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Why So Many Asian Countries Are Staying Neutral On Putin

Western countries want to isolate Russia on the world stage. But for many Asian countries, the war in Ukraine is distant geographically and economically, and represents an existential debate between dictatorships and democracies.


TOKYO — Vladimir Putin could not have put it better than Zaw Min Tun, the spokesman of the junta in power in Myanmar. “Russia has taken the necessary actions to protect and strengthen its own sovereignty," Min Tun said the day after the invasion of Ukraine. "As a great power, it ensures the balance of world forces, which allows the preservation of peace.”

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The war launched against Ukraine prompted a unanimous condemnation of Russia in Western countries and triggered a coordinated and rapid implementation of very severe sanctions. But the same cannot be said for Asia.

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Fortunate Nations: Six Coronavirus Success Stories

Vietnam and Slovakia are among those that have stood out in the response, though the apparent reasons vary.

With much of the world still overrun by the pandemic, we can look to a handful of countries that have either largely avoided or quickly recovered from COVID-19. A handful of countries (16 at recent tally), mostly small and remote, have had no cases at all. But there are others that have been more exposed, but have done well to limit the spread, as well as the death toll. Looking at these cases, there's apparently not one perfect solution — rather a variety of steps, strategies and most probably also luck, that have shown to be the most effective to claim a kind of victory of the coronavirus. And just as importantly, there are some lessons for the rest of us:

VIETNAM: has an impressive coronavirus record for a country of 93 million people: 268 cases and zero deaths, reports Les Échos. What did Vietnam do differently? The government opted for a low-cost strategy: instead of mass testing, the country relied on rapid identification and isolation of infected individuals and tracking of their contacts via a mobile app. As a result, nearly 75,000 Vietnamese went through a 14-day quarantine in military camps and state-run hotels. Six townships and neighborhoods were cut off from the world. Above all, Vietnam was one of the first countries to close its border with China, even though its economy is highly dependent on its larger neighbor.

NEW ZEALAND: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared this week that the country has won the battle against coronavirus as "there is no widespread, undetected community transmission." Throughout the outbreak, the country has reported 19 coronavirus deaths in total – meaning 4 deaths per one million. After nearly five weeks in one of the world's toughest lockdowns – with offices, schools, bars and restaurants closed, including takeaway and delivery services – New Zealand now begins to ease the restrictions, reports SBS News.

SOUTH KOREA: From being Asia's worst-hit country outside China a few months ago, South Korea is now hailed as a role model for successfully containing the outbreak. At the heart of its success lies the strategy of widespread testing and intensive contact tracing.

Lantern decorations in Seoul, South Korea, on April 24 — Photo: Simon Shin/SOPA/ZUMA

In an impressive demonstration of speed, South Korean authorities have made tests freely available and set up drive-in stations for anyone to get tested. Isolating only those who tested positive, the epidemic was swiftly controlled while successfully avoiding a nationwide shut down.

SLOVAKIA: With 20 coronavirus deaths so far, Slovakia has the lowest death rate per capita in Europe. The country enforced one of Europe's harshest and earliest lockdowns, including early bans on international travel as well as all public, religious, cultural and sporting events. Schools and most shops have been closed and people returning from abroad have to undergo a 14-day quarantine. Slovakia was also one of the first places to impose compulsory wearing of face masks in public. But severe restrictions cannot be the only factor explaining such low numbers, since other central and eastern European countries proceeded in a similar way and ended up with significantly higher per capita figures of deaths and infections. In fact, epidemiologists and demographers don't have a clear explanation for how the country, as Slovak daily Dennik N put it, became "an island in the sea of mortality".

OTHER ISLANDS: There are still a handful of countries with zero reported cases of coronavirus, mostly among Pacific Islands in Oceania. Islands like Vanuatu, Samoa, and Micronesia were quick to implement travel restrictions and some of them also enforced lockdowns. At the same time, countries like Tuvalu or the Solomon Islands are some of the least visited countries in the world, which has been a massive help in preventing an outbreak.

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Watch: OneShot — Thích Quảng Đức's Saigon Self-Immolation

Our new OneShot commemorates Vietnamese monk Thích Quảng Đức's self-immolation, which took place exactly 55 years ago, on June 11, 1963. The images of this dramatic moment by Associated Press photographer, Malcom W. Browne, won both the World Press Photo of the Year and the Pulitzer Prize.

