Asian Insider, Jan 21: Asia markets gain on Biden’s first day, China sanctions Trump officials

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

Hi all, 

In today’s bulletin: Biden acts on coronavirus, climate change and immigration, China strikes optimistic tone with Biden administration but sanctions Trump officials, Muhyiddin’s future rides on bringing Covid-19 under control without economic disaster, India offers to put new farm laws on hold, and more.

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Biden’s first day in office; Asia markets celebrate

US President Joe Biden signed a slew of executive orders to combat the coronavirus, tackle climate change and reverse his predecessor Donald Trump’s immigration policies on his first day in office, US correspondent Charissa Yong reports. He also signed orders to start the process of rejoining the World Health Organisation and Paris Climate Agreement, signalling his commitment that America would once again embrace international institutions. 

In Asia, markets celebrated Mr Biden’s first day with broad gains on Thursday (Jan 21). Investors have welcomed his pledges to kickstart growth, which offset concerns about his plans for higher taxes and market regulation. In India, residents of Ms Kamala Harris’ ancestral village of Thulasendrapuram celebrated her inauguration as US vice-president by setting off firecrackers and distributing food. 

Hours after Mr Biden was sworn in, China's three biggest telecommunications firms announced that they are seeking a review of the New York Stock Exchange's decision to delist their shares, a result of an executive order by former US President Donald Trump. China Mobile, China Unicom Hong Kong and China Telecom together lost more than US$30 billion (S$40 billion) in market value in the final weeks of 2020 after Mr Trump's order. 

Read more: Key moments in Joe Biden's inauguration as 46th US president 

In pictures: Highlights from US President Biden’s inauguration 

Delve deeper (subscribers only): 

Tommy Koh: The road ahead for Asia with the Biden administration 

Kurt M. Campbell and Rush Doshi: How America can shore up Asian order 

China strikes optimistic tone with Biden, sanctions Trump officials

China has struck an optimistic tone towards US President Joe Biden's new administration, saying "kind angels can triumph over evil forces" and playing down early irritants as the result of an atmosphere poisoned by Mr Donald Trump's term in office. Beijing imposed sanctions on former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and other Trump officials as Mr Biden was being inaugurated on Wednesday, saying America had made "crazy moves" that have harmed US-China ties. 

The barrage of moves against Beijing by the Trump administration in its waning days, pushing through significant foreign policy measures so quickly, risks politicising the issues and undermining their ability to gain global traction. The moves complicate Mr Biden's plans to maintain a combative stance on China over some issues while finding other areas to cooperate. Beijing is likely to pressure him to reverse some of the decisions as a condition to resuming talks on other issues. But doing so too quickly could send the wrong signal. 

Also read: China fails to meet US trade deal target in 2020 amid pandemic  

Go deeper (subscribers only): 

Benjamn Kang Lim: Xi indulges in 'coffee diplomacy' for reset in Sino-US ties 

Gideon Rachman: America’s disarray is China’s opportunity 

M’sia PM’s future rides on bringing virus under control without economic disaster

Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin will likely have his tenure - mostly marked by a battered economy and political turmoil - defined entirely by his management of the Covid-19 pandemic, Malaysia correspondent Ram Anand writes (for subscribers). 

Tan Sri Muhyiddin needs to show results from the most drastic step yet of his premiership - a seven-month state of emergency declaration - before snap polls expected later this year, analysts say. He has given a commitment that the polls will be called later this year when the pandemic is under control, and the report card on his management of the situation, no doubt, will be what his Perikatan Nasional coalition will bring to the battle. 

From Friday, the whole of Malaysia, except Sarawak, will come under strict Covid-19 curbs. With extended closures, business owners are increasingly struggling, with Mr Muhyiddin’s latest aid package seen as insufficient, Malaysia correspondent Nadirah H. Rodzi reports. 

Get your latest news on Malaysia here.

Record Chinese inflows push HK stock index past 30,000

Mainland Chinese investors are showing unprecedented interest in Hong Kong stocks, powering the city's fastest rally for a new year in more than three decades. They have bought up US$27 billion (S$36 billion) of Hong Kong shares this month, almost a third of what they bought in the whole of last year. 

Inflows from north of the border picked up after a US ban on some Chinese securities forced international investors to dump the likes of China Mobile at bargain prices. Mainland buyers swooped in, broadening their targets after extreme valuations onshore encouraged a rotation into Hong Kong's cheaper shares. 

Read also: Stock analysts most bullish on Chinese companies in a decade

India’s PM Modi to get Covid-19 vaccine, Taiwanese in China offered priority

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will get his coronavirus shot in the second phase of the country's inoculation campaign, as many Indian states struggle to meet targets in part due to public fears over possible side effects. 

Meanwhile, Beijing is touting a state programme that gives Taiwanese people in China priority for Covid-19 vaccines, prompting concern within Taiwan's government, which sees it as the latest Chinese tool to win over the island's population. 

Get the latest Covid-19 updates at our dedicated website. 

In other news …

India offers to put new farm laws on hold to end protests: India has offered to suspend three new contentious agricultural laws for up to 18 months, a significant step down for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration as it struggles to end nearly two months of protests by farm groups. During this period, farm leaders and the government can begin discussions to find a lasting resolution to their differences, the agriculture ministry said. 

Communist Party leadership to keep Vietnam in sweet spot amid US-China tensions: Vietnam's ruling Communist Party gathers for a congress next week that will help shape the country's global role for the next five years as tensions bubble with Beijing and Mr Joe Biden settles in at the White House. The party's 13th Congress, from Monday to Feb 2, will cement leadership looking to leverage Vietnam's economic success to bolster legitimacy. 

Twitter locks out Chinese embassy in US over post on Uighurs: Twitter has locked the official account for the Chinese Embassy to the US after a post that defended the Beijing government's policies in Xinjiang, where critics say China is engaged in the forced sterilisation of Uighur women. The tweet, which said the women were no longer "baby-making machines", now bears a label saying, "This tweet is no longer available”. 

California WeChat users claim China surveillance in lawsuit: California WeChat users have sued its parent company Tencent, saying the mobile app is used for spying on and censoring users for the Chinese government. US-based nonprofit Citizen Power Initiatives for China filed the suit in Silicon Valley, joined by a half-dozen California residents in urging a state court to order Tencent to change its ways and pay damages. 

Boeing jet's throttle becomes focus in Indonesia Sriwijaya Air crash probe: Indonesian investigators probing the Jan 9 crash of a Sriwijaya Air flight are looking at the possibility that a malfunctioning automatic throttle could have led the pilots to lose control. The device had been having problems on previous flights, according to a source familiar with the investigation. 

That’s it for today. Thank you for staying with us and check back tomorrow for more stories. 

Magdalene