Asian Insider Aug 5: Kashmir, Hong Kong and a major blackout in Jakarta

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

In today’s bulletin: India tries to revoke the special status of Kashmir, protests lead to transportation chaos in Hong Kong, power comes back on in Jakarta after a massive blackout and more.

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INDIA TRIES TO REVOKE KASHMIR’S SPECIAL STATUS

In a shocking political move that is widely expected to trigger major protests, the Indian government today moved to revoke the special status of the trouble-torn state of Jammu and Kashmir. It also plans to split the state into two “union territories”. The moves will give Delhi more control over Jammu and Kashmir.

What are the special rights?   During the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, different states were allowed to pick which country to join. As part of the deal that had the princely state of Kashmir join India, residents of Kashmir were given special rights. These include exclusive rights to own land and secure government jobs. The rights are provided for in Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution, two sections that I am sure we will hear much more of in coming days.

Why revoke special status? The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is arguing that the special rights conferred were always meant to be temporary - just that no previous governments had the political will to do so. It is arguing that Kashmir should be subject to laws governing the rest of India. The move to revoke special status was an election promise for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

What’s the controversy?  Beyond concerns about Kashmir losing special rights, critics are accusing the Hindu-nationalist government of wanting to change the demographics in the predominantly Muslim region by opening the gates to a flood of Hindu residents.

How likely is it to pass?

The decision needs to be passed by both houses of parliament and will likely be taken up on Monday for a vote. The decision on Article 370 also kicked up a debate on whether the government's move is legally tenable and would hold up if challenged in the Supreme Court.

Further reading:

India's move to revoke special status for Kashmir could lead to major protests

India's change to disputed Kashmir's status: 5 things to know

Kashmir's history: India's revoking of special status in context

Pakistan says India has taken 'illegal steps' in scrapping special status for Kashmir

Follow all the latest on this unfolding saga from our correspondents in India at straitstimes.com/asia

STRIKES, PROTESTS PARALYSE HONG KONG

After nine consecutive weekends of protests and civil disobedience, the unrest in Hong Kong shows fews signs of abating. If anything, the disruptions are getting worse and more widespread. Protests and a series of strikes on Monday led to major transport disruptions across the island. In previous weeks, protests tended to be isolated in specific parts of the island.

Transport chaos: A strike by air traffic controllers led to one runway being closed and hundreds of flights cancelled. Protesters also put up barricades blocking major roads and blocked train doors. The actions brought the city to a standstill in the morning and there were some scuffles without annoyed commuters and protesters. By the evening,  police were firing tear gas to disperse protesters looking to take over roads. 

Will China intervene? 

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said today that protesters are pushing the city into a very dangerous situation and Chinese officials have announced a second press conference on the situation but it remains unclear what more authorities intend to do. Analysts tell our Hong Kong Correspondent Claire Huang that China may well steer clear of drastic actions as it does not want to jeopardise grach celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on Oct 1.    They say Beijing and Ms Lam are waiting for public opinion to turn against the more radical protesters.

Further reading:

Beijing may avoid drastic measures in Hong Kong as China's national day draws near: Political watchers

Hong Kong police fire tear gas as strikes, travel disruptions paralyse city

POWER RESTORED IN JAKARTA AFTER MASSIVE BLACKOUT

The Indonesian capital is returning back to normal today after one of the worst power outages to hit the city in recent years. The blackout, which lasted nine hours, was reportedly caused by a fault that affected power plants in central and western parts of Java and has raised questions about the state-owned electricity company’s ability to power the city. 

Widespread disruption:  The outage is estimated to have affected an area home to 100 million people. Cell towers went down leaving people without Internet and phone service; traffic lights went out causing traffic jams and the city’s newly-opened MRT system stopped working. Jakarta’s growing population is placing its infrastructure under strain and the blackout may well give more impetus to a plan to move the administrative capital.

Further reading:

Massive blackout hits Jakarta, neighbouring provinces across Java

Power restored to some areas in Indonesia capital, parts of Java after 9 hours

SINGAPORE INTRODUCES NEW E-SCOOTER RULES

While electronic bikes and scooters, known as personal mobility devices, have become a critical part of the transportation landscape in Singapore - thousands depend on them for commuting or for their jobs delivering goods short distances - the devices have also caused significant problems. Fires and collisions have cost lives and today, Singapore is moving to address some of those problems. 

What are the measures?  For fire safety, all PMDs will eventually have to  comply with UL2272 standards, a certification process that looks at fire and electrical safety of PMDs. The PMDs must undergo a compulsory inspection. There will also be a host of areas - like school zones - where PMD riders must get off and push their bikes. There will also be more enforcement officers deployed to ensure riders adhere to speed limits.

A summary: From safety certification to pedestrian-only zones: 10 new measures to ensure safe use of PMDs

AND FINALLY, AN INFAMOUS BIRTHDAY VENUE

If you want to get some attention on your birthday, what better way than to hold it on a superyacht? The answer: Hold it on the Equanimity, the infamous super yacht seized from a man on the run who is involved in one of the world’s largest corruption scandals. Fresh off being named the youngest self-made billionaire, American socialite and entrepreneur Kylie Jenner will be celebrating her 22nd birthday on the yacht this month. It is said to have cost $1.2 million per week to rent.

Other developments:

Mass shootings: Two mass shootings that killed 29 people in Texas and Ohio reverberated across the United States' political arena on Sunday (Aug 4) as Democratic presidential candidates called for stricter gun laws and some accused President Donald Trump of being a white nationalist.

Shocking crime: A teenager was arrested on Sunday (Aug 4) after allegedly throwing a six-year-old boy from a tenth-floor viewing platform of London’s Tate Modern gallery, police said. The boy was airlifted to hospital and is in a critical condition, while the 17-year-old male suspect is being held on suspicion of attempted murder.

South China Sea: The "militarisation" of the South China Sea is threatening peace in the contested waterway, the EU's top diplomat said on Monday (Aug 5) in Hanoi, echoing warnings from the US as pressure mounts against Beijing's ambitions in the region.

One step forward for the environment and many steps back for this man:  An Indonesian man is walking 700 km from his home on a volcano in East Java to Jakarta in the hope of drawing attention to the archipelago's quickly shrinking forests - and he is doing it backwards. Medi Bastoni, a 43-year-old father of four, set out on his arduous, in-reverse journey in mid-July, with the goal of reaching the capital by Aug 16, a day before the South-east Asian nation's independence day anniversary.

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

Jeremy