Asian Insider, Jan 29: US, China may meet in S’pore, M’sia’s retail traders target glove makers

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

Hi all,

In today's bulletin: US, China may meet in Singapore, China won't recognise UK's BNO passport for Hong Kongers, Malaysia warns against forging Covid-19 test results, rising fears of coup in Myanmar, and more.

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US and China may meet at Singapore's 'Davos', WEF says

United States President Joe Biden's new administration may hold meetings with their Chinese counterparts at a World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Singapore in May, the organisation's president Borge Brende said on Friday (Jan 29).

"Singapore has had very close ties with the US but also worked very well with China," Mr Brende said. "The special annual meeting could be a place where you could see the new Biden administration and China meet."

Neither China nor the US has said if they will send officials to the meeting due to be held from May 25-28, over which there remains uncertainty given the raging pandemic in many parts of the world. Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the country would work with the forum to ensure the health and safety of all.

Catch the ST-WEF Geopolitical Reset 2021: Implications for Asia webinar live on Jan 29 at 7pm SGT (12pm CET).

Follow the Straits Times' coverage of the World Economic Forum 2021

China will 'no longer recognise' UK's BNO passport for Hong Kongers

China says it will "no longer recognise" the British National (Overseas) (BNO) passport for Hong Kongers as Britain prepares to open its doors to millions more residents of the former colony following a security crackdown by Beijing. The Chinese move comes after a promise by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government to provide long-term sanctuary for Hong Kong residents who want to leave the territory.

Holders of BNO status - a legacy of British rule over Hong Kong up to 1997 - will from Sunday be able to apply to live and work in Britain for up to five years, and eventually seek citizenship. They previously had only limited rights to visit Britain for up to six months, and no right to work or settle. Mr Johnson has estimated that about 300,000 Hong Kongers will take advantage of the new visa route, despite nearly three million people being eligible.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam hit out at Britain for failing to contain Covid-19, saying that she did not see how many people in the city would want to move to the European nation, noting that Britain's healthcare service was under "tremendous pressure" due to the coronavirus pandemic, while praising Hong Kong's hospitals.

Related: China boosts cadres in Hong Kong as Beijing tightens supervision of city

Myanmar poll body rejects vote fraud claims as coup fears grow

Myanmar's election commission has rejected allegations by the military of vote fraud in last year's election and said there were no errors big enough to impact its credibility. The statement comes after the armed forces declined to rule out a coup and warned the military would "take action" if its demands to investigate irregularities were not met.

More than a dozen embassies, including the United States and European Union delegation, urged Myanmar to "adhere to democratic norms", joining the UN in a chorus of international concern about the possible coup. The country is just a decade out of nearly 50 years of military rule, with a nascent democracy governed under a junta-authored Constitution that dictates power-sharing between the civilian administration and generals.

The National League for Democracy party won the Nov 8 election in a landslide, taking 83 per cent of available seats, in what was seen as a referendum on the democratic government of former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party won just 33 of the 476 available seats.

ST Asian Insider video: Organised crime a threat to Asean

South-east Asia's challenge of tackling organised crime syndicates goes beyond the issue of dealing with drugs. Such organised crime syndicates' activities often have an impact on human trafficking, money laundering and even wildlife.

There is a clutch of powerful organised crime lords who have entrenched operations in the region, particularly in the murky border areas of Myanmar and Laos, most seemingly beyond the reach of any official government. And these crime bosses have been expanding their footprint in Indochina, some through ostensibly legal projects and investments.

Asian Insider host Nirmal Ghosh discusses the issue with Myanmar country director for the United States Institute of Peace, Mr Jason Tower. Click here to watch the video.

GameStop frenzy spreads to Malaysia as traders target glove makers

GameStop's manic ride sparked by amateur US traders on Reddit has inspired Malaysians to form a similar group targeting shares of glove makers - one of Asia's hottest pandemic trades in 2020.

Bursabets, dubbed the "Malaysian version" of Reddit's WallStreetBets forum, was created on Thursday to discuss stocks listed on Bursa Malaysia. Discussions in the group, which already boasts more than 6,600 members, have so far centred on glove makers and calls to rally against institutional investors who have kept the sector's valuations low.

Top Glove shares surged as much as 15 per cent on Friday, the most since Sept 11. Rival Hartalega Holdings jumped as much as 10 per cent, while Supermax Corp climbed as much as 9.2 per cent.

Across Asia, other emboldened retail investors in China and elsewhere are also taking on short sellers and making their brokers nervous enough to cut off margin lending.

Go deeper: 4 things to know about the GameStop insanity

Malaysia issues stern warning on fake Covid-19 test results

Malaysian police have arrested half a dozen Pakistani men suspected of forging negative Covid-19 test results and warned of stern action against others considering the same path to travel overseas.

Bernama news agency had earlier reported that a Pakistani-led syndicate known as the "Habib Gang" sold forged Covid-19 test slips. Their activities were exposed when two men were arrested on Jan 20 after providing dubious test documentation at the registration counter for flights to Pakistan.

The syndicate was believed to have served about 50 customers since it started operating last August, and the foreigners were allegedly willing to fork out RM300 (S$98) each to obtain a screening test slip with negative results just to be able to fly home.

Other Covid-19 travel updates:

WHO can lead talks on Covid-19 vaccine passport, says Indian minister at WEF event

Malaysian government urged to lift quarantine rules for vaccinated Singaporeans

In other news...

Islamist convicted of beheading US journalist Daniel Pearl to go free: Pakistan's Supreme Court has ordered the release of an Islamist convicted of beheading US journalist Daniel Pearl, a decision that has left his family in "complete shock", lawyers said. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was the main suspect in the 2002 kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Pearl, was released by a panel of three judges.

China likely to avoid setting 2021 GDP target over debt concerns: China will likely avoid setting a 2021 growth target, dropping the closely watched measure for a second straight year, policy sources said. Policymakers fear that pegging official ambitions to a specific rate of growth could encourage regional governments to pursue even higher growth, in turn prompting an unhealthy rise in debt to hit the target.

Exit of South Korea's first woman foreign minister raises questions about gender bias: The exit of South Korea's first female Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha has raised questions about falling female participation rate in the Cabinet, and whether gender bias had set her up for failure in the first place. Ms Kang last year said she was doing her best but "sometimes I feel some things happen because I am a woman".

That's it for today. Have a wonderful weekend, and check back for more next week.


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