Asian Insider April 2: Fresh trouble for Boeing

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

Greetings!

Today, fresh engine trouble for Boeing, the US and the Philippines conduct war games joined by Australia, and Chinese students stranded as US slows return visas.

AFTER 737 MAX, DREAMLINER

Boeing's cup of woes runneth over, at least in Singapore where national carrier Singapore Airlines has confirmed a Straits Times report that it has grounded two of its nine Boeing 787-10 aircraft after recent routine inspections of Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 TEN engines on the fleet revealed premature blade deterioration on some engines.

The planes are all fitted with the latest Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 TEN engines, an improved version of the Trent 1000 engine that has had issues with premature blade cracking. Sources had told The Straits Times that preliminary checks show that the same cracked blade issue is affecting the new TEN engine as well.

"As safety is our top priority, the SIA Group, in consultation with Rolls-Royce, proactively identified other Trent 1000 TEN engines in the Group's 787 fleet to undergo precautionary inspections," an SIA statement on Tuesday said. "All of these engine inspections on SIA's 787-10 fleet have now been completed, and a remaining check will be completed on a Scoot 787-9 by April 3.Pending engine replacements, two SIA 787-10 aircraft have been removed from service."

NOT SO FAST, BEIJING

Since taking power in 2016, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has seemed to be in a hurry to realign his nation's treaty relationship with the United States and hew more toward China, in the process even putting aside a favourable ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague over their conflicting claims in the South China Sea.

Those who worried that Manila is moving too far, too fast with Beijing can rest a little easy.Philippines Correspondent Raul Dancel says more than 7,500 Philippine and US troops began their largest annual military exercises, amid reports of Chinese encroachments into waters surrounding the largest Philippine-held territory in the disputed South China Sea.

This year's Balikatan exercise involves 4,000 Filipino and 3,500 American soldiers. About 50 Australians are also participating.

Among the American warships deployed is the USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship, and its squadron of F-35B stealth fighters, which are being deployed for the first time in the exercise.

Philippine nationalism, once defined in terms of anti-Americanism, had turned to anti-Chinese sentiments until Mr Duterte arrived. Noted Columnist Richard Hedarian asks the question: Is the Philippines a 'province' of China?

CHINESE STUDENTS IN LIMBO

Deteriorating strategic ties between the US and China is spreading the hurt beyond trade and into unexpected areas.

In May 2018, the Associated Press had reported that the State Department was planning to shorten the validity length of student visas for Chinese students studying a masters or Ph.D. in robotics, aviation and high-end manufacturing. Now, the impact of that policy is showing.

Hundreds of Chinese students in the US who came back home for holiday are stranded, anxiously awaiting the student visa that will allow them to return to study. Since early March, many of them have been organising through a WeChat group in hopes of raising awareness of their plight.

Some students have already completed their undergraduate studies in China and were working on masters or doctoral degrees in engineering or the sciences in America. Others are studying in the fields of artificial intelligence, aviation, or the material sciences.

HUMVEE TIME IN INDIA?

Elections are looming in India and it can be a dangerous game in the world's biggest democracy. In the past, prime ministers have been assassinated, political motorcades ambushed and party officials attacked, and some candidates are not taking any chances.

In one Punjab garage it is a busy time for mechanics retrofitting cars with blast-resistant doors and bulletproof windshields. Orders for specialised armoured cars have been piling up at Mr Sunchit Sobti's factory in Jalandhar, where his crew have already retrofitted four SUVs for political bigwigs since the upcoming poll - the biggest election in history - was announced a few weeks ago.

It is a pattern that repeats itself every election season, said Mr Sobti, whose father started supplying armoured cars for politicians and other VIP clients in the 1980s when an armed insurgency was raging in Punjab. The market for such cars in India is worth US$150 million a year and growing by double digits, industry representatives said. Companies like Mahindra & Mahindra, and Tata Motors, also offer a small range of pre-made armoured vehicles for civilian use.

LEE FAMILY SAGA

Singapore's Court of Appeal has cleared the way for substantive arguments to be heard in the case against Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's nephew, Li Shengwu, a Harvard don facing charges of contempt of Singapore's court system. The Appeals Court said papers had been properly served on Mr Li.

In a Facebook post he put up on July 15, 2017 Mr Li stated in the post that "the Singapore Government is very litigious and has a pliant court system". The Attorney-General started contempt proceedings against Mr Li the following month, after he failed to comply with a request to remove the post. Mr Li's appeal against a High Court order that allowed the papers to be served on him in the US was heard in January this year.

The post was related to a family dispute involving his father Lee Hsien Yang, his aunt Lee Wei Ling and the Prime Minister over the fate of the Oxley Road home of their late father Lee Kuan Yew, who was Singapore's founding prime minister.

Commenting on the decision, Mr Li said on his Facebook page: "I am of course disappointed with the judgment. However, the A-G will still need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that my private Facebook post somehow scandalised Singapore's judiciary."

IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Nasa has branded India's destruction of one of its satellites a "terrible thing" that had created 400 pieces of orbital debris and led to new dangers for astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The Indian satellite was destroyed at a relatively low altitude of 300km, well below the ISS and most satellites in orbit. But 24 of the pieces "are going above the apogee of the International Space Station

Singapore has outlined the contours of its legislation to curb online falsehoods with laws that could make offenders face jail terms of up to 10 years. Internet platforms, including social media sites like Facebook, will be required to act swiftly to limit the spread of falsehoods by displaying corrections alongside such posts, or removing them. Failure to comply could fetch fines of up to US$1 million.

South Korea has begun excavating the remains of missing soldiers from the Korean War on the border between the two Koreas, without the involvement of North Korea. The two countries had agreed to start the excavation work together, but no one from North Korea showed up at the agreed site in the eastern part of the demilitarised zone (DMZ), South Korean radio stations reported.

Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn has expressed concern over the haze in the country's north, saying that it was beyond the capability of provincial authorities and suggesting that royal volunteers help out, as junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha flies to Chiang Mai on Tuesday to inspect the damage.Wildfires and crop burning are blanketing the region with smog, prompting Mr Prayut to fly to the area's tourist hot-spot.

We'll be back tomorrow, with fresh insights. Stay tuned to www.straitstimes.com for the latest from Asia, and around the world.

Meanwhile, seize the day!

Ravi