Asian Insider Aug 1: The People’s Liberation Army, South Korea-Japan spat, Malaysia’s succession plan

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

In today’s bulletin: The People’s Liberation Army in Hong Kong issues a warning, Malaysian opposition leaders make a curious call, Japan and South Korea fail to make progress on talks at a key time and more.

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In his first ever comments about the Hong Kong protests over a controversial extradition bill, the commander of the People’s Liberation Army’s Hong Kong garrison said that the army is determined to protect the sovereignty, security, stability and prosperity of Hong Kong. The remarks - made at a PLA anniversary reception where a video of armed troops quelling a protest was shown - is being seen as a thinly-veiled warning to protesters.

Why it matters: The remarks come at a time when questions are growing over how long Beijing will continue to watch the protests from the sidelines. Earlier this week, another Chinese official skirted questions over whether the PLA might intervene. Protests in the city - which have now stretched on for months - have regularly turned violent. However, a PLA intervention is unprecedented. The Hong Kong garrison has never been deployed and it can only move at the request of the Hong Kong government.

Further reading:

PLA's Hong Kong garrison chief warns that violent protests will not be tolerated

Opinion: Hong Kong at a crossroads: Playing the waiting game may not work as before

Follow all our coverage on the ongoing Hong Kong protests here.


Malaysian opposition leaders have reportedly met Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to urge 94-year-old to serve out his full term rather than fulfil his promise to hand the baton over to Mr Anwar Ibrahim. The three-hour meeting is said to have taken place on Tuesday and included members from Umno, PAS and Gabungan Parti Sarawak.

What gives? That members from Umno, formerly the biggest party in the previous ruling coalition, would suddenly show such support to the man that led to the charge to unseat them might sound odd, but observers there could be a broader plan at work. The issue of Mr Anwar’s succession has appeared to be a deeply divisive issue for Dr Mahathir’s ruling party. A recent sex video scandal has further pulled the party in different directions on whether Mr Anwar should in fact become prime minister. An actual handover would effectively end the drama. It is in the interest of an opposition looking to wrest control of government that the tensions be prolonged.

The full story: 

Malaysian Opposition leaders urge Mahathir to serve out full term despite promise to make way for Anwar


Talks between South Korea and Japan failed to make progress just one day before Japan is set to remove South Korea from a list of favoured trading partners. The foreign ministers of both countries met at the sidelines of the Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Bangkok on Thursday - the highest-level meeting since the spat over wartime labour reignited - but talks failed to yield any significant progress.

What happens next?  If Japan goes ahead and removes South Korea from the whitelist, South Korea has said it would have to review the bilateral security cooperation between the two countries. Analysts have already warned that a failure to renew the bilateral security agreement would hurt both sides while also sending a serious message about the state of relations. The souring of ties between its two key allies in Asia is likely to worry the US and there are talks that a trilateral meeting will take place in Bangkok tomorrow.

The full story

South Korea-Japan talks falter ahead of decision on favoured-trade list


Another story out of what is turning out to be a rather eventful Asean meeting in Bangkok. Yesterday, Asean and China announced that they had completed the (prepare for a mouthful) “the first reading of the single draft negotiating text for a code of conduct”

Why it matters: That means, after years of negotiations over code of conduct that will govern interactions in the sea, all sides have gotten to the point where they are negotiating on a single common text. It may not sound like all that much - and the text remains under wraps - but negotiators will tell you such an agreement between 11 countries is incredibly hard to come by. And it will take at least three years more for there to be a consensus on the final text before it is made public.

Click here to follow all the latest Asean Summit from our Indochina Bureau Chief in Bangkok Tan Hui Yee.


We’ve included stories about V.G. Siddhartha, India’s coffee king in Asian Insider in recent days but it is an incredibly compelling story and its impact is being felt especially hard in Bangalore - where the Cafe Coffee Day chain first began. Today, I wanted to highlight a story from our correspondent in Bangalore, Rohini Mohan, who has written an in depth look at the rise and fall of V.G. Siddhartha and how people who knew him are reacting to news of his possible suicide.

Dead coffee baron V.G. Siddhartha served up cafe culture in India way before Starbucks


Fed rate cut: United States President Donald Trump said Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell "let us down" by delivering an interest-rate cut that was not aggressive enough to fight the trade and currency battles his administration is waging.

WTO: Singapore says it has an understanding with the United States that the city state doesn't take advantage of privileges that come with "developing country" status in the World Trade Organisation.

TRADE WAR: Chinese and US working teams will be in intensive contact this month to prepare “good groundwork” for the next round of face-to-face trade talks in September, the commerce ministry said on Thursday (Aug 1).

YOU THINK YOUR OFFICE IS SMALL? People on the go will soon be able to find a quiet place to sit down and tap away on a laptop, thanks to phonebooth-sized offices that will be popping up at train stations, airports and skyscraper lobbies. An enclosure of just 1.2 sq m, the soundproof Telecube will have a seat, desk and power outlets.

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

- Jeremy