Asian Insider, Dec 10: M’sia allays Muslims’ concerns over Covid-19 shots, Jokowi’s son leads polls

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

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In today’s bulletin: Malaysia allays Muslims’ concerns over Covid-19 shots, Jokowi’s son seen holding huge lead in Indonesian polls, China slaps more tariffs on Australia, Singapore and Britain sign free trade deal, and more.

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Malaysia says halal issue won't affect Covid-19 vaccine roll-out

The Covid-19 vaccine need not be halal to be administered in Malaysia, the country’s health ministry director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah has told The Straits Times’ Malaysia correspondent Hazlin Hassan, allaying concerns among local Muslims about the shots potentially containing substances forbidden by Islam. 

Concerns over whether the vaccine is permissible for use by Muslims have surfaced as Malaysia signs deals with manufacturers to procure shipments. Among the vaccines procured include one from China, which has raised questions over its halal status. 

As wealthy countries scramble to buy up the limited supply of big-name Covid-19 vaccines, China is stepping in to offer its homegrown jabs to poorer countries. But the largesse is not entirely altruistic, with Beijing hoping for a long-term diplomatic return. 

Elsewhere in coronavirus news: 

Japan sees new highs in Covid-19 cases in tourist hotspots 

South Korea scrambles to build container hospital beds to combat third Covid wave 

Get more Covid-19 updates at our dedicated website.

Jokowi's son holds huge lead in Indonesia regional polls

Indonesia President Joko Widodo’s son, Mr Gibran Rakabuming Raka, appears set to emulate his father and become the mayor of Solo city in Central Java. Unofficial tallies in the regional elections show he has already secured more than 85 per cent of the votes, ST correspondents Arlina Arshad, Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja and Linda Yulisman report

Mr Gibran, 33, who ran with Teguh Prakosa as his deputy, is leading against his challenger, little-known tailor Bagyo Wahyono and his deputy FX Supardjo, according to early "quick counts" by two pollsters, or unofficial tallies of a sample of votes. Official results will be known between Dec 16 and 20. 

Public attention in Indonesia’s regional elections this year has been focused on candidates with links to political families or the elite. Besides Mr Gibran, the president's son-in-law Bobby Afif Nasution is also a mayoral candidate in Medan, with unofficial tallies showing him as a front runner there as well. Their candidacies have stirred speculation that Mr Joko is trying to build a political dynasty, but the president has denied any involvement.

China slaps new tariffs on Australian wine

China has imposed fresh import duties on Australian wine, accusing Canberra of subsidising its firms to give them an advantage over Chinese ones in the latest salvo in a bitter trade stand-off. The anti-subsidy tariffs of 6.3 to  6.4 per cent, which take effect on Friday, come on top of last month’s anti-dumping levies of 107 to 212 per cent. 

The move comes amid deteriorating bilateral ties after Australia became the first country to ban China’s Huawei from its 5G network in 2018 and earlier this year called for an inquiry into the origins of the Covid-19 outbreak that first emerged in China. 

Australia is now seeking to boost demand for its cotton from countries such as Vietnam and Thailand after its souring relations with Beijing risk leaving it with large stockpiles as Chinese mills stop buying the product. China has also imposed tariffs on Australian barley and slowed its imports of Australian beef and coal. 

Other recent moves contributing to worsening ties: 

Australia passes law that can scrap China Belt and Road accords 

Singapore, Britain sign free trade deal

Singapore and Britain have inked a free trade pact covering S$30 billion of bilateral trade, to ensure that companies from both countries continue to enjoy the same benefits they currently receive under a similar agreement with the European Union. 

The first free trade agreement between the United Kingdom and an Asean member state - coming after Britain formally left the EU in January - will lower non-tariff barriers in at least four major sectors: electronics, motor vehicles and vehicle parts, pharmaceutical products and medical devices, and renewable energy generation. Both countries will also assess a digital economy agreement, with a view towards starting talks next year. 

Learn more: Key benefits for businesses in the UK-Singapore FTA 

FTAs elsewhere: India in talks with Australia for free trade agreement 

Umno lawmaker sworn in as Perak's new Menteri Besar

Umno lawmaker Saarani Mohamad has been sworn in as Perak’s 14th Menteri Besar, resolving a leadership crisis in the state government that was triggered by rivalries within Malaysia’s Perikatan Nasional pact. 

The Perak Umno chairman took his oath of office before Perak ruler Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah, who said that swearing in the state’s Menteri Besar for the third time since its last general election in 2018 reflected failure in the Perak state assembly. 

"The politicians have consistently failed in securing a strong support and this may have distracted them from focusing on spending time and energy to administer the best for the people," Sultan Nazrin said. 

In other news...

China tells cabin crew to wear diapers on risky Covid-19 flights: China's aviation regulator recommends cabin crew on charter flights to high-risk Covid-19 destinations should wear disposable diapers and avoid using the bathroom to reduce the risk of infection. The advice comes in a 38-page list of guidelines for airlines to prevent the spread of coronavirus. 

India to launch grand redevelopment of Delhi's colonial buildings: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to lay the foundations for a huge new Parliament, the centrepiece of a grand but contentious redevelopment of New Delhi's colonial-era core. Critics say the 200 billion rupees (S$3.6 billion) to be spent on the vast project could be better directed to fighting Covid-19 and repairing the pandemic-battered economy. 

Japan's bird flu outbreak worsens with record cullings: A bird flu outbreak in Japan has worsened, with farms in two more prefectures slaughtering chicken in a record cull of poultry as the government ordered the disinfection of all chicken farms. Highly pathogenic bird flu, most likely brought by migrating birds from the Asian/European continent, has spread to eight of Japan's 47 prefectures. 

China revokes visa exemption treatment for US diplomat passport holders visiting HK, Macau: China is revoking visa exemption treatment for US diplomat passport holders visiting Hong Kong and Macau, after the United States this week imposed financial sanctions and a travel ban on 14 Chinese officials over their role in adopting a national security law for Hong Kong and Beijing’s disqualification last month of elected opposition legislators in Hong Kong. 

That’s it for today. Hope the stories proved insightful, and check back for more tomorrow.