Asian Insider, Aug 14: India to ban Huawei, ZTE from 5G, Malaysia’s worst GDP plunge in 22 years, South Korean doctors’ strike and Kamala Harris’ Indian links

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


In today’s bulletin: India to shut out Huawei, ZTE from 5G trials, New Zealand extends Auckland lockdown, Malaysia’s GDP plunges most since 1998, elite Thai visa lures rich expats, tracing Kamala Harris’ Indian links, and more.

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China's Huawei Technologies and ZTE are set to be kept out of India's plans to roll out its 5G networks as ties between the two countries hit a four-decade low after deadly border clashes. India will apply investment rules amended last month, which cite national security concerns to restrict bidders from nations it shares land borders with, to keep out those companies, sources say. 

A decision on the ban is expected to be announced in a week or two after approval from the prime minister's office. The Ministry of Communications will soon resume talks on approvals for 5G trials by private firms including Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio Infocomm and Vodafone Idea that were delayed by the nationwide lockdown. 

India's move echoes that of the United States, Britain and Australia, which have raised red flags about Huawei and ZTE's Chinese government links. The US Federal Communications Commission has officially declared both companies national security threats. 

Read also: The Big Six - China's tech giants


A coronavirus lockdown in New Zealand’s biggest city of Auckland has been extended, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pushed a “go early, go hard” approach she said has proven effective. Officials have identified 29 Covid-19 cases all linked to one Auckland family whose infections this week broke New Zealand’s 102-day run of no local transmissions. 

In India, a government plan to reopen schools has generated strong opposition from parents and school administrators, India correspondent Debarshi Dasgupta reports. Schools have been shut since March, and the government may allow them to reopen from next month. Unicef data shows that only 53 per cent of schools in India have a facility for students to wash their hands with soap and water. 

The failure to effectively manage contagious people with mild or no symptoms is a driving factor behind some of the world's worst resurgences, as observed in flare-ups from Australia to Japan. To stop the spread of the coronavirus, those with mild or symptom-free infections must be forced to isolate, both from their communities and family, public health experts say. 

Read more: Vietnam to buy Russia’s coronavirus vaccine 

Get the latest updates at our dedicated website.


Thailand's "pay to stay" visa programme for wealthy foreigners is seeing an expansion opportunity, with visions of the country becoming a haven for expats thanks to its relative success in containing the coronavirus. 

The Thailand Elite Card programme provides a renewable five-year visa, with membership ranging from 500,000 baht to 2 million baht (S$22,000 to S$88,000). It also comes with perks, which at the top end include limousine transport, jet and yacht charters, medical checkups and golf at championship courses in Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya. 

Expats already living in the country on other types of visas have accounted for 70 per cent of this year’s subscriptions, having concluded that it is better than dealing with one-year work or marriage permits that often require multiple trips to settle administrative procedures. 


Malaysia’s economy shrank by the most since the 1998 Asian financial crisis, with its gross domestic product plunging 17.1 per cent in the second quarter compared with the same period last year. It had managed to eke a marginal growth of 0.7 per cent in the first quarter. 

The decline reflected the unprecedented impact brought by the coronavirus pandemic, its central bank said. A strict movement control order had clamped down on business activities across the country from mid-March and severely affected its economic output. But with gradual reopening since May, the central bank expects GDP to recover for the rest of the year and to rebound further next year. 

Also read: Malaysia to lift limit on hiring of foreign labour 


US Democratic Party presidential nominee Joe Biden’s choice of Ms Kamala Harris as his running mate has sparked a frenzy on the other side of the globe. Ms Harris is the first person of Indian descent on a major ticket in an American presidential election, and Indian media outlets say a Biden-Harris win will help further shore up US-India ties that have already improved markedly under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

A flurry of Indian social media users have chronicled Ms Harris’ every minute link to the South Asian nation, including her grandparents' home in Chennai’s Besant Nagar neighbourhood, from whence her mother set off as a teenager to pursue a doctoral degree at the University of California, Berkeley. Photos have also surfaced of Ms Harris and her sibling in saris with their grandparents during a visit. 

Delve deeper: How Biden chose Harris: A search that forged new stars, friends and rivalries


China has spent 500 years trying to tame deadly floods. Now it’s building “sponge cities” in an attempt to keep unruly rivers under control. Chongqing’s rising district of Yuelai is one such city, with a giant new exhibition centre set lower than the surrounding ground to collect rainwater, rain falling on rooftops diverted to nearby parks, and sidewalks made of absorbent materials. 

China's cities flood partly because most of the water-retaining land that used to absorb rainfall - grassland, woods and lakes - has been paved over, forcing rain to flow directly into poorly built or outdated sewage and drainage systems that can no longer cope. The “sponge city” initiative seeks to reverse that, by soaking up heavy precipitation and then releasing it slowly into rivers and reservoirs.


SOUTH KOREAN DOCTORS STRIKE OVER HEALTH PLANS: One in every four medical clinics in South Korea closed for a one-day strike in protest against the government’s plans to train more new doctors over the next decade to better prepare for public health crises like the coronavirus pandemic. But the Korean Medical Association, which helped organise the protest, says the country already has more than enough physicians. 

US ‘SATISFIED’ WITH CHINA PURCHASES IN PHASE ONE TRADE DEAL: The Trump administration is satisfied with China’s progress in meeting commitments to buy US goods in a phase one trade deal, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow has said, signalling that the pact will survive an initial review this week. US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He on Saturday will conduct the first semi-annual review of the trade deal's implementation in a video conference on Saturday. 

OUSTED VIETNAM LEADER LE KHA PHIEU DIES AT 88: Mr Le Kha Phieu - a career military man whose tenure as Vietnam’s hardline leader ended ignominiously when he was removed from office amid public infighting - has died in Hanoi, aged 88. Mr Phieu, who had fought for North Vietnam in its wars against French colonialists and US forces, became the communist state’s leader in 1997 amid power struggles and government gridlock. 

That’s it for today. Thank you for reading, and see you again next week. 


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