Asian Insider Dec 4: Is the trade deal dead?, Nato’s messy birthday, Singapore’s approach to e-scooters

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


In today’s bulletin: US Congress passes a Bill on Xinjiang, further complicating trade talks; Donald Trump at Nato is like a bull in a China shop; Hong Kong announces further economic stimulus; Singapore takes more measures to regulate e-scooters; and more.

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The US House of Representatives yesterday nearly unanimously passed a Bill requiring the White House to take stronger action against China for its crackdown in Xinjiang - prompting more firm condemnation from Beijing and imperilling what was already rocky trade talks. Twice now in a week, US has moved forward on legislation that China sees an attempt to interfere with its domestic affairs, making it increasingly difficult for any trade agreement to be reached. But experts say deal is not yet dead, adding that a close reading of the retaliation this week from China indicates that the Republic is leaving itself some room to reach and agreement. There also appears to be some effort by the White House to stop ties from completely disintegrating. According to reports, Mr Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and one of his most trusted aides, has become directly involved in trade negotiations.

And Huawei is back as a point of contention:

Huawei urging suppliers to break the law by moving offshore: US commerce chief Wilbur Ross

Huawei to shift research centre to Canada from US


Concerns ahead of the 70th Nato summit about the impact  US President Donald Trump might have proved to be well-founded, as the first day of the summit seemed to teeter on the brink of a confrontation - without actually tipping over. Mr Trump and France’s Emmanuel Macron traded barbs; Canada’s Justin Trudeau and UK’s Boris Johnson were caught on camera mocking Mr Trump; and Mr Trump twice pressed Mr Trudeau in front of reporters about how much Canada was contributing to Nato. While Mr Trump’s constant pushing on defence spending is nothing new, this summit also offered a glimpse of how his domestic troubles might impact his foreign stance. On multiple occasions, he was asked about whether impeachment casts a cloud over his negotiation with foreign leaders. 

See also: Nato marks 70th anniversary in state of internal disunity


Another day, another glum economic indicator announced in Hong Kong. On Monday, the government unveiled that the city recorded its largest ever retail collapse in October. Today, an IHS Markit survey showed that business activity in the city in November shrank at the fastest pace in 21 years. The number comes on the same day the Hong Kong government unveiled additional stimulus measures worth some HK$4 billion (nearly S$700 million). That makes HK$25 billion pledged to help boost an economy battered by slowing global demand and months of unrest at home. 

Don't miss:

Hong Kong should boost spending to aid economic growth, IMF says

Hong Kong police retrieve fresh trove of petrol bombs from Polytechnic University


India’s Cabinet today approved the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill that critics have attacked as religious discrimination. The proposed legislation grants citizenship to religious minorities escaping persecution from neighbouring countries.  Part of PM Narendra Modi’s manifesto was to grant Indian citizenship to"Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs escaping persecution". Opponents reject the idea of granting citizenship based on religion while others say the laws are anti-Muslim. The Bill is likely to pass the Lower House where the ruling party BJP enjoys a majority but will face resistance in the Upper House.

Background:  Outcry over bid to amend citizenship laws in India


After taking the rare step of banning e-scooters from footpaths, Singapore authorities are now taking things up another notch. E-scooter riders soon will need to be at least 16, will need to take a theory test and will be banned from using a mobile phone while riding. Those who use the device for work will need third-party liability insurance. How to manage having heavy objects capable of high speed safely share a space with pedestrians is a problem authorities around the world are grappling with, and if Singapore’s rules work out, one can expect more to try to tighten the reins on e-scooters.

Special report: Will footpath ban spell the end of e-scooters in Singapore?


US-JAPAN DEAL: Japan's Parliament approved a trade pact with the United States that opens the country's markets to American beef and other agricultural products, as Tokyo tries to thwart a threat from US President Donald Trump to impose new tariffs on its lucrative car exports.

GREENHOUSE GASES: Emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas blamed for heating up the planet, are forecast to rise again this year to reach another all-time high, a report published on Wednesday (Dec 4) shows.

POLAR BEAR VANDALISM: On grainy, shaky footage, a polar bear lumbers into view, its off-white pelt barely distinguishable from the pockmarked snow of its environs - until it turns its flank to the camera, revealing mysterious graffiti scrawled across its side. The man-made markings on a wild polar bear thought to be roaming northern or eastern Russia have stumped scientists, alarmed conservationists and spurred speculation in the local press.

That’s it for today, Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow.

- Jeremy