Asian Insider, Dec 22: Indonesia’s Joko reshuffles Cabinet; The Australian test case for Biden

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: Indonesia's President Joko replaces six ministers in Cabinet reshuffle; The Australian test case for Biden; Duterte calls killings of woman and son by off-duty cop in Philippines 'too brutal'; South Korea orders ski resorts to shut as fresh coronavirus wave tests its no-lockdown strategy; Thai travel industry faces 'nail in coffin' after new Covid-19 outbreak; Malaysia's ex-finance minister Lim Guan Eng pleads not guilty to amended charges.

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Indonesia's President Joko replaces six ministers in Cabinet reshuffle

President Joko Widodo on Tuesday (Dec 22) replaced six ministers in a major Cabinet reshuffle aimed at helping Indonesia recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

The country has plunged into its first recession since the 1998 financial crisis amid the health crisis.

Mr Joko, or Jokowi as he is better known, did not comment after naming the new ministers, though he wrote on Facebook: "What's past is past, to live as memories and lessons. We look to tomorrow with determination, enthusiasm, and new hope."

Cabinet reshuffles can be carried out at any time, but usually this takes place around a year after a Cabinet is installed.

Mr Joko had threatened a ministerial shake-up in June, when he reprimanded his ministers for their lacklustre handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has infected more than 650,000 people and killed around 20,000 in Indonesia.

Here's more:

Former Indonesian vice-presidential pick Sandiaga Uno wants to be 'constructive' opposition

Scepticism in Indonesia about fight against graft despite recent high-profile busts

The Australian test case for Biden

Foreign policy watchers in Washington have called on US President-elect Biden to take action to back Australia, amid a worsening trade spat with China that may present the incoming White House with one of its first foreign policy challenges, writes The Straits Times' US correspondent Charissa Yong.

Incoming national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who has made public statements sparingly since his nomination was announced, has signalled that he is of that mind.

Beijing's actions are meant to deter others, including Canada and European countries, from siding with Washington in a coalition against China, said analysts.

Read more online:

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

Biden win heralds sharper China strategy by US

Duterte calls killings of woman and son by off-duty cop in Philippines 'too brutal'

The sight of an off-duty policeman killing a mother and the son she was desperately trying to protect was too brutal even for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, it would seem, reports The Straits Times' Philippines correspondent Raul Dancel.

The brutal murders provoked a wave of outrage directed at the government and once again cast a harsh light on perceived abuses by policemen purportedly emboldened by a President said to be mollycoddling officers carrying out his bloody drug war.

The President's critics insisted the slaying was not an "isolated incident", as his allies had asserted, and that it should lead to police reforms and a halt to his controversial crackdown on the drug trade.

Go deeper:

Philippine journalist killed after surviving previous shooting

Philippine President Duterte's drug war an 'utter failure', says vice-president

South Korea orders ski resorts to shut as fresh coronavirus wave tests its no-lockdown strategy

In an attempt to prevent a year-end surge in coronavirus cases, South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Tuesday (Dec 22) the country will shut down ski resorts and other tourist spots during the upcoming holiday season.

In addition, the government will restrict entrance to nursing homes that are typically more vulnerable to virus infections after South Korea saw new infections top 1,000 for five consecutive days through Sunday (Dec 20).

The setback comes as other places that previously steered clear of lockdowns, like Japan and Sweden, also face persistent winter waves, suggesting the virus is testing more laissez-faire strategies that emphasised voluntary actions rather than top-down restrictions.

Here's more:

South Korea's capital to ban gatherings of more than 4 as coronavirus deaths rise

South Korea cuts growth outlook, vows to maintain stimulus for Covid-hit economy

Thai travel industry faces 'nail in coffin' after new Covid-19 outbreak

Another nationwide lockdown or restrictions on domestic travel could be the "nail in the coffin" for many tourism-related companies in Thailand, according to the Phuket Hotel Association.

The warning came as Phuket and other Thai tourist destinations shuddered at the thought of a further hit to business during the countdown to 2021, after a new virus outbreak among seafood factory workers near Bangkok.

Thailand is betting on a revival in tourism to help it exit a recession, though the central bank forecasts it may take two years for South-east Asia's second-largest economy to return to pre-pandemic growth levels

More to read:

Thailand's recession deepens with biggest GDP fall since 1998 Asian financial crisis

Bangkok unveils measures to prevent Covid-19 spread after outbreak in nearby province

Lim Guan Eng pleads not guilty to amended charges

Former Malaysian finance minister Lim Guan Eng has pleaded not guilty to two amended charges of corruption involving the Penang undersea tunnel project, with his trial set to commence on June 8 next year.

Lim, 60, is charged with receiving RM3.3 million (S$1.1 million) as an inducement to help a company secure the undersea tunnel project, valued at RM6.3 billion.

Lim is also facing two counts of misappropriation of property for causing two plots of land belonging to the Penang government worth RM208.8 million to be disposed of by two companies linked to the undersea tunnel project.

Here's more:

Lim Guan Eng never expected in 'his wildest dreams' to be Malaysia's Finance Minister

Malaysia's ex-finance minister Lim Guan Eng pleads not guilty to 2 more corruption charges

In other news...

'The whole city was dark': China rations electricity for millions as demand surges: Large swathes of China are scrambling to restrict electricity use this winter, as the country's rapid economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and unexpectedly frigid temperatures send demand for power surging. Officials in at least three provinces - where a total of more than 150 million people live - have issued orders limiting energy use, warning of potential coal shortages.

Testing blitz shows Australian coronavirus cluster contained in Sydney's north-east: The lowest one-day rise in new Covid-19 cases in nearly a week in the Australian state of New South Wales has fuelled optimism that contact tracing and social distancing were working to bring a dangerous new outbreak in Sydney under control. The source of the outbreak - which ended a run of nearly two weeks with zero locally acquired coronavirus cases nationally - is believed to have been a returning traveller from the United States.

Japan ex-premier Abe questioned by prosecutors on party funding: Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was questioned by prosecutors looking into allegations that political funds were improperly used to subsidise parties for voters, in a case casting a shadow over the current premier. Mr Abe, who stepped down in September for health reasons, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing over the gatherings.

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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