Asian Insider Jan 10: Singapore Air Force to get stealth fighters; flu outbreak in KL forces schools to close and how Tsai Ing-wen might win tomorrow because of China

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


In today's bulletin, we look at how the US government has given the green light for Singapore to acquire one of the world's most advanced stealth fighter jets; the seasonal flu outbreak in Kuala Lumpur has led to school closures and hospitals reaching full capacities and how China is becoming Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen's trump card for a re-election.

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Our US Correspondent Charissa Yong reports that the United States government has given the green light for the possible sale of up to a dozen elite stealth F-35 fighter jets and related equipment to Singapore for US$2.75 billion (S$3.7 billion). Singapore's purchase of the F-35B jets, a pricier variant that can take off from shorter runways and land vertically, must still be approved by the US Congress, but is expected to pass. Congress was formally notified of the proposed sale on Thursday and will have 30 days to review it before it is approved. Singapore would be the fourth country in the Asia-Pacific region to own F-35 jets, after Australia, Japan and South Korea.

Read more:

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Our Malaysian Bureau Chief Shannon Teoh reports that the growing number of cases of influenza A has seen several schools in Penang and the Klang Valley closing, with stocks of flu shots running low. At least 53 people have been infected in Penang and 23 in Selangor as of today (Jan 10), and some hospitals have turned away patients, with the authorities advising bed rest at home. Several private hospitals in the Klang Valley had run out of beds after seeing a surge in influenza cases, and were focusing on outpatient treatment, except in cases when symptoms become more severe.

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Our East Asia Editor Goh Sui Noi reports that while the cross-strait relationship has always loomed large in Taiwan's elections, it is now affecting the fortunes of the two major parties in different ways than in the past. The China factor had been the Achilles heel of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) because voting for its candidates was seen as voting for less stability in the Taiwan Strait. But not anymore. Incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP is the favourite to win in tomorrow's presidential election, in part because of her strong stand against pressures from China to recognise the one-China principle and her rejection of the "one country, two systems" formula for reunification that was reiterated by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Also read:

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Our Thailand Correspondent Hathai Techakitteranun reports that the green movement in the country has caused a business backlash - about 1,000 plastic bag factories are in danger of closing soon if the government does not provide some form of assistance. An agreement between the Thai government and major retailers across Thailand to stop providing free single-use shopping plastic bags came into effect on Jan 1 following publicity surrounding the deaths of marine life that had consumed plastic bags and a subsequent intense campaign against the products. Mr Apiphop Phungchaikul, deputy secretary-general of the Federation of Thai Industries, said the current initiative is not the right answer, and that the key is to properly manage plastic waste.

Find out more:

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The US Army will expand efforts to counter China by deploying a specialised task force to the Pacific that is capable of conducting information, electronic, cyber and missile operations. The unit would also be equipped to hit land- and sea-based targets with long-range precision weapons such as hypersonic missiles, possibly clearing the way for Navy vessels in the event of conflict. The Army task force would help neutralise some capabilities China and Russia already possess and are intended to keep US carrier groups away from the Asian mainland. It's not clear how quickly the unit, which would likely be based on islands east of Taiwan and the Philippines, can be deployed.


US military to shift focus from Middle-East to China and Russia


CANBERRA: If nothing is done to contain the raging bush fires in Australia, the disaster might end up causing its indigenous wildlife such as kangaroo and koala to be extinct. Haunting images of koalas with singed fur, possums with burnt paws or countless charred kangaroo carcasses have flashed around the world and have come to symbolise a nation and an environment buckling under the weight of a crisis fuelled by climate change.

HONG KONG: The ongoing anti-government protest is not only causing a toll on the city's economy, it is driving more residents to the brink of mental breakdown. More Hong Kongers are showing signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than ever before. According to researchers from the University of Hong Kong, one in five adults now reports probable depression or suspected PTSD, which is comparable to those experiencing armed conflicts, large-scale disasters, or terrorist attacks.

KUALA LUMPUR: If you make your own cars, it is best to drive them. Malaysia's Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers will continue to use Proton Perdana cars as their official vehicles, instead of switching to the fancier Toyota Vellfire and Honda Accord, after a public backlash. Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said that the decision to retain the use of the Perdana - a locally assembled Malaysian car based on an old model of the Honda Accord - was made after it was discovered that there was an adequate supply of Perdana cars.

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Have a great weekend and see you again next week!

Ooi Boon

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