Asian Insider Aug 14: Tariffs, Hong Kong and US perceptions of China

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

In today’s bulletin: Donald Trump delays some tariffs to save Christmas, calm returns to Hong Kong, a survey shows how public opinion of CHina in the US has dived and more.

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TRUMP DELAYS TARIFFS, SAVES CHRISTMAS

In another twist in the already surprise-filled saga on the US-China trade war, US President Donald Trump announced that a planned 10 per cent tariff hike on certain China-made goods like cellphones, laptops and video game consoles would be put off from September 1 to December 15. He told reporters that he was doing it for the Christmas season - “just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on US customers”.

The big picture:  The delay will be welcomed by retailers and also provides some breathing room for trade negotiators although it is unclear what exactly triggered the sudden reprieve. Observers say lobbying from tech companies could have played a part. It is also entirely possible that the president was concerned about entering an election year with less-than-stellar economy figures during the festive season.

Read: US President Donald Trump delays China tariffs on cellphones and laptops to ease holiday shoppers’ pain

HONG KONG UPDATES: FLIGHTS RESUME, PROTESTERS APOLOGISE

Flights resumed at Hong Kong airport after two days of disruptions, and though the city slipped back to a semblance of normalcy, it was still a heavy news day. Here are some of the latest developments.

Protesters apologise: Protesters distributed several statements on social media appealing for forgiveness from international travellers, journalists and medical personnel at the scene. "After an entire night's reflection, we decided to bravely face our own shortcomings, and sincerely apologise to city residents that always supported us," one letter read.

Chinese military holds exercise across the borderSatellite photos show what appear to be armoured personnel carriers and other vehicles belonging to the China's paramilitary People's Armed Police parked in a sports complex in the city of Shenzhen, in what some have interpreted as a threat from Beijing to use increased force against pro-democracy protesters across the border in Hong Kong. Chinese state media have said only that the exercises had been planned before hand and were not directly related to the unrest in Hong Kong.

China’s Hong Kong office condemns ‘near terrorist acts’: China's Hong Kong affairs office condemned what it called "near-terrorist acts" at Hong Kong's airport and reiterated support for local authorities to severely punish those responsible amid an escalating crisis in the Chinese-controlled city.

ST EXCLUSIVE: DAP IN MALAYSIA FACES A CRISIS AS THE GOVERNMENT VEERS RIGHT

The Democratic Action Party (DAP) in Malaysia came to power as a member of the four party ruling coalition last year. It accounts for one third of the MPs in the alliance and is the second largest bloc in Malaysia’s parliament. It is now, however, facing one of its worst crises.

As Malaysia Correspondent Trinna Leong writes, twice in recent weeks, the party has taken positions that conflict with those of the prime minister. It pushed back after Dr Mahathir Mohamad labelled Chinese education group Dong Zong "racist" for opposing the introduction of Arabic calligraphy, known as khat, in schools. Another is the government's refusal to take action against Muslim preacher Zakir Naik, a fugitive from India who recently angered Malaysia's significant ethnic Indian minority - DAP's second-largest constituents - by claiming they were more loyal to Indian Premier Narendra Modi than Dr Mahathir.

Read: As Kuala Lumpur veers right, Democratic Action Party bears brunt of backlash

CHANGING PERCEPTIONS OF CHINA IN THE US

A new survey from the Pew Research Centre has found that public attitudes towards China in the US has soured this year, in step with how bilateral ties between the two countries have gone south. 

The findings: 

The survey of 1,503 adults conducted in May and June this year - as the tensions over the trade war were at a peak - found 60 per cent of Americans had an unfavourable opinion of China, up from 47 per cent last year.

24 per cent named China as the greatest threat to the US in the future, double the proportion from 2007. China and Russia were tied as the country or group most regarded as a threat. Only 12 per cent picked North Korea.

81 per cent of Americans see China’s growing military power as bad for the US but the number who said China’s growing economy as good outnumbered those that said it was bad for the US.

Seventy per cent of Republicans and independents who lean Republican have an unfavourable opinion of China today, up from 51 per cent in 2018. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, the figure was 59 per cent, up from 47 per cent in 2018.

Why it matters:  While it is not surprising to see that souring ties at the government level would come to influence public opinion, this is one of the first indications we are getting of the depth and breadth of that antipathy. The survey has put in numbers what observers have said: There’s been a sharp change in sentiment towards China among the US public that cuts across party.

Read: More Americans see China as a threat amid tensions: Survey

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE VS INFINITE WISDOM

A 400-year-old temple in Japan recently added a priest that - unlike his other colleagues - has no stake in the afterlife. After all, the priest is a robot who does not have a soul and cannot die. The robot, named Kannon, was developed at a cost of almost US$1 Million and started preaching sermons at Kodaiji temple in Kyoto earlier this year. And though its intelligence is artificial, there are hopes it could gain unlimited wisdom.  Human priest Tensho Goto said: “That’s the beauty of a robot. It can store knowledge forever and limitlessly. With AI, we hope it will grow in wisdom to help people overcome even the most difficult troubles. It's changing Buddhism.”

Read: Playing god: Japan temple puts faith in robot priest

Other developments:

Nora Quoirin: The family of Irish teenager Nora Anne Quoirin, whose body was found in a hilly area of the jungle in Negeri Sembilan after she went missing last week, will decide their next course of action only after a post-mortem examination. Lawyer Sankara N. Nair, who has been engaged to represent them, said it was too early to make a decision now.

Forest fires: The Indonesian authorities are stepping up efforts to battle forest fires as the number of hot spots has climbed steadily in the past weeks and smoke has blanketed parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan since last week.

Donald Trump Jr: On a visit to promote two Trump-branded Indonesian resorts, the president's son Donald Trump Jr. defended the family's approach to separating politics from business and said the company has given up lucrative foreign opportunities to avoid conflicts of interest.

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

Jeremy