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Eddie Adams' Iconic Saigon Shot, 50 Years Later (Video)

Even in a pre-internet era, the impact was almost immediate.

Eddie Adams' Feb. 1, 1968 photograph of Lt. Col. Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a North Vietnamese prisoner hit the Associated Press wires, and would soon appear in newspapers in the United States and around the world. The graphic image stunned the public and politicians alike, quickly adding to the mounting opposition to the war in Vietnam. Some historians say it may have changed the course of the war itself.

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Kannikar Petchkaew

Not Just Harvey, How Climate Change Is Ruining Vietnam's 'Rice Bowl'

A vital source of agricultural crops, fish and shrimp, the Mekong Delta is Vietnam's most fertile area. But it's also the most fragile.

CAN THO — Vietnam's Mekong Delta is a land carpeted in endless shades of greens, a water world that moves to the rhythms of the mighty Mekong River. Boats, houses and markets float upon innumerable tributaries, canals and streams that crisscross the landscape like arteries.

Some 20 million people call the Delta home, and 60 million rely on its river system. The natural environment, needless to say, is essential to life. The Mekong, as on local folk song suggests, is a lifelong partner that provides the people wisdom and guidance.

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U.S.-Vietnam Breakthrough, Austrian Dead Heat, Olympic Condoms


Following last year's diplomatic breakthrough on Cuba and ahead of an unprecedented trip to Hiroshima, Japan, U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement this morning of an end to the longstanding weapons embargo on Vietnam can be quickly dropped into the "historic" file of his presidency. The presence of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, a Vietnam War veteran, in Hanoi added a touch of poignancy to the news.

Still, to observers of the region, the breakthrough is much more about the future than the past. The closer ties of the former enemies reflect simmering fears the two countries share about the extent of China's military ambitions. In some sense, the end of the embargo marks a symbolic late-term bookmark on Obama's declaration early in his presidency of Washington's diplomatic "pivot" towards Asia, and away from historic areas of focus in Europe and the Middle East.

On the eve of Obama's visit to the region, a sharply worded piece in the Singapore-based Straits Times from top Chinese diplomat Xu Bu offered a view of how Beijing sees Washington's presence in the region. American officials, Xu writes, "repeatedly made irresponsible remarks about China's policy, rendered support to the countries having disputes with China, and (have) gone even further to drive wedges between China and Southeast Asian countries." Yes, in Hanoi today, history was made — with plenty more to come.


More than 100 people have died in multiple bomb attacks in the Syrian coastal cities of Tartus and Jableh, two Syrian government strongholds, Reuters reports, citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks, the scale of which was "unprecedented", according to the head of the Observatory. This part of Syria had been largely quiet despite the chaos engulfing most of the country. Tartus is also home to a Russian naval base.

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food / travel
Lien Hoang

A Profit-Minded Quest For Reducing Food Waste

With half of the world's food tossed out, how can we be less wasteful? For starters, looking for smart new ways to earn money by decreasing waste.

HO CHI MINH CITY — Here's a novel idea: To improve your health and looks, use chicken. Not to eat. But to rub on your skin ... well, sort of.

A team of Malaysian researchers has been trying to find a use for chicken skin, which contains high levels of elastin — similar to collagen — and can be turned into such beauty products as anti-aging lotions and cosmetics. It can even be used to make health drinks.

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Lien Hoang

Foreigners Accept Red Tape To Buy Property In Vietnam

Vietnam has come a long way since the real estate bubble burst a few years back.
Buyers are scooping up properties since a new law opened the market to foreigners.

HO CHI MINH CITY Vietnam is hoping to see a lot more people like Haig Conolly. The Australian and his wife became the first foreigners to buy real estate in Vietnam under a new property law that took effect over the summer. Policymakers pushed the law as a way to attract foreigners and increase demand in the property market.

"We were enormously assisted everywhere we went," Conolly says. "The quality of the product is increasingly of international standard."

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food / travel
Doan Bui

The Continental, Au Revoir To Iconic Vietnam War Hotel

Forty years after the North Vietnamese conquered Saigon, tourists and locals alike shun the colonial hotel that once was a den for the chronicles of war.

