Regional Digest

Grab raises $750m to fund expansion plans

Ride-hailing platform Grab has raised $750 million in funding, in a round led by Japanese mobile giant SoftBank, its long-term strategic partner.

This increases the company’s total capital position to more than $1 billion, it said in a statement on Sept 20. The money raised was the largest round ever for a regional consumer technology company, Grab added.

The company was launched in Malaysia in 2012 and focuses on Southeast Asia.

The money will be used to expand its services in the region, and Indonesia in particular. Grab will also significantly invest in mobile payments capabilities to improve access in a region with low banking and credit card penetration.


Sales of green vehicles surge in South Korea

South Korea sold more environmentally friendly vehicles than Germany, the largest producer of automobiles in the world, in the first half of the year, data showed on Sept 19.

According to the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association (KAMA), carmakers in the country sold a combined 26,161 cars while those in Germany sold 25,031 cars.

Sales of green cars in South Korea between January and June surged 64 percent from the previous year. KAMA attributed the rapid increase of green car sales to the debuts of electric and low-emission cars by domestic carmakers including Hyundai and Kia this year. 

Most green cars sold in South Korea were hybrid cars, accounting for 97.2 percent of the total.


Bangladesh to launch post office banking

The government in Bangladesh plans to launch banking services at post offices to give a boost to social safety net programs and popularize savings tools across the country, especially in remote rural areas.

The post and telecom division sought approval from the Ministry of Finance to introduce the services under Bangladesh Post Office, said Tarana Halim, state minister for post and telecoms.

“We think there is scope to serve the people living in remote areas through the post offices,” she said. Currently, there are around 8,900 post offices across the country. The post office will be the biggest banking channel if the Ministry of Finance agrees to the proposal.


Japan plans to use AI in event of disasters

The Japanese government plans to start developing a system for medical information and communication using artificial intelligence (AI) to minimize the damage to humans in the event of disasters.

If a large-scale disaster occurs, the AI technology will analyze the equipment and transportation routes that are best suited for the treatment of injured people, and notify the authorities.

The government aims to put the system into practical use within three to five years. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has earmarked about 4 billion yen ($39 million) in its initial budget request for fiscal 2017 as development costs.


Thai household debt rises by 20 percent 

Average household debt in Thailand has reached the highest level in nine years at 298,000 baht ($8,500) per family, surging 20 percent from this time last year, according to a survey by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC).

However, the UTCC does not see this as a major concern as debtors have been moving away from underground lenders toward regulated financial institutions. 

Monthly debt-servicing costs average 14,889 baht, according to the survey. Of this, 62.3 percent went to financial institutions and 37.7 percent to underground loan providers. Last year, 48.7 percent went to financial institutions and 51.3 percent to loan sharks.


Container port opens in Ho Chi Minh City

A new international container terminal was officially opened on Sept 18 in Ho Chi Minh City, in southern Vietnam. A total investment of more than $200 million went into the SP-ITC international container terminal.

Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh said that the SP-ITC terminal, which was just a muddy area five years ago, would become an important trading gate for the southern part of the country.

“The new port will share the burden with the Cat Lai port, which is already overloaded with export and import activities,” he said at the opening ceremony.

All equipment and machines at the terminal run on electricity, not diesel fuel, saving energy consumption by more than 30 percent.


Gloomy outlook for Indonesia’s exports

Indonesia is likely to find it a challenge matching its trade performance last year as the value of exports nosedived by double digits in the first eight months of 2016.

On Sept 15, the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) reported that exports stood at $91.73 billion in the January-August period, down by 10.61 percent compared to the corresponding period last year.

“Given the current weak conditions, it will be difficult (to reach the target),” said Sasmito Hadi Wibowo, the BPS deputy head for distribution and statistics. “As of now, we have only seen $12 billion of exports per month on average.” 


Agencies — Asia News Network

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