Asian Insider Aug 6: Kashmir, Climate Change, US calls China a currency manipulator

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

In today’s bulletin: Trade war escalates as US labels China a currency manipulator, Kashmir remains on lockdown after shock announcement from Indian government, China issues another warning to protesters in Hong Kong and more.

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US ACCUSES CHINA OF BEING A CURRENCY MANIPULATOR

The long-running US-China trade war saga that has at times turned to commodities, rare earths and tech, now finds itself focused on currency. After the yuan fell to its lowest level in a decade, the Trump administration formally labelled China a currency manipulator - a largely symbolic move but one that escalates tensions in the ongoing trade war just days after the US imposed new tariffs.

The Chinese response: Chinese authorities say the value of the yuan was the result of the stresses it faced in the market after the US imposed more tariffs. Chinese state media described it as a “market driven result”. An editorial in the People’s Daily went on to say that the US was “deliberately destroying international order”.

What impact does the label have? Apart from the symbolism, the concrete real world impacts are unclear. Since the US Trade and Competitiveness Act was enacted in 1988, the US has named just three currency manipulators: South Korea, Taiwan and China. A report from the US congressional Government Accountability office found that all three economies subsequently made substantial reforms but other reports say very little changed from 1992 to 1994 when China was last given the label.

Why now?  After a period of relative peace following the tariff ceasefire that emerged from the G-20 summit, trade tensions flared up shortly after the first meeting of negotiators. The details of the meeting are unknown but one theory is that the US is adjusting its strategy - trying to stake out a stronger negotiating position early on in the process, rather than being seen as the one that pulled the plug at the end.

Explainer: US currency manipulator: South Korea, Taiwan, China were previously tagged

KASHMIR IN LOCKDOWN, PANDEMONIUM ELSEWHERE

Kashmir remains in lockdown today, as the fallout from the Indian government’s shock decision to try and remove the region’s special status continues to be felt.

What’s the situation on the ground in Kashmir?  Information has only been trickling out of the region since the government detained local leaders and cut off mobile, Internet networks, in a bid to prevent protests. What few reports are emerging suggest a region in full lockdown, schools and universities are shut, the streets are deserted and there is a heavy military presence.

Reactions elsewhere:  There was pandemonium in India’s Upper House of Parliament with lawmakers in heated debates over the move, with critics saying the government had betrayed the people of Kashmir and worried that it could fuel separatist movements in other regions. In Indian media, the move is being described in largely positive terms, with the Hindustan Times saying it the move was bold, though it comes with risks. Meanwhile, India’s rupee had its biggest one day fall this year on the back of the political uncertainty.

Watch: Deputy Foreign Editor Bhagyashree Garekar gives her analysis of the Kashmir situation

CHINA ISSUES NEW WARNING TO HONG KONG

After weeks of silence, the Chinese government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office has now held two press briefings in two weeks. As they did last week, today’s briefing also included a stern warning to protesters.

What was said:

Here are some highlights from the briefing. I’m going to let the quotes speak for itself.

“I would like to warn all of the criminals: don’t ever misjudge the situation and mistake our restraint for weakness.”

“We would like to make clear to the very small group of unscrupulous and violent criminals and the dirty forces behind them: those who play with fire will perish by it.” 

Background: How long Beijing will wait before sterner intervention remains the current big unanswered question in the ongoing saga. Drastic action is not expected soon but official condemnation or the violence and warnings to protesters have been coming at a quicker clip of late. Meanwhile, Hong Kong police said 148 people were arrested during running battles with protesters the day before, the largest daily toll since huge pro-democracy protests kicked off.

Recent examples:

PLA garrison in HK posts video of anti-riot drill

PLA's Hong Kong garrison chief warns that violent protests will not be tolerated

HK government should urgently punish criminals and restore order: China

CLIMATE CHANGE REPORT TO FOCUS ON LAND USE

The next major report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is expected on Thursday this week but leaked versions are already showing up online.

What’s likely to be in it?  A global analysis linking climate change to land use is expected to be a key part of the final report, providing a scientific basis supporting calls for a plant-based diet.

Read a preview of the report and analysis of South-east Asia’s role in climate change from our environment team here. 

And come back to straitstimes.com on Thursday when Assistant Foreign Editor David Fogarty and Environment Correspondent Audrey Tan break down the final IPCC report.

Further reading:

Analysis: How we're pushing the planet to the brink

ST EXCLUSIVE: THE FLIGHT AND FALL OF HONESTBEE

Grocery start-up HonestBee was once one of South-east Asia’s most promising new companies. It announced a US$15 million series A funding at launch in 2015 and filings last year showed it had raised a further $46 million. Today, however, the company, whose services include delivering groceries, reportedly owes creditors more than $180m.

In a special report, we take a look at how the company’s woes quickly piled up and how it struggled with an unproven business model in a market with stiff competition.

The story:  Why Honestbee spiralled so quickly into financial crisis

Other developments:

HAZE: With a surge in forest fires in Indonesia threatening a repeat of the deadly haze that blanketed much of Southeast Asia in 2015, President Joko Widodo said officials failing to tackle the menace will be fired.

HOT,HOT,HOT:  July was the hottest month across the globe ever measured, and 2019 is on track to be one of the warmest years, according to data released Monday (Aug 5) by the European Union's Earth observation network.

HSBC: HSBC Holdings abruptly ousted its chief executive officer after just 18 months, citing an “increasingly complex” environment, and announced a new round of job cuts.

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

- Jeremy