Shipping Out: Week in Review – Significant Security and Weather Travel Risks

Travel advisories in HK and throughout Asia for the upcoming week.

Photo: 28 August, 2019 #Metoo protests by Matt P.

Myanmar has long suffered from conflict which in recent years has occurred, for the most part, in regions far from where foreign visitors typically visit. The recent coordinated attack by the Northern Alliance (the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Arakan Army, and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army) in Pyin Oo Lwin near Mandalay city, included an unprecedented strike on a military academy. Intense clashes subsequently occurred in both Shan State and Rakhine State. Along the Cambodia – Laos border, troop deployments led to concerns that conflict could erupt over border disputes.

This past weekend severe Tropical Storm Bailu (known as Ineng in the Philippines) brought heavy rain first to the Philippines and later to southern Taiwan. Although the storm’s path avoided Taipei, the international airport in Taoyuan experienced flight delays and cancellations. The rainy weather will help mosquitoes breed, and Taiwan recently announced more indigenous dengue cases with the largest numbers in Kaohsiung and Tainan. Bailu subsequently made landfall in China’s Fujian Province on Sunday with flooding and evacuations expected. Also in recent days, Thailand’s northeastern province of Buri Ram was inundated with heavy rain that resulted in floods. In Indonesia, fires from nearly 700 fire hotspots in Sumatra, Kalimantan and the Riau islands continue to create smog and other health problems.

Storms, smog, and protestors are not the only recent causes of airport problems. In recent days the failure of the US Customs and Border Protection computer system led to long lines at airports across the United States. A similar failure at Kuala Lumpur International Airport also caused long lines and departure delays, though authorities now claim they have reduced the problems to more manageable “minor hiccups”. As a passenger waiting in line opined, “people are growing frustrated”. We couldn’t agree more.

Stay Safe In the Upcoming Week

As the Mandalay region is popular with both business and leisure travellers, visitors to Myanmar should obtain the latest updates prior to traveling outside Yangon by registering their itinerary with their embassy and/or sign up for embassy email updates. In addition to monitoring the situation on the Cambodia – Laos border, violence in southern Thailand may increase after an insurgent suspect died under suspicious circumstances over the weekend.

In India’s Punjab province, flooding is expected after a major portion of an embankment in the catchment area of the Sutlej river was washed away following Pakistan’s release of water into the Indian territory. Officials on Sunday said the Ferozepur district administration is on high alert, while precautionary deployment of the NDRF and the Army teams has been made in view of the flood threat which looms large in some villages. In Thailand, flooding is expected in eastern and Andaman coastal provinces, and travelers should monitor the situation prior to leaving Bangkok for other parts of the country. Tropical storm Jenny is threatening the Philippines and heavy rain is expected this week in Manila and subsequently in China and Vietnam. If, as Indonesian media claimed in recent days, the worst has yet to come for this year’s fires, smog will continue to impact travel in the region in the upcoming weeks. Travellers to southern Japan should consider re-scheduling amid torrential rains and landslides that have resulted in fatalities and the evacuation of 850,000 persons. Visitors to Europe this week should expect travel delays from colossal thunderstorms.

The worsening Japan – South Korea dispute and the start in Kuala Lumpur of another corruption trial for former prime minister Najib Razak are situations that visitors to Seoul, Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur should monitor for large rallies, in addition to ongoing intermittent delays at Kuala Lumpur International Airport as a result of last week’s computer system troubles.

In China, the detention in Shenzhen of Simon Cheng, the surge in arrests of foreigners working illegally, and with temporary detentions of foreigners for minor crimes are a reminder for corporate security and travel teams to review relevant internal travel policies. Foreigners should expect more detailed searches when entering China, especially if they possess sensitive information such as social media posts about events in Hong Kong or posts that advocate participation in, or incitement of, violence. As experienced business travellers know, such searches can also occur upon arrival in Australia, Europe and the United States, where immigration and/or customs agency personnel have the right to inspect mobile phones, other small devices such as tablets, as well as laptops.

Hong Kong Unrest: How to Ensure a Safe Visit

We encourage visitors to Hong Kong to monitor the various travel advisory websites maintained by foreign ministries, though note the significant time delay for updates. Although plans to disrupt airport access failed, another attempt is planned for 1 September, and departing passengers should budget additional time to get to the airport, especially on weekends. Visitors to Hong Kong should continue to inquire with hotel staff or business counterparties prior to departing to tourist sites or business meetings. The use of petrol bombs, bricks and tear gas in districts such as Kowloon Bay and Ngau Tau Kok, which are now home to multinational companies who relocated from Central, should concern business visitors. Leisure travellers staying in a private residence booked via online platforms should keep in mind estate management may suddenly change door entrance codes, as occurred in at least one estate near protest events in Kowloon Bay.

With rallies both in support of and in opposition to Hong Kong’s protestors occurring worldwide, just as we urge foreign visitors to Hong Kong not to participate in such events here, Hong Kong citizens should keep in mind that an arrest overseas could have adverse impact on their immigration status in that country both at the time of the arrest and in the future.

Hong Kong’s Security Bureau Outbound Travel Alert

The Hong Kong Security Bureau’s Outbound Travel Alert was updated in the past week with a brief reference to events in Myanmar, though “attacks on military facilities and civilian vehicle were reported, resulting in casualties” fails to capture the gravity of the situation or the danger to travellers.

Does this column make you feel unsafe? Worried about traveling in Asia? Send your questions about travel security to [email protected]

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Jasmine Lee

Jasmine Lee

Jasmine Lee is writer, commentator, and journalist. She graduated from McGill University where she took numerous opportunities to study and work around the world. Her specific areas of interest include media studies and human rights.
Jasmine Lee
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Jasmine Lee is writer, commentator, and journalist. She graduated from McGill University where she took numerous opportunities to study and work around the world. Her specific areas of interest include media studies and human rights.