Asian Insider, Aug 13: Confucius Institutes next casualties in US-China tensions, Trump-Kim ties like ‘a fantasy film’, Covid-19 patients test positive again months on

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


In today’s bulletin: Confucius Institutes next casualties in US-China tensions, North Korea’s Kim said relationship with Trump like ‘a fantasy film’, Chinese Covid-19 patients test positive again months on, Thailand confronts online monarchy criticism, and more.

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China’s Confucius Institutes will soon have to register as “foreign missions” in the United States, sources say, defining them as “substantially owned or effectively controlled” by a foreign government and subjecting them to administrative requirements similar to those for embassies and consulates. The institutes, many based on college campuses, run a long-established Chinese-government-funded programme teaching Chinese language and culture abroad. 

Hong Kong, too, is reeling from the US’ tougher stance towards Beijing. The consequences of Washington’s sanctions on top officials in the territory and on the mainland are extensive, given the reach of the US financial system, Hong Kong correspondent Claire Huang writes (premium content). China's largest state-run banks operating in the city are already taking steps to comply with the sanctions as they seek to safeguard their access to crucial dollar funding and overseas networks. Subscribe here to read our premium stories. 

China’s Communist Party elite are embedded in the fabric of Hong Kong's society and financial system, with their personal alliances and real estate investments all inextricably linked to the fate of the former British colony. As the party now takes a stronger hand in running Hong Kong, the top leadership in Beijing has a vested interest, both politically and personally, a New York Times report says. 

In Taiwan, President Tsai Ing-wen’s government has unveiled a 10 per cent, or NT$42.1 billion (S$1.9 billion), increase for next year’s planned defence spending as it seeks to offset China’s growing military advantage. Hours after the budget was revealed, Beijing announced details of its latest combat drills near the democratic island. 

Read more: 

Kishore Mahbubani: The great paradox of Trump’s plan to combat China 

Pompeo says economic clout makes China tougher challenge for US than Soviet Union was


Two Chinese patients who recovered from Covid-19 months ago tested positive for the disease again, while traces of the coronavirus were found in a sample of frozen chicken wings from Brazil and on the packaging of shrimps from Ecuador imported into China. The findings come amid fears of the virus’ ability to linger and reactivate in previously infected patients, and concerns about contamination of food brought into the country from abroad. 

India’s coronavirus death toll grew to the fourth largest globally on Thursday (Aug 13) and it reported another record daily rise in infections. It is now behind only the US, Brazil and Mexico in Covid-19 fatalities, and lags only the US and Brazil in case load. Australia posted its lowest daily rise in new coronavirus infections in more than three weeks on Thursday, stoking hopes that the outbreak gripping its Victoria state is finally coming under control. 

In New Zealand, officials are scrambling to trace the source of its locally transmitted Covid-19 cases. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was a positive sign that Thursday’s 13 new community cases were all linked back to the family of four whose infections were discovered earlier this week, ending the country’s 102-day run of no local transmissions. 

The Philippines will start large-scale human testing of Russia’s coronavirus vaccine in October, but President Rodrigo Duterte will not receive the inoculation until regulators guarantee its safety. Mr Duterte had earlier offered himself up as a guinea pig for the very first jab, expressing “huge trust” in the vaccine despite scepticism about its effectiveness. 

Get the latest updates about Covid-19 at our dedicated website.


Thailand has threatened to take legal action over social media posts critical of its monarchy amid a growing movement of student-led protests calling for greater democracy and curbs to the power of King Maha Vajiralongkorn. 

Authorities have identified 114 “inappropriate” posts made on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that may have breached the country’s Computer Crimes Act. The law carries fines of up to 200,000 baht (S$8,840) and a daily maximum fine of 5,000 baht per post. Thailand also has strict lese majeste laws with penalties of up to 15 years in jail. 

King Vajiralongkorn on Wednesday swore in a new cabinet in his first public appearance since the student-led calls to reform the powerful monarchy. He expressed his desire “for the happiness of the people, happiness of the public and for order and peace”, but made no mention of the protests that have been gaining momentum across the country.

Read more: Thai students take on the country’s ‘Death Eaters’


Singapore is boosting support for innovation in its financial sector, injecting S$250 million into a scheme to fast-track fintech growth and develop fintech talent over the next three years. The amount is an 11 per cent increase from the S$225 million that was provided over five years from 2015. 

The higher funding support will enable financial institutions and fintech firms to undertake larger-scale projects to experiment, develop and deploy innovative solutions, empowered by emerging technologies. The latest iteration of the scheme, known as the enhanced Financial Sector Technology and Innovation Scheme (FSTI 2.0), seeks to invigorate the culture of innovation in Singapore, catalyse the implementation of innovative solutions, and deepen the cyber-security capabilities in the financial sector.


Like a “fantasy film”. That’s how North Korean leader Kim Jong Un described his relationship with US President Donald Trump, according to the publishers of a new book on Mr Trump that is set to unveil 25 private letters between the pair. 

Ties between the two state leaders have been a key driver of diplomacy between the US and North Korea in recent years, veering from mutual insults and threats of war to a declaration of love from Mr Trump. The book, titled Rage, contains messages between Mr Trump and Mr Kim “that have not been public before”, publisher Simon & Schuster said. It is due for release on Sept 15.

Meanwhile: Canadian PM Justin Trudeau will have his life story turned into a comic book.


North Korea nuclear reactor site threatened by recent flooding: Satellite imagery suggests recent flooding in North Korea may have damaged pump houses connected to the country's main nuclear facility, according to US-based think tank 38 North. The Korean peninsula has been hammered by one of the longest rainy spells in recent history, with floods and landslides causing damage and deaths in both North and South Korea. 

India woos investors to its coal mines, but faces roadblocks to develop them: India, set to hold its first commercial coal mine auctions in October, is now accepting bids, India correspondent Rohini Mohan writes. Government-owned Coal India has had a monopoly over the coal mining industry for seven decades. Private firms were allowed to mine coal for their own use, but not to sell them. 

2019 was one of three warmest years on record: Last year was one of the three warmest on record, with glaciers melting, sea levels rising and a spate of wildfires, heatwaves and droughts, research published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) showed. The report, by 528 climate scientists from 61 countries, said only 2015 and 2016 were hotter than 2019, based on records dating to the mid- to late 1800s. 

That’s it for today. Thank you for reading, and check back for more insightful reads tomorrow.