Asian Insider, Dec 17: Asian nations struggling to contain new waves of Covid-19, Anwar allies urge opposition unity

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

Hi all,

In today's bulletin: Asian nations yet to put a lid on Covid-19, Taiwan shouldn't be so afraid of a Biden presidency, Anwar allies urge opposition unity, Bitcoin soars 20pc to record high, and more.

Reading this on the web or know someone who might enjoy receiving Asian Insider? Our sign-up page is here.

Asian nations yet to contain Covid-19 as 2020 ticks to an end

South Korea reported a record number of coronavirus deaths on Thursday (Dec 17) as its biggest wave of infections strained hospital resources and sparked panic buying in anticipation of a harsh new lockdown. Japan's capital Tokyo was also suffering from a severe strain on its healthcare system, raising its virus alert level to the highest of four stages as the daily number of new Covid-19 cases rose to another record high. In Australia, authorities scrambled to trace the source of new cases after a small cluster was detected in the country's largest city of Sydney.

In predominantly Catholic Philippines, people have been flocking to churches to pray for deliverance from the coronavirus even as experts warned of an uptick in infections ahead of the Christmas holidays, Philippines correspondent Raul Dancel reports. People in Hong Kong, meanwhile, are bracing for a muted end to the year, with the Covid-19 death toll mounting and more clusters breaking out in different buildings across the city, Hong Kong correspondent Claire Huang writes.

Get more coronavirus updates at our dedicated website.

Why Taiwan should be less fretful over a Biden presidency

After four years of improving relations between Taiwan and the United States under US President Donald Trump, the Taiwanese are worried about a cooling of these ties under President-elect Joe Biden at a time when a strong relationship with America is needed to counter increasing pressure from Beijing, Global Affairs Correspondent Goh Sui Noi writes.

The worry among Taiwanese is that former Obama administration officials that Mr Biden plans to appoint to key roles will view Taiwan as a liability as they did in previous US administrations. There is also concern that in trying to reset America's fraught ties with Beijing, the Biden administration may keep Taiwan at arm's length. But there are signs that Mr Biden's administration is unlikely to reduce substantive ties even if there may be fewer bells and whistles to the relationship than there were in the Trump years.

Anwar allies urge PH to focus on uniting opposition for polls

Allies of Malaysia's Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim have called on the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition to stop "wasting time" wooing government MPs in a bid to wrest power from Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, Malaysia bureau chief Shannon Teoh reports.

The Democratic Action Party and Parti Amanah Negara are urging the PH pact to focus instead on uniting the opposition ahead of a general election expected next year, after witnessing "opportunistic government backbenchers exploiting PH for their own private benefit to get more and more lucrative deals" from the ruling Perikatan Nasional coalition.

Although elections are not due until 2023, Umno, the largest party in government, wants polls as soon as possible to end Malaysia's ongoing political uncertainty. But going to the ballot may be possible only after a vaccine has been rolled out nationwide, currently expected to be sometime in the second half of 2021.

Catch up on the latest news on Malaysia here.

Bitcoin tops US$22,000 for first time amid dizzying rally

Bitcoin has surged 20 per cent this week, soaring past US$22,000 (S$29,200) for the first time, stirring predictions that more gains lie ahead for the world's biggest cryptocurrency. Bitcoin and the wider Bloomberg Galaxy Crypto Index have both more than tripled this year, with cryptocurrency-linked stocks in South Korea, Japan and China also climbing.

The rally in digital assets is polarising opinion. Proponents argue that Bitcoin is muscling in on gold as a portfolio diversifier amid dollar weakness and potential inflationary pressure, but others say the speculative fervour will inevitably lead to a bust. For now, whether it's a mere fluke or the start of a trend that will profoundly impact markets is hard to know for sure.

Delve deeper: The hottest debate on Wall Street is buying bitcoin over gold

ST Asian Insider video: America's contested election

The US election and its contested result has denied Washington its bragging rights of having the most secure democracy in the world, Georgetown Professor Sanford Ungar tells US bureau chief Nirmal Ghosh on Asian Insider's latest video this week. Faced with a plunging reputation abroad, the United States must clean up its own act at home.

"Among President Donald Trump's supporters, among people who are willing to back up his very odd perception and description of reality, are some quite dangerous forces… and he has encouraged them," Prof Ungar said. "We don't know what they are capable of."

The premiere of the interview airs at 8pm on ST's YouTube channel.

Rupert Murdoch's media empire in Australia comes under scrutiny

Australia's largest-ever online petition, calling for an official inquiry into Mr Rupert Murdoch's sprawling media empire, has shone a spotlight on the tycoon's influence over public debate in the country, Jonathan Pearlman writes.

The petition - initiated by former Labour prime minister Kevin Rudd and which garnered more than 500,000 signatures in just a month - accuses Mr Murdoch of using his extensive control over Australian media to attack political and business opponents, intimidate critics, damage free speech, and undermine public debate. Mr Murdoch's newspapers cover two-thirds of the nation's print readers, leaving Australia with one of the most heavily concentrated media ownership levels in the democratic world.

In other news...

China brings a new era of competition to space: China may have been a latecomer to the moon, but when its capsule full of lunar rocks and soil returned to Earth on Thursday, it set the stage for a new space race over the coming decades. This time, it will be a competition over resources on the moon that could propel deeper space exploration.

Man probed over insults tied to Japanese TV star's suicide: Japanese police have referred a man to prosecutors over online abuse he directed at Hana Kimura, a reality television star who took her own life earlier this year. The suspect in his 20s is under investigation after the May death of Ms Kimura, a cast member on Netflix's internationally popular Terrace House.

'China does not honour its agreements,' US admiral says: The US military has slammed China for failing to appear at virtual, senior-level meetings this week, with the top US admiral for the Asia-Pacific saying it was "another example that China does not honour its agreements". China had been expected to participate in Dec 14-16 meetings related to the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) focused on maritime safety.

That's it for today. Thank you for staying with us and check back tomorrow for more good stories.


Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.