HO CHI MINH CITY — TripAdvisor can be cruel. "Avoid at all costs!" reads one review of the Hotel Continental. No respect, not even for legends.

Ranking a mediocre No. 103 among Ho Chi Minh City's 302 hotels, what may be Asia's most iconic hotel is struggling. "Questionable carpeting," reads another comment. "Bring your own refreshments." "Everything is too old and barely working."

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Emily Liedel

Smart Cities International: Telecommuting Colombia, Enlightened Pilgrims, Greener Paris

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food / travel
Martina Miethig

Vietnamese Foodie Delights On Moped Tour Of Ho Chi Minh City

HO CHI MINH CITY — The night begins with a concerto of motor bike horns as the heat lies like a damp rag over everything. All the mopeds take off at the light, tooting their horns at once, and in the twilight we leave behind Ho Chi Minh City's tourist district, with its French-colonial buildings, town hall and theater. We plunge instead into the nightly bustle of the city formerly known as Saigon.

Nguyen Tien is a confident driver and tour guide. "We're going through Chinatown right now," she says in perfect English front the front of the moped. No sooner has she uttered these words, we smell the medical, slightly musty herbs and roots of traditional medicine. The camera in the driver's helmet is capturing the scenes around us. Too bad it can't capture scents too. Like the other smells on this "Foodie Tour" of Ho Chi Minh City, these are to be savored.

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Michel de Grandi

Vietnam Shows Big Ambitions In Sprawling New Port Project

Haiphong, the third largest Vietnamese city, could become a new Asian transport hub to compete with Hong Kong and Singapore.

HAIPHONG — The ship leaves the city of Haiphong behind, headed towards the Red River Delta. The contrast between the two riverbanks is striking. On one side, a never-ending line of boats are waiting to unload at the wharf. On the other, there is nothing but a preserved site. The sea is more than 15 kilometers downstream, and visitors need a lot of imagination to picture what a greatly expanded Haiphong port will look like in 2025.

Today, this sea access is crammed, but a series of projects are expected to transform it into a vast complex equipped with, among other things, a deep water port. Construction began in 2013, and it is scheduled to open in 2016 or early 2017.

The new port, which will be called Lach Huyen Port, will eventually allow ships over 80,000 tons — as opposed to the current 15,000 to 20,000 tons — to stop in Haiphong, some 100 kilometers from the capital Hanoi. The project includes the construction of more 10 kilometers of docks along a channel with a draft up to 14 meters. Financed in part by Japanese funds, the plans also involves building a 9-kilometer bridge, the connection by highway to Hanoi and power plants, sewage treatment plants, etc.

These installations are only a small part of a much bigger development plan to build industrial parks inspired by those created in 1997 in Dinh Vu, which is home to investors such as Knauf, Chevron, Shinetsu and, more recently, Bridgestone.

Fortified by its first successful experience in Dinh Vu, the Belgian company Rent-A-Port has been entrusted with the development of 1,800 hectares (4,448 acres) of these new industrial parks around the deep water port.

The interest in the Red River Delta stems from the fact that the area has 40 million inhabitants and many companies. "We position ourselves where there's a market," explains David Thomas, general manager of the Vietnam-based branch of German company Knauf, which is investing 30 million euros in a new factory.

Multinational corporations like Samsung are turning Vietnam into one of the support bases for their production. For that, the South Korean company was granted significant tax advantages. Still, those are offered "on a case-by-case basis, nothing is automatic," says Nicolas Audier, a French lawyer who has been living in Asia for more than 20 years.

Creating a new hub

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Bruno Philip

Naval Pursuits And Geopolitics In The South China Sea

What the growing tensions look like, up close, aboard a Vietnamese Coast Guard vessel coming face-to-face with the Chinese navy.

SOUTH CHINA SEA — From here, the Chinese oil rig twelve nautical miles away is nothing more than a vertical line on the horizon, barely visible under the stormy sky of the South China Sea. It’s 8 o’clock in the morning on Saturday June 14.

The Vietnamese coast guard’s white-and-blue boat moves forward, ripping through the waves, its bow pointing toward the first Chinese ships. About 30 of them are positioned in an arc shape to protect the platform that China just installed, “illegally” according to Hanoi, in the disputed waters around the Paracel Islands, off the coast of Vietnam.

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