Asia News: Clubs, Chinese Guidelines, Olympics

Clubs Continue To Suffer Throughout Asia

A recent report in the South China Morning Post looked at the Asian nightclub scene outside of China and Taiwan, where the coronavirus pandemic has mostly been brought under control. 

The article makes the case that shocking incidents in South Korea and Hong Kong, where it was found that activities at night clubs “triggered new waves of infections” in their respective regions, have led to most music-oriented clubs throughout Asia either shuttering or significantly cutting back on their business. 

A fairly characteristic example is Zouk in Singapore, which, prior to the pandemic, saw up to 3,000 patrons a night. Since then, it’s lucky to have 150 paid customers in an evening. 

Rather than shut down, Zouk transformed part of its 31,000 square feet into a restaurant, studio and cinema. And while the transformation has allowed the club to remain open, its revenues are only about 15 percent what they once were, and the owners have had to cut one-fourth of their staff. 

SCMP says that decisions to close or reduce activities at night clubs in Asia are a combination of government directive and individual establishment decision. Since last November, for instance, Malaysia has enforced a “movement control order” that effectively keeps clubs closed. 

Compared to other service industries, music clubs seem to be suffering more since the authorities consider their contribution to their respective economies negligible. Singapore has recorded few community infections compared to other Asian countries, and yet the government is keeping the pressure on the nightlife community to not resume normal operations. 

Those that are allowed to operate must follow strict social distancing rules and, perhaps more importantly, restrict the sale of alcohol. Japan, where infection numbers have also been dropping significantly since the third wave peaked around New Year’s, is also targeting drinking as a possible means of spreading the virus by restricting hours of operation for restaurants and bars in large cities, even though most experts say the real source of infection is at home, where family members bring the virus into households. 

The government of Singapore was planning to launch a pilot program in January to reopen some clubs, but it was postponed at the last minute due to a slight increase in cases, a move that may have been the last straw for some smaller clubs in the city-state, many of which say they may have no choice but to close since they had already spent money in the hopes that the program would take place. Now they’re even more in the hole than they were before. The situation is similar in Malaysia, where one out of five clubs went out of business last year. 

Consequently, various industry groups are calling on their respective governments to provide more aid, which has been sparing at best. Singapore provides partial funding for local workers’ wages and some rental relief, but that’s about it. 

Hong Kong has subsidies for entertainment facilities based on floor size, but since rents in Hong Kong are steep by definition, it’s usually not enough. One expert told the newspaper that the notion that night life is not enough of an economic contributor may be based on misinformation since estimates range widely in terms of revenues. In Thailand, night life is considered almost an essential business since it helps drive tourism, which the country depends on. 
An executive at Zouk also pointed out that the benefits of night clubs go beyond their financial contribution. They “give back to society in terms of experience, memories, social connection, and even mental health,” he said to the newspaper. 

The future of Asian night life will mostly depend on the authorities’ stance on risk, since even with a vaccine on the way, the virus will be with us for a while, if not indefinitely. Some industries can adapt to certain social distancing guidelines, but night clubs and music venues cannot, at least not forever. Still, as one economist put it, if things do return to some sort of normal state in the near future for the night life industry, “there will be pent-up demand and revenge spending.”

Chinese Authorities Outline New Entertainment Guidelines

China News reports that the Chinese authorities plan to codify certain directives aimed at the country’s entertainment industry as a means of enforcing greater self-discipline. The plan involves 25 specifications, some of which are vague enough to cover wide areas of interpretation and thus could be quite effective if they were ever backed up with penalties. 

Many of the directives are designed to encourage performers to show their allegiance to the Communist Party and “the motherland” by manifesting an artistic standpoint that revers Chinese culture, but there are some specific guidelines, including a ban on making changes to performance content that has already been approved by government censors. 

Perhaps the most mentioned guideline is one that is already in place: no lip-syncing, which was once a fairly common practice in China. The authorities frown on lip-syncing since they see it as a means of “deceiving audiences.” Though the practice was previously discouraged, it is now essentially forbidden, even if the guidelines are not legally binding, says China News. 

The government is now assembling an ethics committee for the entertainment industry made up of artists, agents, venue managers, media representatives and other concerned professionals. This committee will be tasked with implementing the guidelines and determining if violators should face punishment in the form of performance bans. 

(Yuichi Yamazaki/Pool Photo via AP)
– Seiko Hashimoto
Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Organizing Committee, speaks during a press conference following the Tokyo 2020 Executive Board meeting in Tokyo Feb. 18. The 56-year-old Hashimoto was named president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee after the meeting of the 80% male board. She replaces 83-year-old Yoshiro Mori, a former Japanese prime minister who was forced to resign last week after making sexist comments about women.

Olympics In Further Question After Aftershock

The postponed Tokyo Olympic Games, set to take place this summer, edged closer to possible cancellation in the past week. 

A major aftershock to the devastating March 2011 earthquake occurred on Feb. 13 in the same area affected by the 2011 quake and tsunami, and though no one was killed it reminded people just how vulnerable Japan is to disasters. 

One of the purposes of the 2020 Games is to help rehabilitate the Tohoku region, which suffered the brunt of the 2011 temblor. A number of events are scheduled to take place in the region, but even though none of the venues were significantly damaged by the recent aftershock, whose magnitude measured 7.3, it greatly discouraged those in the area from going ahead with any Olympic-related events. The Olympic torch relay, for instance, was set to start in Tohoku next month, and it now seems to be in jeopardy.

Even more threatening are the results of a survey conducted by the think tank Tokyo Shoko Research and released on Feb. 15 showing that more than half the 11,000 private companies who responded say that the Games should be canceled or postponed yet again. 

The online survey, which was conducted during the first week of February, said that 56% of companies think the Olympics should not take place this summer, up from 53.6% last summer. Only 7.7% of the respondents said the Games should proceed as planned. In addition, almost 20% of the companies said that if they do take place spectators should be limited, with 17% saying that spectators should not be allowed at all. Tellingly, 70% said that cancelling or postponing the Games would have almost no impact on their earnings.