Asian Insider April 12: Kim Jong Un consolidates power

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

KIM JONG UN CONSOLIDATES POWER

North Korea has named a new nominal head of state and a new premier while the country's leader Kim Jong Un has a new title - the supreme representative of all the Korean people - in what is being described as the biggest leadership shake-up in years.

What it could mean: Experts and analysts say it signals that Kim Jong Un has consolidated his grip on power, eight years after taking charge from his father. It comes at a time when North Korea is seeking to engage the world and the leader has made economic reforms his priority.

Two key officials to watch: Choe Ryong Hae, a close aide to leader Kim Jong Un, who becomes the head of state (officially his title will be President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of North Korea) and he will represent Pyongyang at international engagements.

North Korea has also named a new premier of its cabinet. He will be Kim Jae Ryong. Not too much is known about him but Reuters says he has been leader of a province known for having a spirit to overcoming hardships.

Go deeper:

Kim Jong Un stresses importance of economic self-reliance

Not the right time to ease sanctions on North Korea, says Trump

CHINA'S LOANS RAISE WORRY

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) have raised concern about loans given by China to developing countries, which the institutions say, could be sowing the seeds of a crisis. The two lenders were drawing attention to the high level of debt in developing countries and the lack of transparency in new contracts, at the Spring meetings of the institutions this week.

China says: Beijing has said previously that it has never forced debt on those signing up for the new Silk Road initiative and the project is meant to promote joint development.

What's interesting: The note of caution comes ahead of a major summit on the Belt & Road Initiative that China is hosting later this month, in Beijing, which is being billed as the country's most important diplomatic event of the year. Almost 40 lenders are expected to take part but US is reportedly not sending officials for the summit, while the EU has been in a bind over the issue.

We've been tracking this issue:

Associate Editor Vikram Khanna writes that while China's mega project may be flawed in practice, it is a growing reality. And other big powers can do better by working to meet the development needs that Beijing is addressing.

Global Affairs Correspondent Markus Ziener wrote on China's bid to build a strategic foothold in Europe.

Go deeper:

Malaysia's East Coast Rail Link project is back on track after government signs $14.5b deal with China

China's banks have a hidden wave of bad debt

Meanwhile, since we are on China, this story might interest you...

Young Chinese to be sent back to villages in Mao-style move

The report says more than 10 million students will be despatched to "rural zones" by 2022 in order to "increase their skills, spread civilisation and promote science and technology," according to a Communist Party document.

BJP COMPLAINS OF CHINESE INTERFERENCE

In an unusual development, the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party has filed a complaint claiming 'Chinese interference' in the ongoing Indian parliamentary elections. Social media advertisements including one calling on Indian voters to oust the BJP and support the 'Communist Party of India (Marxist)' form the basis of the complaint.

What's significant: Ties between India and China have been improving during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's rule so the complaint itself, and that too by the BJP, comes as a bit of a surprise. It is drawing attention given global concern about possible interference by foreign powers in other country national affairs in the broader region and beyond.

Do visit our microsite on Indian elections for the latest.

Read also:

Indian election campaign takes on a Chinese character

JAPAN BRACES FOR CLASH WITH TRUMP OVER TRADE TALKS

Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said today that Japan and the US will hold a first round of trade talks next Monday and Tuesday in Washington, to find ways to address US concerns over the large surplus Japan enjoys in bilateral trade. This comes as US-China trade talks are still to be settled.

ON A LIGHTER NOTE

Australian winegrowers putting sunscreen on grapes

Jonathan Pearlman, our Australia contributor, writes that some vineyards in Australia's Hunter Valley have started applying sunscreen on grapes, as the hot summer continues. Can't access the story? Subscribe to ST here.

Read more on climate change:

As drought bites, Thai cities urged to rein in festive water fights

COMING UP

Indonesia's final presidential debate tomorrow

Read more online:

Indonesia votes 2019

Despite rise in conservatism, Islamists will be losers in 2019 poll

YOU MIGHT WANT TO READ

The robots are coming - how is the Asian workforce adapting?

In other developments:

Dalai Lama discharged from hospital after chest infection

South Korea's appeal succeeds in Japanese Fukushima food dispute at WTO

Furore over 'black hole' photo forces China's largest image provider to shut

Up to 200m pigs could be culled or die from swine fever in China, say experts

That's it from me. We'll see you on Monday. Thanks for reading The Straits Times and have a good weekend.

- Shefali