Asian Insider, Jan 11: China-Taiwan tensions; Indonesian divers find plane wreckage

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

Hello there, 

In today’s bulletin: Tensions between China and Taiwan set to increase; US and China must take rational view, says DPM Heng; Indonesian navy divers locate black boxes of crashed jet; Japan reports new coronavirus variant in passengers from Brazil; China permits WHO scientists to visit Wuhan, and more.

Reading this on the Web or know someone who might enjoy receiving Asian Insider? Our sign-up page is here.

China-Taiwan tensions to rise after Pompeo scraps decades-old rule

Chinese state media called for retaliation after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the removal of restrictions on meeting Taiwanese officials, just days before President Joe Biden takes office.

Mr Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the Communist Party backed Global Times, said on Weibo that China had a "precious window of opportunity for mainland China to teach a heavy lesson to the 'Taiwan independence' forces" and re-establish "strategic leverage" in the Taiwan Strait.

China's Foreign Ministry, however, has held back on commenting on the US move that is set to usher in a new chapter in America's ties with Taiwan. Coming up with a suitable response would be tricky for Chinese leaders at this juncture, writes China Bureau Chief Tan Dawn Wei. While China wants to rebuild ties with the US, it is also concerned that the new administration may not roll back some of the measures initiated by the outgoing Trump administration.

US Bureau Chief Nirmal Ghosh says the latest move means that Taiwanese and US officials no longer need to maintain the facade of non-official ties – meeting in hotels, for instance, rather than at the US State Department. 

The next turning point will be the visit of the US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft to Taiwan from Jan 13 - 15, just days before Mr Biden’s inauguration on Jan 20.

ST Global Outlook Forum: US and China must take rational view, says DPM Heng

Relations between the United States and China took centre stage at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum, which was held virtually for the first time, today. 

The two countries must take a rational view and find common ground on global issues, competing when necessary but cooperating where possible, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, in his keynote address at this paper’s flagship meet. 

DPM Heng called on Asean members to stand together in the face of pressure from great-power competition. And said that the world must be prepared for sharper competition between the US and China, given a fundamental shift in attitudes in America and elsewhere.  

Watch the video here.

Or read more stories by clicking below: 

Countries must work together in public health, climate change in post-Covid-19 world, says DPM Heng

Worsening relations with Australia and Japan an obstacle to China's foreign policy goals, says Chinese expert

Indonesian divers close in on black boxes from crashed jet

Indonesian navy divers said they were closing in on data recorders from the Sriwijaya Air jet that plunged into the Java Sea two days ago with 62 people on board. The recovery of the black boxes will allow for a probe into the cause of the crash, although that could take several months.

Rescuers have so far found one of the jet’s turbines, pieces of the plane’s tail, the rim of a wheel and an emergency chute, as well as clothing and personal belongings from passengers. One of the investigators told the media that the plane was probably intact as it hit the water, with much of the debris found in a fairly limited space.

The Boeing 737-500 jet was making a domestic flight to Pontianak on Borneo island, about 740km from Jakarta, last Saturday before it disappeared from radar screens four minutes after take-off. The accident is the latest in a series of mishaps that has damaged Indonesia's air safety reputation.

Japan finds new coronavirus variant; China allows WHO experts to visit

Even as the global tally of coronavirus infections crossed 90 million, Japan’s Health Ministry announced that a new coronavirus variant had been detected in four travellers from Brazil's Amazonas state. The revelation further confirmed beliefs that the virus is still evolving.

Reports said the new variant differed from the highly-infectious variants found in Britain and Africa that was driving a surge in new infections. 

In another development, China permitted 10 World Health Organisation scientists to visit China and even travel to Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, to probe the origins of the virus. Beijing has faced much criticism for not allowing the WHO scientists to enter the country till now.  

Also read: 

Malaysia announces fresh nationwide movement restrictions to curb soaring infections

Iran demands Seoul release funds frozen due to US sanctions

Iran pressed South Korea to release funds frozen in its banks following US sanctions but did not give an assurance on when the tanker, it seized last week near the Strait of Hormuz, and its 20-member crew would be released. 

Iran's deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told South Korea's vice-foreign minister Choi Jong-kun, who arrived in Teheran on Sunday to discuss the release of the vessel, to stop politicising the issue. 

Teheran claims that a sum of US$7 billion (S$9.29 billion) is being held back by Seoul. "For about two and a half years, South Korean banks have frozen Iran's funds... it is not acceptable... In our view, this is more because of Seoul's lack of political will (to resolve the issue) than the US sanctions," the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Mr Araqchi as saying.

South Korea's Moon to jumpstart US-North Korea talks

South Korea's Moon Jae-in, who played a pivotal role in bringing US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un together for talks on June 12, 2018 in Singapore, has said he will try once again for a breakthrough, as US President-elect Joe Biden's government is sworn in. The South Korean President has been trying for a peace deal with North Korea since he came to power in 2017.

In other news…

Taiwan rolls out new passport: Taiwan rolled out a newly redesigned passport on Monday that gives greater prominence to the island's day-to-day name, aiming to avoid confusion with China. Existing Taiwanese passports have "Republic of China", its formal name, written in large English font at the top, with "Taiwan" printed at the bottom. The new passport enlarges the word "Taiwan" in English and removes "Republic of China", though that name remains in Chinese and in small English font around the national emblem.

Majority seek postponement of Olympics in Japan poll: Japan's government seemed set to face public opposition over the hosting of Tokyo Olympics with a new poll by Kyodo news agency showing that majority of the people would prefer that the games be cancelled or postponed. The country is facing a third wave of coronavirus infections.

Malaysian PM Muhyiddin may appoint Umno's Hishammuddin Hussein as DPM: Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is reportedly considering an option to make former Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein his deputy, in a bid to cool down the ongoing rift between his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) and ally Umno.

Fans protest Indian actor Rajinikanth’s bid to quit politics: Thousands of fans of south Indian superstar Rajnikanth are protesting the actor's latest announcement to quit politics. Admitted to hospital for high blood pressure while shooting a film, the actor cited his failing health as his reason to change his plans. 

Thanks for reading The Straits Times and this newsletter. We will be back tomorrow.