Asian Insider, Dec 15: Muhyiddin’s budget win, Australia-China spat, Japanese serial killer sentenced

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: Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's federal budget clears test of vote in Parliament; Taiwan eyes role as arms supplier for the West; militancy concerns in Indonesia; Australia-China spat over coal deepens; Japanese serial killer gets death penalty, and more.

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A win for Malaysian PM Muhyiddin as budget is passed by Parliament

Amid swirling controversies about weakening support for this government, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin scored a win with his government's first federal budget - and the biggest in the country's history - being ratified by Parliament.

In all, 111 MPs voted for it compared to 108 who voted against. The Prime Minister has the slimmest parliamentary majority in the country's history. The RM 322.5 billion (S$105 billion) budget will now be sent to the Upper House, the Senate, to be ratified, although that is more of a formality.

Earlier this week, speculation was rife that opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim might make another attempt to secure the backing of several government MPs. While in a surprise move, Malaysia's former two-time prime minister Mahathir Mohamad teamed up with his former rival of 30 years, Umno lawmaker Razaleigh Hamzah, just ahead of the budget vote.

Taiwan President eyes role as arms supplier for West

Her address was meant as motivation for the island's defence industry. But her words will certainly catch the attention of China and others.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said the island could become a supplier of weapons to Western democracies as she launched an advanced, missile-laden warship and commissioned a new minelayer.

The President has made boosting Taiwan's defence a priority in the face of a growing military challenge from Beijing.

Militancy concerns grow in Indonesia as probe into shootout involving controversial cleric's bodyguards deepens

Indonesian vigilante group Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI) - led by controversial cleric Rizieq Shihab - enticed ex-members of disbanded Muslim hardline group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) to join them, and conducted army-like training for young recruits, new revelations show.

These new findings are emerging as police release more details of what happened during a shoot-out between police and the FPI leader's bodyguards last week, reports Indonesia Correspondent Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja.

Of the two groups, FPI runs an Islamic boarding school in Megamendung, West Java province. While the HTI was disbanded in mid-2017 on grounds that it contradicted Indonesian state ideology Pancasila, the founding national principles that promote pluralism, tolerance and democracy.

Australia-China spat over coal deepens

The spat between Australia and China took another downturn with Chinese media reports saying China's top economic planner has granted approval to power plants to import coal without clearance restrictions except for Australia.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the reports, if true, would be a "lose-lose" for the environment and trading relationship between the two. Canberra has asked Beijing to clarify the reports, which it said would breach international trade rules, if true.

Coal is Australia's third biggest export and Mr Morrison reminded Beijing that coal from other countries have 50 per cent higher emissions than Australian coal.

Also read:

New Zealand says it is willing to be arbitrator in Australia-China spat

Japan's serial killer duping suicidal victims over Twitter gets death penalty

Japan's serial killer Takahiro Shiraishi, 30, who used Twitter to lure suicidal women to his home only to drug, rob, rape and kill them was given the death penalty today. Nine murders took place at his home in Zama city, 90 minutes from central Tokyo, from August to October 2017. Eight of the victims were women aged 15 to 26. Japan Correspondent Walter Sim reports.

Read more:

Inside the mind of the Japanese serial killer who killed 9 people

Japan 'serial killer' said to be quiet child turned sex trade scout

In other news…

China to open giant telescope to international scientists: Nestled in the mountains of south-west China is the world's largest radio telescope that is used to capture radio signals emitted by celestial bodies, particularly pulsars or rapidly rotating dead stars. And it is about to open its doors for foreign astronomers to use, hoping to attract the world's top scientific talent.

Singapore is 14th most expensive city in the world for expats: Singapore is the 14th most expensive city in the world for expatriates, moving down two spots from last year's ranking because of the weakening Singapore dollar. The Republic has been overtaken by Copenhagen in Denmark and Bern in Switzerland, according to a survey released by human resource consultancy ECA International. Hong Kong remains the most expensive location in the ranking, followed by Tokyo and New York.

Japan researchers upbeat about samples collected by probe from asteroid: Samples of dust collected by a Japanese space probe from an asteroid some 300 million km from Earth were better than hoped for, researchers said. The samples, the climax of a six-year space odyssey to the Ryugu asteroid by the space probe Hayabusa2, arrived in Japan last week but researchers did not know for sure until this week if they had actually got anything.

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