Asian Insider Feb 13: The pudding tantrum heard round the world

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

FEW ANSWERS AS TRADE DEADLINE LOOMS

Another day closer to the March 1 deadline, another update on US-China trade talks that does little to shed light on how far away we are from the trade war resuming. Today’s vague update comes in the form of remarks from US President Donald Trump saying he might, but was not inclined to, extend the deadline.

Specifically, he said: “If we’re close to a deal where we think we can make a real deal and it’s going to get done, I could see myself letting that slide for a little while. But generally speaking, I’m not inclined to do that.... We’re doing very well over in China.”

This comes after a week where we had, in order: 1) reports of Mr Trump possibly meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping when he heads to Vietnam for the summit with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un 2) Mr Trump saying he would not meet Mr Xi before the deadline and 3) White House adviser Kellyanne Conway saying Mr Trump wants to meet the Chinese president “very soon”.

Hopefully, there will be a little more clarity by the weekend with high-level trade talks taking place in Beijing on Thursday and Friday.

PUDDING-GATE

You may have heard of Chinese student’s Zhang Jiale’s case and we have touched on it briefly in a previous edition of Asian Insider, but it’s a story that is worth revisiting given how quickly things seem to be moving for her. Superficially, it’s a story that does not seem particularly noteworthy. A student - essentially having a public freakout over a ban on liquids in a subway station - throws a cup of pudding she was holding at a police officer.

However, that story - and the vivid image of a police officer with a soy dessert running down his shirt - tapped into a brewing resentment over perceived Chinese arrogance towards Filipinos. The public uproar that has ensued is likely to have some part to play in the fact that Zhang, who flung her pudding in anger not one week ago, now stands on the verge of deportation from the Philippines. She has been charged with “direct assault, disobedience… and unjust vexation” in addition to unspecified immigration law violations.

Her case is but the latest example of how indiscretions that strike a nationalist nerve can quickly explode. Last August in Singapore, a man who posted a graphic of a ripped Singapore flag on Facebook sparked a fierce online uproar, ending with him losing his job.

THE WORLD’S MOST TRAFFICKED ANIMAL

This is a pangolin, or sometimes known as a scaly ant-eater.  Apart from being critically endangered, the pangolin also has the dubious honour of being the world’s most trafficked animal. Its meat is considered a delicacy and its body parts are highly valued as traditional medicines in countries like China and Vietnam.

The animal forms a large part of the illegal wildlife trade in the region and recent efforts by authorities to clamp down on trafficking has brought to light the sheer scale of the problem. This week, Malaysian authorities made a record seizure of about 30 tonnes of pangolins. The haul included 1,800 boxes full of frozen pangolins, 61 live pangolins in cages, and 361kg of pangolin scales. Two weeks earlier, Hong Kong authorities seized up to 13,000 pangolins originating from Nigeria, bound for Vietnam.

Read our special report on the stubborn problem in South-east Asia: Illegal trade in wildlife: South-east Asia’s tragedy

TRUMP-KIM SUMMIT SPARKS TOURISM BOOM

At a time of stiff competition for the tourist dollar, Singapore received a surprised boost from two events last year: the first Trump-Kim Summit and the release of Hollywood blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians. Unveiling preliminary estimates for tourism figures for 2018, the Singapore Tourism Board said arrivals exceeded all expectations, growing 6.2 per cent to 18.5 million with receipts ticking up 1 per cent to S$27.1 billion. (US$20 billion)

And it wasn’t just arrivals, organic search about Singapore more than tripled during the US release of Crazy Rich Asians and there was a 110 per cent spike in searches on travel planning site Orbitz.

All this bodes rather well for Vietnam, which is due to host the second Trump-Kim summit in two weeks.

All the numbers here: Crazy Rich Asians, Trump-Kim summit propel tourist arrivals, spending in Singapore to record high

AND FINALLY, THIS CHEEKY HUAWEI AD

Even though it has been mired in a very serious international scandal in recent weeks, Huawei, or at least someone in its marketing department, isn’t completely morose. The company put this ad up online after New Zealand decided to ban the company from its 5G infrastructure projects.

New Zealand officials, trying to downplay the ban to avoid offending its largest trading partner, were - to put it mildly - not amused.

"It's not helping," said government minister Andrew Little, who oversees intelligence services.

And that’s a wrap for today. See you tomorrow.

-J

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