Asian Insider Aug 22: Japan-South Korea spat, Malaysia’s Cabinet changes, Hong Kong

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

In today’s bulletin: South Korea decides to scrap an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan as the diplomatic spat intensifies, Dr Mahathir looks set to shake up his Cabinet, Indonesia cuts off the Internet in Papua and more.

Reading this on the web or know someone who might enjoy receiving Asian Insider? Our sign-up page is here.


A dispute over wartime labour than then spilled into trade is now starting to threaten a key defence relationship. South Korea today decided not to renew a key intelligence sharing pact with Japan. The so-called General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) was desgined to share sensitive information on the threat posed by North Korea. 

The story: South Korea to scrap intelligence-sharing pact with Japan amid history feud


North Korea says US cruise missile test, military moves 'dangerous,' still committed to dialogue: KCNA

Cracks in Asian alliances a worry, says US commander


For months, observers have speculated that Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad - known to be unhappy with the performance of his Cabinet - was going to shake things up. Today, The Straits Times Malaysia Bureau Chief Shannon Teoh reports that the shake-up is finally happening, though it won’t be as drastic as initially thought. Sources tell The Straits Times that it is likely that no minister will be sacked. Instead, portfolios will be changed.

The story: Mahathir expected to reshuffle Cabinet soon, with no change in personnel

Context: Mahathir ranks his Cabinet only 5 out of 10


Hong Kong’s billionaires and major companies have largely stayed on the sidelines of the mass protests that are now into its 12th week. In recent weeks, though, we are starting more come out speak out against the violence and unrest. First it was prominent business members making statements to the media calling for a restoration of peace - a move many speculated was sparked by government pressure. Today, some of the territory’s biggest banks published full-page advertisements  calling for the preservation of law and order. Meanwhile, in a case that is becoming the new flashpoint for protests, Chinese state media is reporting today that the British consulate staffer detained was being held for “solicitation of prostitution”.

What you need to know today about Hong Kong

Banks in Hong Kong condemn violence, urge restoration of 'harmony'

Simon Cheng detained in China over prostitution: Chinese media

Australia sees rush of Hong Kong millionaires amid unrest

China's warning to global CEOs: Toe the party line on Hong Kong


India did it in Kashmir and now Indonesia has done it in Papua. An Internet blackout is becoming the go-to move for governments seeking to tamp down unrest. A spokesman for the Indonesian Information Technology Ministry said data communications would be shut down until the “situation get back to normal”. Protests in the Indonesian province started this week after Police cracked down on Papuan students in East Java calling for self-determination for their homeland last Friday.

What you need to know about the unrest in Papua:

Indonesia shuts down Internet in Papua to stem unrest

Indonesia deploys more troops as Papua is hit by fresh unrest


Earthquake-prone Japan isn’t best known for having the tallest skyscrapers though it is now seemingly making for lost time as building technology has improved. Today, Japanese developer Mori Building Co announced a S$7.5 billion megaproject set to become the tallest building in Japan by some distance when it is completed in 2023. And it is then set to lose the title around four years later when another developer Mitsubishi Estate completes its project. Even then, both will be somewhat modest by global standards. At 330m, the Mori project will be 50m shorter than New York’s Empire State Building, which was completed in 

The story: Tokyo skyline reaches for new heights with $7.5b Mori project

Japan’s relative short buildings in context: A guide to 5 tallest buildings in Asia


Forest fires in the Amazon: Fires are burning in the Amazon rainforest at one of the fastest paces in years, Brazil's space research centre said this week. The centre, the National Institute for Space Research, which monitors fires using satellite images, reported on Wednesday (Aug 21) that it had detected 75,336 fires this year in the world's largest rainforest, an increase of about 80 per cent from the same period in 2018.

Rohingya: A fresh push to repatriate Rohingya refugees to Myanmar appeared on Thursday (Aug 22) to fall flat, with no one turning up to hop on five buses and 10 trucks laid on by Bangladesh

Humanoid robot astronaut: Russia on Thursday (Aug 22) launched an unmanned rocket carrying a life-size humanoid robot that will spend 10 days learning to assist astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS).

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow,