Asian Insider, Aug 21: Beijing allows masks to come off, M’sia court paves way for Sabah poll, India acts to stem China’s influence, and S’pore’s rich get richer

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


In today’s bulletin: Researchers find new, milder Covid-19 variant, Malaysia court paves way for Sabah poll, Singapore’s rich get richer, India acts to stem China’s influence, the Chinese battle against food waste, and more.

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Singapore researchers have discovered a new variant of Covid-19 that causes less severe infections, in a study that could provide new avenues for vaccine and therapeutic development. The study has been published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. In another study, British scientists found that singing is no more risky than speaking when it comes to spreading the coronavirus, but that volume is the most important risk factor. 

In the Chinese capital of Beijing, people no longer have to wear masks outdoors after the city saw no new coronavirus infections for nearly two weeks. Life in the sprawling city has largely returned to normal after two rounds of harsh lockdowns earlier this year. 

Japan plans to ease its entry restrictions on foreign nationals with resident visas from next month, on condition that they undergo Covid-19 testing and a 14-day quarantine. And Australia will discuss reopening state borders as it heads for its lowest daily increase in coronavirus cases in five weeks on Friday (Aug 21). 

Get the latest updates at our dedicated website.


India is stepping up its curbs on Chinese activity in the country, adding extra scrutiny for visas and reviewing Beijing's links with local universities, as ties between the two countries continue to nose-dive. 

Visas for Chinese businessmen, academics, industry experts and advocacy groups will now need prior security clearance, according to senior security officials. The measures are similar to those that have long been employed with Pakistan, India's neighbour and archrival. The activities of India universities with tie-ups to Chinese institutions are also likely to be drastically scaled down. With the exception of Mandarin language courses, tie-ups with Chinese institutions are likely to be discontinued.


Malaysia's High Court has quashed a legal bid on the dissolution of the Sabah assembly, paving the way for a state election to take place as scheduled on Sept 26, Malaysia correspondent Ram Anand reports. Its ruling on Friday did not grant leave for Sabah’s former Chief Minister Musa Aman to challenge the dissolution, which had been consented to by state governor Juhar Mahiruddin. 

Mr Musa and 32 other Sabah assemblymen had filed the suit after his attempt to return as the state chief minister via defections was thwarted by the governor's move to consent to a dissolution requested by incumbent chief minister Shafie Apdal. Mr Musa had secured 13 defections from Datuk Seri Shafie's camp and was planning to show that he had the majority in the assembly. 

In other news on Malaysian politics: PM Muhyiddin's Bersatu formally joins Muafakat to form a grand Malay alliance 


Haidilao founder Zhang Yong and his wife Shu Ping have topped the list of Singapore’s richest people this year, with a combined net worth of US$19 billion (S$26 billion). Mr Zhang’s net worth has risen by US$5.2 billion despite the coronavirus pandemic. The Forbes Singapore Rich List list saw the country’s 50 wealthiest people increase their collective net worth by 28 per cent to US$167 billion, from last year's US$130 billion. 

Shenzhen Mindray Bio-Medical Electronics chairman Li Xiting came in second at US$17.8 billion, a new entrant to the list, propelled by his firm’s soaring share prices from surging ventilator demand amid the pandemic. Nippon Paint’s Mr Goh Cheng Liang, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin and real estate siblings Robert and Philip Ng of Far East Organization took the third, fourth and fifth spots respectively. 


China’s “Clean Plate” campaign, launched last week to combat food waste, is up against a long-held Chinese tradition that having leftovers is a good thing, especially when it comes to hosting guests, China correspondent Danson Cheong writes. An average Chinese diner discards almost 12 per cent of each meal they eat outside, according to a 2018 study. 

President Xi Jinping has described the wastage as “shocking and distressing”, emphasising that habits of frugality must be cultivated across the nation. Mr Xi’s campaign reflects rising concerns over food security in China as it grapples with a trade war, severe flooding and a pandemic that has strained global food production and supply chains. 

Also read: Xi shakes up China's law-and-order forces to boost domestic discipline 


KAMALA HARRIS’ USE OF TAMIL WORD SPARKS A BUZZ: US Senator Kamala Harris has stoked further interest in her Indian roots by referring to her Tamil-born mother and “chithis”, or aunts, in her acceptance speech for the Democratic Party’s nomination of her as vice-president. Ms Harris is the first of Indian descent to be nominated as a running mate in a US presidential election, and debate has been raging over what her nomination means for the South Asian nation, India bureau chief Nirmala Ganapathy writes. 

US, CHINA DIFFER OVER PLANS FOR PHASE ONE TRADE TALKS: The Trump administration has declined to acknowledge any plans to meet with China over the phase one trade deal after Beijing said bilateral talks would be held "in the coming days" to evaluate the agreement's progress. The video conference meeting, originally envisioned for the Aug 15 six-month anniversary of the trade deal's launch, had been delayed, and US President Donald Trump said it was his decision to do so. 

KIM JONG UN WARNS ON NORTH KOREA’S ECONOMY, IN SIGN OF CRISIS CAUSED BY COVID-19: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has issued a dire warning for the country's economy amid reports that he has delegated some power to his sister, including responsibility for relations with the United States. The unusually candid assessment comes as sanctions, flooding and the coronavirus pandemic has pushed its economy towards what is expected to be its worst contraction in more than two decades. 

PHILIPPINE MAYOR WANTS TWO CHINESE DEPORTED OVER ‘MANILA PROVINCE OF CHINA’ LABEL: Manila Mayor Isko Moreno has called for the deportation of two Chinese nationals for mislabelling their products and violating the city's business laws. The mayor made the call after city authorities discovered that the two Chinese nationals, along with three Filipinos were the owners of a company which sold cosmetic products that labelled the Philippine capital as a province in China. 


That’s it for today. Have a good weekend ahead and check back next week for more insightful reads.