Asian Insider April 23: Singapore’s leadership renewal moves forward

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

Happy Tuesday,

Today: Singapore’s next generation of leaders takes shape, more questions emerge about the Sri Lanka blasts, China’s biggest star makes a comeback and more.

Know someone who might enjoy receiving Asian Insider? They can sign up at


The Singapore government announced a Cabinet reshuffle today, promoting Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat to deputy prime minister while the two current DPMs - Mr Teo Chee Hean and Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam - relinquished their appointments. Both will remain in Cabinet as Senior Ministers.

Why it matters:  The main takeaway is the Mr Heng has now cemented himself as the presumptive next prime minister. He was already generally regarded as the successor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in November when he was named the party’s first assistant secretary-general so this is just another step in that direction. Being DPM does mean, however, that he will be acting prime minister when PM Lee is out of Singapore.  As the case goes with leadership succession in Singapore government, this move was an incremental one - a gradual passing of the baton from one generation of ministers to the next.

All the details: Heng Swee Keat to be appointed Deputy Prime Minister; DPMs Teo Chee Hean and Tharman to become Senior Ministers


As the death toll from the blasts have risen to over 320, the Sri Lanka story is now pulling in many different directions. So I will try and just give you the key points here.

What do we know today that we didn’t yesterday?

Very little, to be honest. We know that a confidential security memo before the blast had laid out in some detail the threat posed by a group known as the National Thowfeek Jamaath. There was enough there that authorities swooped down on suspects within hours of the bombing. We also have a Sri Lankan minister providing a motive - saying that preliminary investigations show that the attacks were in retaliation for the mosque shootings in Christchurch.

Who are the National Thowheed Jamath?

This remains in the unanswered questions pile. The group was little known until the attacks and it needs to be said that the extremist group has not claimed responsibility. What is clear is that this group has little connection to the sectarian violence that once crippled Sri Lanka. As Associate Editor Ravi Velloor noted in his analysis, even at the height of the insurgency, separatists never touched two sectors vital to the economy: tea and tourism. The Easter attacks mark a new threat in Sri Lanka.

What’s new: Probe shows attacks were ‘retaliation for Christchurch’, says minister

Victims of Sri Lanka attacks: Who they were


Ban on social media draws flak but security experts back decision (India Bureau Chief Nirmala Ganapathy)

Did global jihad meet local factors? (Associate Editor Ravi Velloor)


The Philippines has been struck by two earthquakes in two days, with the authorities warning that residents should expect aftershocks. A magnitude 6.3 earthquake rocked large parts of the Philippine capital on Monday while today’s quake of the same magnitude struck Samar, an island south-east of Manila.

The big picture: Eleven fatalities were recorded in the first quake. With rescuers still scrambling to reach some two dozen others feared buried under a collapsed building near Manila. The damage from the second quake is harder to determine as that one hit a rural region dotted with isolated hamlets. This will be a significant test for rescuers who to head out to these hard-to-reach towns that are now likely cut off from power and water, while bracing themselves for aftershocks.

Full story: New quake strikes as Philippines hunts for survivors



I’ll cut right to the chase. There are two reasons why there is a story about a star showing up on a red carpet in this newsletter. First, this star is Fan Bingbing, arguably China’s highest-profile movie star and second, because her tax evasion scandal last year sent shockwaves through the Chinese entertainment industry.

The big picture: Fan Bingbing seemed to drop off the face of the earth for three months last year after allegations emerge that she had evaded millions in taxes. That ended abruptly in October with a statement from her profusely apologising for her actions together with the announcement of what was one of China’s biggest tax evasion penalties in recent memory. Her disappearance put the brakes on a booming Chinese movie business that was paying its stars almost as much as Hollywood was. Suddenly, productions were put on hold. Now that Fan is apparently attempting a comeback, it will be interesting to see how if the public and the movie industry welcomes her.

Background reading: The fall of Fan Bingbing


Apparently, having otters as pets are a thing now, as are otter cafes. I can’t call myself an otter expert so all I have to say is please don’t get a wild animal as a pet.

The low-down on the otterly ridiculous trend: Otters are the latest exotic pet trend in Asia, but their rising popularity may be their undoing


About 500 people were evacuated from the Sydney Opera House concourse and adjoining restaurants following a gas leak, firefighters said as they monitored the atmosphere for gas levels.

Japan dropped the push to apply "maximum pressure" on North Korea from its official foreign policy, an apparent softening of Tokyo's position as major powers engage with Pyongyang.

The Trump administration said that it will start imposing sanctions on a handful of countries, including key US allies, unless they stop buying oil from Iran after waivers expire next month.

General Le Duc Anh, a Communist Party hardliner and former Vietnamese president who led the invasion of Cambodia which led to the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, has died aged 99.

That’s all for today. Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow,