Asian Insider, Dec 2: Prayut cleared in housing case; China's 'Wolf Warriors' win fans

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: Prayut cleared in housing case, protesters vow to continue rallies; China's 'Wolf Warrior' diplomats win fans at home; Indonesian special forces join manhunt for terrorists in Sulawesi; Australia exits first recession in almost 30 years; Japan Parliament passes Bill to provide free Covid-19 vaccinations.

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Prayut cleared in housing case, protesters vow to continue rallies

Thailand's constitutional court ruled on Wednesday (Dec 2) that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has not broken any rules by living in an army house even though he is no longer a member of the military top brass, as the country's youth vowed to continue to rally in the streets for his resignation, writes The Straits Times' Indochina Bureau Chief Tan Hui Yee.

In its verdict, which could have seen Mr Prayut forced out of office had he lost, the court said that he could legitimately stay in the army guests facility as a former army leader and person who was serving the country.

Mr Prayut had retired from his military post in September 2014 after staging a coup in May that toppled the Pheu Thai Party-led government and installing himself as prime minister.

Despite that, he and his family had continued to stay in army-provided quarters in the First Infantry Regiment Base in Bangkok - with Mr Prayut arguing that it was necessary for security reasons - prompting Opposition lawmakers to file a complaint alleging abuse of power earlier this year.

Demonstrators were set to mass again on Wednesday at the Lad Phrao intersection in northern Bangkok, the latest in a series of demonstrations since February this year that have called for the Constitution to be amended and Mr Prayut to resign, as well as for reform of the monarchy.

Go deeper:

Thai protesters move to Bangkok suburbs with a duck parade

Thai PM says all laws to be used against protesters

China's 'Wolf Warrior' diplomats slam Australia, win fans at home

The Chinese Foreign Ministry's top spokesman, Ms Hua Chunying, and her deputy, Mr Zhao Lijian, have been cheered by Chinese netizens for their vociferous defence of the country after Prime Minister Scott Morrison demanded an apology over a tweet by Mr Lijian that carried a doctored image of an Australian soldier holding a knife to an Afghan child's throat.

While Ms Hua drew praise for questioning whether Mr Morrison lacks "a sense of right and wrong", Mr Zhao was lauded for pinning the offending tweet to the top of his Twitter feed, illustrating how Chinese diplomatic rhetoric is increasingly driven by concerns at home and nationalistic sentiments.

However, the trend of so-called "Wolf Warrior" diplomacy - a phrase derived from a Chinese action film series - raises questions about China's ability to build soft power to match its economic and military might.

Here's more:

Australia demands apology from China after fake image posted on social media

China's fight with Australia risks backfiring as Biden era nears

Indonesian special forces join manhunt for terrorists in Sulawesi

The Indonesian authorities, including military special forces personnel, are in hot pursuit of a group of terrorists who killed four Christians in Central Sulawesi province last week, an act President Joko Widodo called "barbaric", a senior military officer has told Straits Times Indonesia Correspondent Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja.

Police believe that a group of 11 men belonging to the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) extremist group who carried out the massacre had split up to avoid being tracked while descending from the remote mountain village of Lemban Tongoa, and were hoping to slip into the Poso and Sigi regencies in Central Sulawesi undetected.

In a statement on Monday night, Mr Joko said that the terror incident was clearly intended to disturb communal harmony, with the MIT believed to be a drastically weakened force that had minimal weaponry and other equipment thanks to counter-terror operations that have whittled down their numbers in recent times.

Read more:

ISIS-linked militants behead one, kill 3 others in Indonesia's Sulawesi

Indonesian President Joko Widodo says brutal Sulawesi slayings beyond humanity

Australia exits first recession in almost 30 years

The Australian economy grew by 3.3 per cent in the July-September period on a quarter-on-quarter basis, allowing the country to exit its first recession in almost 30 years, according to official figures released on Wednesday (Dec 2).

Businesses have begun to rebound and consumer spending has surged with the transmission of Covid-19 being brought under control, with a 7.9 per cent rise in household spending being the primary driver of the economic revival, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

However, it may not be all smooth sailing going forward, with Australia's central bank predicting that it will take until the end of 2021 for the economy to return to pre-pandemic levels despite a massive government stimulus programme.

Read more online:

Fewer Australians on temporary Covid-19 welfare payments: Treasurer Frydenberg

Australia opens up more borders in domestic travel boost, eyes vaccine

Japan Parliament passes Bill to provide free Covid-19 vaccinations

The Japanese Parliament has passed a Bill to make coronavirus vaccinations free of charge, with the central government to shoulder the cost in order to stem the worst-yet wave of infections in the country. Having been approved in the Lower House earlier, Wednesday's passage of the legislation in the Upper House of Parliament will now make local governments responsible for administering the shots, according to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

In other news...

Chinese space probe begins drilling on Moon: A space probe launched by China that successfully landed on the Moon began drilling into the surface on Wednesday (Dec 2), hours after touching down, as the country seeks to bring back the first lunar rock samples to Earth in four decades. If the return journey of the Chang'e-5 spacecraft is successful - having landed in a previously unknown area known as Oceanus Procellarum ("Ocean of Storms") - China will be only the third country to have retrieved samples from the Earth's satellite, following the United States and Russia.

South Korea coronavirus outbreak adds new stress to gruelling, 8-hour exam: The coronavirus pandemic has forced nearly half a million South Korean test-takers and proctors to take measures such as avoiding family members and skipping sessions at so-called "cram schools" ahead of a highly competitive university entrance exam this week. The gruelling test - which has a duration of almost eight hours - is seen as a life-defining event for high school students, with entry into a prestigious university seen as a stepping stone to secure top jobs in Asia's fourth-largest economy.

Joshua Wong, two other Hong Kong activists jailed for taking part in protest: Hong Kong activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam have been sentenced to prison terms for taking part in pro-democracy protests in the Chinese territory last year, with Beijing tightening the screws on its critics after months of often violent demonstrations. Wong was sentenced to 13.5 months in jail, while Chow and Lam received 10-month and seven-month sentences respectively, after all three pleaded guilty to various charges, including inciting an unlawful assembly.

That's it for today. Hope today's bulletin was interesting for you. Thanks for reading and we'll be back with you tomorrow.


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