Asian Insider Dec 20: Macau’s handover party, Japan’s defence spending, a new Islamic bloc?

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


In today's bulletin: Macau celebrates 20 years since returning to Chinese rule; Japan's defence spending set to hit a record high; a summit of Muslim countries in Malaysia is raising speculation of the formation of a new bloc; and more.

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There was a praise aplenty for Macau's implementation of "one country, two systems" on the anniversary of the former Portuguese colony's return to Chinese rule in what is being seen as a thinly-veiled message to Hong Kong. Chinese President Xi Jinping, in Macau for the anniversary festivities lavished praise on the territory while never directly talking about the months of unrest in Hong Kong, who also returned to Chinese rule under the "one country, two systems" framework. And he also warned that China would not allow foreign forces to interfere with Macau and Hong Kong.

See also:

Hong Kong and Macau: Same system, different outcome


Japan's defence spending has hit another record high, as the government increased the defence budget for the eighth consecutive year. From April next year, it is set to rise to 5.41 trillion yen with anticipated purchases of US-made stealth fighters and missiles. The increase comes at a time when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is said to have abandoned the long term goal of revising the country's pacifist constitution.

See also: Japan to buy US$146 million island for US military drills


The Kuala Lumpur Summit, a meeting of Muslim leaders taking place in Malaysia this week, has been seen by some observers as a gathering Muslim countries not aligned to Saudi Arabia. The impression was natural given the three heads of state attending, apart from the host, were from Qatar, Turkey and Iran - three countries famously at odds with Saudi Arabia. At the opening, Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamad denied the summit was an attempt to set up an alternate Muslim bloc. Rather, he said, it was an attempt to understand why Muslim countries were in a "state of crisis". Still, there was a fair share of at least oblique criticism of the Saudi-dominated Organisation of Islamic Conference with concerns raised about why Muslim countries and the OIC have been relatively silent about issues such as the plight of Uighur Muslims in China, Kashmir in India and Palestine statehood.

For all the context: Malaysia kicks off Islamic summit with PM Mahathir denying talk of new Islamic bloc


Two volunteer firefighters died in Australia on Thursday while battling the intense bushfires blazing in the outskirts of Sydney. The deaths increased pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison, prompting him to cut short his vacation and issue an apology for going on an overseas holiday during an emergency. The fires, fuelled by record-breaking heat and drought, has become one of the biggest issues in the country. It has found its way into politics and climate change policy, with hundreds of protesters gathered outside the PM's official Sydney residence to demand urgent action on climate change.

Read more: Australia has more wildfire hot spots than Brazil and Indonesia


Three protesters were shot dead on Thursday in India, as tens of thousands hit the streets in a continuing protest against the country's controversial new citizenship law. Authorities have struggled to contain the situation, which has lasted more than a week and already claimed nine lives. Internet and phone services have been blocked, with shops and restaurants closed but the protests rage on in what is shaping up to be the biggest challenge of India PM Narendra Modi's second term in office.

Watch: Asian Insider video series tackled the Citizenship Amendment Bill and why it has evoked such a strong reaction.

If you rather listen to the episode, download the podcast here.


Trudeau's gambit: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday (Dec 19) called on the United States not to sign a trade deal with China, unless Beijing agrees to release two Canadians detained since last year.

New Nafta: The United States House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a new North American trade deal on Thursday (Dec 19) that includes tougher labour and automotive content rules but leaves US$1.2 trillion (S$1.63 trillion) in annual United States-Mexico-Canada trade flows largely unchanged.

Facebook breach: Facebook on Thursday (Dec 19) said it is investigating a report that a database containing names and phone numbers of more than 267 million users was exposed online.

Najib's denial: Former Malaysian premier Najib Razak on Friday (Dec 20) swore an oath in a historic mosque in Kuala Lumpur to deny an accusation he gave the order to kill Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu.

Pyongyang's Christmas gift: The United States is closely watching North Korea for signs of a possible missile launch or nuclear test in the coming days that officials are referring to as a "Christmas surprise".

That's it for today, Thanks for reading and see you on Monday. Have a great weekend!


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