Asian Insider Aug 13: Singapore’s economy, disruption in Hong Kong, missing in Malaysia

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

In today’s bulletin: Flights in Hong Kong were disrupted by protesters for a second day, Singapore is projecting a bad year for its economy, two missing person cases in Malaysia make headlines in the same week and more.

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SINGAPORE CUTS GROWTH FORECAST

Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry has cut the growth forecast for the year from 1.5 - 2.5 per cent to 0 - 1 percent, in a warning to other trade dependent nations on the impact of  disruptions like the US-China trade war, the Japan-Korea dispute and instability in Hong Kong are starting to make an impact. Singapore is regarded as a bellwether for the global economy given its sensitivity to global trade flows.

The most affected sector: Electronics

The main drag for the economy in the second quarter was manufacturing, weighed down by a sharp decline in global semiconductor demand. Manufacturing was down 3.1 per cent in Q2 year on year - primarily due to shrinking output in electronics, transport engineering and precision engineering clusters. Output in biomedical manufacturing and general manufacturing actually rose.

Is a stimulus on the horizon?

Experts said that a broad-based stimulus remains unlikely right now, though the government could roll out measures that specifically target the affected sectors. Singapore’s budget is due to be announced in February and that could be the point where the measures are rolled out. As for the possibility of a monetary policy response - allowing the Singapore dollar to weaken, for instance - the central bank said its policy stance remain unchanged and it was not considering an off-cycle policy meeting.

The full story: Singapore cuts full-year GDP growth forecast to 0%-1%; economists see support measures ahead

FLIGHTS DISRUPTED IN HONG KONG FOR SECOND DAY

Flights out of Hong Kong were cancelled again this afternoon after protesters returned to the airport for another sit-in protest. Operations at the airport had resumed in the morning on Tuesday after being paralyzed by protests on Monday only for flights to be cancelled again after hordes of protesters returned to occupy the terminals. An announcement declaring the suspension of all check-ins was made at around 530 pm at the airport to cheers from the gathered protesters. 

Mixed reactions:  While some disrupted travellers said they understood why the protesters had gathered, there were also videos circulating of irate travellers pleading with protesters to let them through. In addition to sitting in the halls, protesters had also barricaded the entrance to the departure area.

The big picture:  What started as a mass peaceful march some 10 weeks ago has now spiralled into a movement that is focusing on disruption as a means of keeping attention. Observers say protesters now believe that it is disruptions like these - ones that severely hamstring Hong Kong’s economy - that will keep attention on them and push the government to take action. The risk for protesters is that their actions start to turn public opinion. Already Hong Kong’s business leaders, who have largely remained silent, are now starting to call for protests to ease off.

Latest reports:

Flights disrupted for a second day after protesters return to Hong Kong airport

Hong Kong airport protest shutdown tarnishes city's business image

Hong Kong billionaires break silence, urge protesters to ease off

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says violent protests will push city down 'path of no return'

MISSING IN MALAYSIA

Two cases of missing persons in Malaysia are making global headlines in the same week. There were updates on both cases today though there was little good news.

Missing kayakers: In the first case - of two Singaporeans who disappeared at sea after they got separated from their kayaking group - the green kayak they were in was located on the coast some 200km north of where they had gone missing on Thursday. The search is continuing for Mr Tan Eng Soon, 62, and 57-year-old Madam Puah Geok Tin. The kayak was found turned over and contained items belonging to the kayakers.

Missing Irish teen:  A search-and-rescue team looking for Irish 15-year-old Nora Anne Quoirin, who went missing from a resort on August 4, said they have located a body during their search - although they have not yet confirmed if it was her. In a case that had echoes of the UK’s most high profile missing person’s case, Nora went missing from an eco-resort the family was staying at. Her parents discovered her missing from a bedroom she shared with her two siblings.

ST EXCLUSIVE: THE PROMISE OF INDONESIA’S LONGEST BRIDGE

Indonesia is currently planning one of its more ambitious infrastructure projects: A 7km-long bridge that connects the resort islands of Batam and Bintan, passing through two smaller islands in between. When completed, the bridge will be Indonesia’s longest.

The Straits Times regional correspondent Arlina Arshad recently braved a bumpy ride on a small boat known as a pompong to get a sense of what sort of impact the bridge will have.  She filed this report on the great hopes the residents on all the connected islands have for this bridge. 

The full report: Sea change for Batam, Bintan and surrounding islands thanks to upcoming bridge

MODI MEETS MAN VS WILD

The Discovery Channel programme Man vs Wild, which stars survivalist Bear Grylls just became must-watch TV in India after featuring an unusual guest star: Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The episode had been heavily promoted in India ahead of its airing on Monday and those wondering why Mr Modi would agree to be in a show about surviving in the wild got their answer. The savvy politician burnished his green credentials in a way no other political leader has. Among his quotes on the show (spoken in Hindi which the British Grylls seemed to have no trouble understanding) : "It is every human's responsibility (to protect the environment). The biggest problem is our lifestyle. We exploit nature for our enjoyment, and that is the biggest problem."

Other developments:

Epstein: US Attorney General Bill Barr said Monday (Aug 12) there were "serious irregularities" at the jail where Jeffrey Epstein died of an apparent suicide, and pledged to pursue any co-conspirators in the sex trafficking case.

Ebola:  In a development that transforms the fight against Ebola, two experimental treatments are working so well that they will now be offered to all patients in the Democratic Republic of Congo, scientists announced Monday (Aug 12).

Lukewarm welcome for climate aid:  Australia announced a A$500 million (S$469 million) climate change package for Pacific countries Tuesday (Aug 13) but received a lukewarm response from low-lying island nations demanding urgent action from their powerful neighbour to curb its carbon emissions.

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading. We will be back tomorrow.

-Jeremy