Asian Insider April 24: Kim Jong Un’s armoured train rolls again, this time to Russia

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

KIM AND PUTIN TO HOLD FIRST SUMMIT

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un is on the way to Russia for what will be his first ever summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The meeting will also be the first significant bit of diplomatic activity for North Korea since the second Trump-Kim summit ended abruptly.

What’s on the agenda: Experts expect the two leaders to focus on three main issues: food aid, economic ties and denuclearisation. Aid and economic ties with Russia will be particularly pressing for Kim as tightened sanctions have crippled North Korea’s economy and caused food prices to soar. Pyingyang has already reportedly asked for a donation of 100,000 tonnes of flour.

The broader strategy: After the failure of Hanoi, Kim suffered what some observers called a “credibility deficit” and Kim will likely want to use this summit with an ally to show that he can negotiate in good faith. Pyongyang has also clearly decided that it needs to better its negotiating position before another Trump-Kim summit and has been pursuing diplomacy with others to increase pressure on Washington.

Analysis: Kim-Putin summit to focus on aid, economic ties, denuclearisation and rebuilding Kim’s image (South Korea Correspondent Chang May Choon)

OCCUPY ACTIVISTS JAILED

The key leaders of the 2014 Occupy Central protests were given jail sentences today. The longest jail terms of 16 months were handed out to Law professor Benny Tai and retired sociologist Chan Kim-man. A former student leader Tommy Cheung was ordered to carry out 200 hours of community service.

The big picture: The sentences bring to a close a month-long trial closely-watched for an indication of how China would respond to a mass gathering that was considered one of the boldest challenges to its leadership in recent years. Activists also do not consider the causes that motivated the 2014 protests to have been addressed and Hong Kong could see more demonstrations. Already some activists had urged supporters to take to the streets this weekend against the proposed laws that would allow people to be extradited from Hong Kong to mainland China for trial. Beijing is also bracing itself for commemorations of the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests in June.

The full story: Hong Kong pro-democracy 'Occupy' activists jailed for role in 2014 mass protests

IRAN SANCTIONS SEND OIL PRICES UP

A decision by the US not to extend waivers for buyers of Iranian crude oil beyond May 2 sent oil prices spiking to a six-month high yesterday. The move also raised concerns about possible ramifications for US-China trade talks (China is the largest buyer of Iran crude) as well as how Iran would react to having its lifeline shut off. 

The big picture: When the US unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, it had granted some countries exemptions from sanctions if it continued to buy oil from Iran. The decision to no longer grant those waivers means institutions in those countries, many of them US trading partners, could be subject to sanctions from Washington. For instance, if China were to continue to purchase Iranian crude, the People’s Bank of China could be hit with US sanctions. Already, the US has shown a willingness to pursue Chinese entities who it regards as having violated Iran sanctions. Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou is a case in point. Trade talks have likely just hit another significant bump in the road.

Impact on everybody else:  Any fallout from trade talks notwithstanding, economists believe regional economies can cope with short term increases in oil prices - especially since they remain at levels similar to those from the same period last year. As for the other buyers of Iran crude, most like India and Japan say they have alternatives to make up for the shortfall in supply.

Full story: Impact of oil price surge on regional economies manageable: Analysts

SRI LANKA UPDATE: 9 BOMBERS INVOLVED

What we know today: Today, we are getting some details of the bombers involved. Sri Lanka authorities confirmed that there were nine suicide bombers involved, including one woman. One of the bombers reportedly studied in Britain and Australia. The death toll from the blasts is now 359 and the number of people taken in for questioning is now close to 60.

What about the intelligence failure? The more we find out about this, the more unflattering the picture becomes for Sri Lanka’s government.  It is now clear that there were warnings from several intelligence sources, but none of it was acted upon. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he was never informed of the plot as many observers blame the rift between him and President Maithripala Sirisena.

Analysis on the how the rift to the failure to act on intelligence: Blame game over intelligence failure (India Bureau Chief Nirmala Ganapathy)

AND FINALLY, A MODERN DAY RIP VAN WINKLE

Munira Abdulla woke up from a coma in this German hospital last June. While that in itself is a miracle, given doctors believed she would never open her eyes again, what made this case especially noteworthy is that she had been in a coma for 27 years. When she suffered the accident that put her in a coma in 1991, the Internet was in its infancy, there was no such thing as a smartphone, there were no touchscreens, GPS or apps to help you date. I wonder what she will make of it all. 

Full story: UAE woman wakes up from coma 27 years after car accident

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

Japanese authorities threatened to close down nuclear reactors that do not conform to strict anti-terror measures introduced after the 2011 Fukushima tsunami and nuclear disaster.

Millions of Indians voted in the third and largest phase of a staggered general election yesterday, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who cast his ballot in his home state of Gujarat and again underlined his focus on combating terrorism.

Former US vice-president Joe Biden will announce on Thursday that he is seeking the Democratic Party's presidential nomination for the 2020 election, a source familiar with the plans said

That’s it for today, thanks and see you tomorrow.
Jeremy