Asian Insider Aug 8: IPCC report, Japan-South Korea, India-Pakistan

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

In today’s bulletin: UN report warns of the impact of climate change on food, Japan approves the export of a high-tech material to South Korea, India and Pakistan clash over the Kashmir move and more.

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A heavily-anticipated report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released today, and its findings affirm the consensus from climate watchers - that the need for action has become increasingly urgent. The IPCC is working on a series of reports on climate change and while its first report, released last year, focused on the consequences of global warming rising above 1.5 deg C, this report turned its attention to food and land use.

What’s in the report:  In short, the report warns that deforestation, loss of peatlands, mangroves and grasslands for large-scale agriculture are degrading life-giving soils that humanity needs to feed and clothe itself, cutting yields, threatening the food supplies for millions of people and risking mass migration. 

What can be done: The report, while dire, does offer some hope. It puts forward many solutions to reduce the impacts on farmlands, including switching to less intensive cropping practices, ecosystem conservation and land restoration, reduced deforestation, cutting food waste and switching to climate-friendly diets.

The big picture:  The drumbeat of calls for coordinated action to address climate change is growing louder but real change has come slowly. The obstacles are in part politics and in part the sometimes drastic change in lifestyle required (For Singaporeans, see this on how demand for durians can be bad for the environment). And while high profile reports like this can only help raise awareness, there is some pessimism that it can trigger the sort of fundamental change needed.

Read all our reports on the IPCC report and climate change here.


Japan approved the export of a high-tech material to South Korea for the first time since it imposed curbs last month, but warned that it could broaden restrictions if those materials were improperly used. Japan had earlier cited unspecified security reasons for their export curbs and said it approved this export following a “strict examination”.

The big picture: The resumption of exports, even if it is just for one of the three materials Japan slapped curbs on, is a rare bit of good news in the brewing diplomatic and political spat over wartime labour that has already seen Japan strike South Korea off a trade whitelist. It demonstrates that there remains some will for both sides to do business even if there remain intractable historical issues surrounding the dispute. 

Explainer: Japan removes South Korea from white list: Q&A on this list of 'trusted' trading partners


The Malaysian education minister announced today that while the government will proceed with introducing Malay-Arabic calligraphy or khat in Chinese and Tamil primary schools, it will be an optional lesson and one that will not be tested in exams. The Cabinet also reduced the number of pages in textbooks on the subject from six to three.

Why was it controversial? When the government announced last week that it would introduce khat to the Malay language syllabus for all schools, it upset non-Malay groups and stirred fears of growing Islamisation. Political critics also saw the move as a bid by the ruling pakatan harapan government to court the Malay vote. A group of 138 officials and assemblymen from the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP), which is part of the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition, publicly opposed the plan.

Background: Move to introduce Arabic script in Malaysian schools upsets non-Malay groups


The India government’s move to try and revoke the special status of Kashmir has triggered a diplomatic row with Pakistan that is now extending to even popular culture. 

Pakistan’s reaction: Pakistan had suspended bilateral trade with India following the shock Kashmir announcement and downgraded diplomatic ties. Pakistan also said it would refer the issue to the United Nations and the country also today banned Indian films from being screened in cinemas in Pakistan.

India’s reaction:  India released a strongly-worded statement today saying the developments in Kashmir are “entirely the internal affair of India”. "Seeking to interfere in that jurisdiction by invoking an alarmist vision of the region will never succeed,” it said.

Latest reports:

Move to revoke Jammu and Kashmir's special status prompts concern in other Indian states

Analysis: India's move on Kashmir risks firing up regional tinderbox

No phone calls, no groceries: Kashmir on edge under lockdown


Hong Kong is again bracing itself for a weekend of possible violence but today I would pause for a moment and bring attention to one of the more unusual protests on the island: a laser light show. On Wednesday night, protesters  gathered at the harbourfrount space museum and aimed their laser pointers at the dome-shaped museum - creating a dizzying display of lights.

Why lasers?:  Laser pointers have become a staple of protests in Hong Kong with protesters  often pointing lasers at riot police to irritate them and also pointing them at surveillance cameras to counter facial recognition. Police has used similar tactics on protesters as well. Then on Tuesday, a student carrying 10 laser pointers was reportedly arrested for possession of an “offensive weapon”. That prompted a protest outside the police station that night and the laser protest the next day.

Latest reports:

More protests planned as US raises Hong Kong travel warning amid growing unrest

China rejects demand for independent inquiry that could help ease Hong Kong protests

Analysis: Economic reforms hinted by Beijing unlikely to ease tensions in Hong Kong


GARUDA: Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency (KPK) has arrested Emirsyah Satar, the former head of the country’s national airline Garuda, on suspicion of money-laundering and bribery. The allegations are centred on the procurement of Rolls-Royce aircraft engine parts and may even implicate politicians and government officials.

TAIWAN EARTHQUAKE: A 5.9-magnitude earthquake that rattled Taiwan on Thursday (Aug 8) killed one woman and caused temporary power outages that affected over 10,000 homes, the authorities said. Tremors were felt across the island and high-rises in Taipei swayed.

MARIJUANA IN THAILAND: Thailand's state-owned drug-maker presented its first batch of cannabis oil to the Health Ministry yesterday as the country readied public hospitals to prescribe the treatment.

RECREATING A HISTORIC DRIVE: Filmmaker Alex Bescoby and Mr Tim Slessor will make their way to Singapore later this month, where their team of eight will embark on a 16,000km trip dubbed "The Last Overland". The driving expedition will take them across more than 20 countries, through jungles, mountains and deserts. Sixty-four years earlier, Mr Slessor made a similar trip, then the farthest overland trip to be attempted.

That’s it for today. It’s a long weekend in Singapore so Asian insider is taking some time off too. We’ll be back on Tuesday and in the meantime, a Happy National Day to Singapore and Selamat Hari Raya Haji to all who celebrate.