideas around CO2-based products. Unlocking the potential of these ideas doesn’t just require political support - acceptance by society at large is also needed. And the financial sector has the opportunity to channel venture capital into new raw materials, stimulating the start-up scene.

The chemical and plastics industry would be well-advised to explore this topic, as it could help in reaching ambitious climate targets. As a key sector, this industry has considerable influence over its products and how they are developed, and therefore can impact the sustainability balance and climate effect of downstream industries.

Above all, it is the sound economic argument that should prompt the chemical industry to look around for alternatives to petroleum and expand its resource base. It will have to prepare for the fact that generating greenhouse gases may cost more in the future. But this new approach will help meet the growing consumer demand for products made in a sustainable and climate-neutral way.

It is often said that those who run in circles never get far. In the case of resource efficiency, I beg to disagree.

Edited by Sharon Tseng

Eye on Vietnam, The New Electronics Manufacturing Hub
Jan 19, 2019

Major electronics makers are desperately seeking new production bases as the U.S.-China trade war shows no signs of abating. For many, Vietnam is the top choice, with a powerful electronics cluster taking shape in the northern part of the country. We went there to find how what’s happening.

At the beginning of 2007, not long after Vietnam gained accession to the World Trade Organization, Hon Hai Precision Industry (Foxconn) Chairman Terry Gou set out from his factory in Shenzhen and drove through Nanning in the Guangxi Autonomous Region to Hanoi in Vietnam. (Read: Terry Gou's Secret Bases)

He wanted to get a firsthand look at a possible cross-border transportation route in anticipation of setting up a Hon Hai assembly line in northern Vietnam, where wages were less than a third of those in Shenzhen. The factory there would be fed parts and components from the company’s plants in Guangdong and Guangxi provinces.

At the time, Gou realized that, with the drive from his plant in Shenzhen to Nanning taking 13 hours and the 300-kilometer drive from Nanning to Hanoi taking only six to eight hours, he could ship goods from the Shenzhen facility in the evening and have them in Bac Ninh just west of Hanoi the next morning, ready to be processed.

One person familiar with Hon Hai’s operations described Gou’s thinking behind the strategic move and why he opted against southern Vietnam, where most Taiwanese were investing at the time, saying,

“If it had been southern Vietnam, which was much farther away from China’s supply chain, the timing of the shipments would not have worked.”

Consequently, Hon Hai bought more than 400 hectares of land in Bac Ninh that included space in the future for upstream suppliers in the supply chain. The company’s plans to build a new facility there were temporarily derailed, however, when the global financial crisis undermined the world economy in late 2008.

Twelve years later, though the United States and China have reached a temporary ceasefire in their trade war, Taiwanese electronics manufacturers continue with plans to shift production out of China to avoid punitive American import duties, worried about lingering uncertainty over U.S.-China relations. (Read: Terry Gou’s U.S. Gambit: The Eagle Has Taken Off)

As a result, the electronics connection envisioned by Gou more than a decade ago has blossomed.

Hon Hai now has three factories in the northern Vietnam provinces of Bac Ninh and Bac Giang, and leading notebook assembler Compal Electronics is planning to re-launch its facility in Vinh Phuc province, northwest of Hanoi.

Many other businesses and investors have flocked to northern Vietnam over the past three to four months, scouting the area.

One of those that moved in was communications equipment company Wistron NeWeb Corp., which quietly rented a factory from Taiwanese company Mitac Precision Technology Corporation in the Kinh Bac City industrial park in Bac Ninh.

“When you make products for American brands, if you deliver one to two months late, it will affect distribution in the market. Those who were in a rush decided to rent factory space to meet production needs, because buying land, building a plant and ramping up production takes at least a year. They would not have made it in time,” says the general manager of a Taiwanese company that has set up a factory there.

We followed the same route Terry Gou did in 2007, starting from Nanning to experience this new electronics industry artery firsthand and get an understanding of the speed, scale and sustainability of this latest Taiwanese migration tide.

Scene 1: Nanning to Friendship Pass in Pingxiang
Core Hub of the China-Vietnam Electronics Artery

Our vehicle left from Nanning and got on the flat and wide Nanyou Expressway, the major roadway heading toward the major border crossing near Pingxiang.

During the trip, we saw one 45-foot container truck after another scream by a “One Belt One Road” banner.

It took less than three hours to reach the China-Vietnam border – the Friendship Pass in Pingxiang – and line up for immigration and customs procedures to enter Vietnam. Pingxiang is the hub of this 300-kilometer-long electronics artery.

All of the parts and components produced in China’s main electronics clusters in Chongqing, Chengdu, and the Yangtze and Pearl River deltas have to pass through here before being delivered to industrial parks in Bac Ninh, Bac Giang and Vinh Phuc about 150 kilometers away to be processed.

“Of all the land bordering checkpoints in China, Pingxiang has the biggest volume of electronics products passing through. Eight hundred cargo trucks a day deliver components to Vietnam, with each container carrying tens of millions of renminbi worth of parts,” says Catch Cheng, the 31-year-old vice general manager of logistics company Guangxi Greating Fortune International Cooperation Logis Co., Ltd.

He has promised one of his customers – Samsung – that components manufactured in the Kunshan area near Shanghai will arrive at Samsung’s factories in Bac Ninh and Bac Giang in “72 hours, without fail,” he says.

A native of Hunan Province, Cheng was stationed by his company in Pingxiang for three years, and he has since married a woman from the minority Zhuang people. He handles about 10,000 containers of electronics parts shipped from China to Vietnam a year, an average of nearly 30 a day.

He said the volume of goods being transported on this major artery is growing about 20 percent a year, and he has seen many companies from Shenzhen set up logistics and trading companies over the past year in the Pingxiang customs building where he has his office.

Scene 2: Friendship Pass to Hanoi
A Different Look in Vietnam

After we drove through the Friendship Pass and entered northern Vietnam, the gap in basic infrastructure between China and Vietnam became immediately apparent.

The high-quality expressway within China’s borders narrowed into a regular two-lane dirt road.. A long line of container trucks seemed to occupy the lane, and intrepid drivers would occasionally veer into the opposite lane to pass a truck or two, often just barely averting direct collisions with oncoming traffic.

Ultimately, it took four hours to cover the roughly 170 kilometers to Hanoi.

When our vehicle arrived at the Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park in Bac Ninh, about 30 kilometers from Hanoi, it drove into ALS East Hanoi Joint Stock Co., a customs bonded warehouse exclusively serving the electronics sector. There, 40 people work in shifts around the clock.

The containers of electronics components shipped by Catch Cheng from China are sent to the ALS warehouse and sorted before being reshipped to electronics manufacturers in industrial parks in Bac Ninh and Bac Giang.

“The factory that Foxconn uses to assemble Nokia phones, Fushan Technology, is right next to us, not even five minutes away,” says Tran Do Trong Khanh, ALS East Hanoi’s deputy director, in fluent English.

ALS serves 50 electronics manufacturers who have set up factories in the area, including Foxconn and Samsung. (Read: A Threat to South Korea? Terry Gou’s American Dream)

Compared with the one week it would take to ship the components by sea, trucking goods from Shenzhen, Dongguan or Guangzhou in Guangdong province or even from Xiamen through the Friendship Pass to Bac Ninh, Bac Giang or Vinh Phuc takes only one or at most two days.

That’s roughly the same amount of time required for shipments within China, explaining why northern Vietnam has emerged as a dominant player in the global electronics manufacturing services market, especially as the U.S. and China continue to duke it out.

Translated by Luke Sabatier
Edited by Sharon Tseng