Asian Insider April 10: Are we ready for air taxis?

Asian Insider brings you insights into a fast-changing region from our network of correspondents.

Happy Wednesday,

Today: US sends a warship to the South China Sea, Netanyahu faces a bumpy ride despite winning, construction of the Japanese embassy in Seoul hits a snag, air taxis and more.

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TENSIONS IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

The US has sent a warship to join drills near the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea for the first time, reports Bloomberg today - a move that raises temperatures again in the waterway and places the Philippines in the middle of two competing superpowers.

Backdrop: The South China Sea has actually been a relatively calm place (in terms of boundary disputes) in recent months with China and the other claimants all seemingly turning attention to other issues. Asean also appeared to be making progress on the code of conduct. However, in recent weeks, 200 Chinese fishing boats appeared near the Manila-held Thitu island. This sparked protests in front of the Chinese embassy in Manila. The US now seems to be joining the fray.

Philippines’ position:  Since he came into office, President Rodrigo Duterte has sought better ties with China. He has negotiated more investment and trade with the Chinese while saying he has no intention to get into a conflict. At the same time, the US has been seeking to firm up its treaty ally. Last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stressed that the treaty would apply to Philippines vessels in disputed waters.

Why it matters: We have been getting more and more previews as to what the contest between the US and a rising China will mean for the rest of the world. And the way this saga plays out in the Philippines will be keenly watched by many in the region.

The news:

US sends warship carrying fighter jets to disputed sea in signal to China

Filipinos protest against China 'invasion

NETANYAHU’S BUMPY RIDE

With nearly all votes counted in Tuesday’s Israel elections, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu looks to have narrowly edged out his challenger Benny Gantz. His right-wing satellite parties together won 65 of 120 seats in the Knesset and almost all his potential coalition partners have publicly committed to support him.

The significance: As our correspondent in Tel Aviv Gil Yaron writes, the victory turns Mr Netanyahu into one of the most important politicians in Israel's history and in June he will surpass the state's founder David Ben Gurion as the longest serving prime minister.  

What about the scandal?:  That will remain a big cloud over Netanyahu as he enters another term. He could, in a few months, be charged by the Attorney-General for abuse of trust and corruption - a development that could still undermine his leadership. Before even that happens, he also needs to deal with the formidable task of fulfilling his election promises, especially the pledge to annex large parts of the West Bank.

Analysis: Netanyahu emerges as clear winner of elections but faces bumpy ride

SEOUL CANCELS PERMIT FOR JAPANESE EMBASSY

South Korean authorities have cancelled the permit for the new Japanese embassy building in Seoul, leaving  it now as a plot of bare earth behind a wall. The previous building was demolished years ago.

Why? The stated reason is construction delays. The permit for a new building was first granted in 2015 and under South Korean law, construction must start within a year.

That’s it?  Not quite. There’s also the statue. The relationship between the two countries has been historically rocky and the embassy building seems to have been caught up in much of the controversy. A statue of a comfort woman stands across the street from the empty plot and activists have fathered there for protests every week for years. Japan says the statue violates a 2015 agreement that included an apology and reparations but South Korean President Moon jae-in said the deal was signed by his predecessor without consulting victims.

The news:Seoul cancels permit for new Japanese embassy building

On a separate note, Moon heads to Washington this week for a summit with President Donald Trump where the two will have to tackle disagreements on how to deal with North Korea.

Analysis: Moon Jae-in faces balancing act at meeting with Trump

ARE WE READY FOR AIR TAXIS?

German aviation start-up Volocopter said it intends to begin test flights in Singapore this year. The company’s chief executive Florian Reuter was in Singapore yesterday and he offered some of clearest details yet of the type of service his company intends to provide while also trying to address concerns.

The big picture:  While the idea of hoping into an unmanned personal aircraft and being flown to your destination without concern of traffic is certainly a cool one, Volocopter clearly recognises it has some psychological barriers to overcome. Getting the public used to driverless cars are already challenging let alone getting them accustomed to a pilotless helicopter. Perhaps that is why Volocopter was keen to stress its rides will be as safe as commercial flight and it will include a pilot in the initial phase.

The full story, with video: Air taxis aim to be as safe as commercial airlines

AND FINALLY, EVERYONE'S WORST NIGHTMARE

Just in case you needed another reason to be afraid of bees, here’s a story of a woman who had bees living inside her eye, feeding on her tears.  I’ll leave you to read the gory details of how this happened yourself while I go look for a pair of goggles.

The story: Doctors find bees in Taiwanese woman's eye, feeding on her tears

IN OTHER NEWS:

Malaysia's Federal Court today dismissed all three of former prime minister Najib Razak's appeals related to his SRC International corruption case. SRC is a former subsidiary of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB)

The Japanese government lifted its evacuation order over part of a Fukushima town hosting the damaged nuclear power plant, despite lingering concerns about radiation contamination.

Tens of thousands marched for better work conditions and higher wages in Australia , bringing the city of Melbourne to a standstill, ahead of national elections in May.

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama was admitted to a New Delhi hospital yesterday with chest infection, an aide said, adding that the 83-year-old Buddhist monk was stable.

One more thing. Keep up to date with the India and Indonesia elections at our special election websites.

Indonesia votes 2019

India votes 2019

That’s it for today, see you tomorrow.

-Jeremy