Asian Insider Jan 30: A sensitive data breach in Singapore, Brexit and more

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

Beijing to tighten grip on South China Sea

Strategic tensions surrounding the South China Sea aren’t likely to subside, never mind that Beijing may be prepared to offer concessions to the US on the trade front in this week’s talks.

Since 2009, when China surprised the world with its nine-dash-line claim that encompasses most of the waters, it has steadily sought to consolidate its presence there, including building permanent structures on islands it claims and militarising the features.

Charissa Yong, our Washington Correspondent, cites newly released US intelligence assessments that point to an escalation of Chinese attempts to dominate the waters, and enlist more regional powers to its point of view that US freedom of navigation operations are worsening the security situation in Southeast Asia

Singapore’s love-and-lies cocktail

Singaporeans and many worried resident foreigners are absorbing the implications of another deadly cocktail -- no, not Singapore Sling -- but of love and lies that led to the  malicious leak of the identities of more than 14,000 people afflicted with the HIV virus.

The man at the centre of it all is Mikhy Farrera Brochez, an American man of Jewish-Spanish descent who arrived on the island in January 2008 and was bounced out last April after serving jail time for faking his qualifications and two medical tests that would have flagged his active HIV status.

His Singaporean male partner allegedly helped him mask his HIV status. Given that many  Singaporean employers tend to be conservative, the affected people are worried about potential loss of jobs, aside from the social stigma involved. Salma Khalik has the story.

ISIS shadow over Asia

Just when you thought you had them licked, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) rears its head to show it is alive -- and killing. The bombing of a Roman Catholic cathedral in the Philippine province of Sulu on Sunday, which left at least 20 people dead,  is a deadly reminder that churches remain a symbolic target of the Islamic State), following similar attacks claimed by the militant group in France, Egypt, Russia and Indonesia in recent years, says Jakarta bureau chief Francis Chan

Despite ISIS claiming responsibility for the latest strike, Manila seems to prefer to believe that it was perpetrated by domestic militants opposed to the Jan 21 vote for self-rule in southern Muslim Mindanao. In Jakarta, meanwhile, convicted terrorist Abu Bakar Bashir, was back in hospital for treating his swollen feet. The 80-year-old spiritual leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah terror group was recently released on the orders of President Joko Widodo, who based his decision on humanitarian grounds.

Brexit pipe-dream

Economic planners around the world dream of creating a business environment characterised by ease of doing business, low taxes and a  nimble government unafraid to back away swiftly from less than optimum decisions and try new ideas.

One country in the world known for such attributes is Singapore. Many pro-Brexit figures in Britain see disengaging from the mightily rules-bound European Union as providing the opportunity, as some would call it, of building a Singapore-on-Thames.

A trifle ironically perhaps, this week launched the bicentennial celebrations to mark the year Sir Stamford Raffles arrived to set up the offices of the British East India Company.

Today, the erstwhile colony far exceeds the former colonial master in per capita GDP, life expectancy, and standards of living. But could a UK out of the EU likely achieve come close to resembling Singapore?  

Vikram Khanna lists plenty of reasons why this can be no more than a fantasy.

Catholic silence

The silence of the Catholic Church in the Philippines over the deadly war on drugs unleashed by President Rodrigo Duterte, which has claimed thousands of lives, and his repeated baiting of the church, has baffled many.

Now, in a rare move, the largest group of Catholic bishops in the Philippines has sought forgiveness for their lengthy silence over "disturbing issues", reports Reuters.

With four in five Filipinos identifying with the faith, the Catholic church is highly influential in the nation. "Forgive us for the length of time that it took us to find our collective voice," the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said in a pastoral letter, issued late on Monday.

A self-confessed victim of sexual abuse by a priest, Duterte has called God "stupid", characterised as "silly" the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and accused bishops of concealing their homosexuality.

The bishops said they understood the need to fight crime and drugs, but were concerned "when we started hearing of mostly poor people being brutally murdered on mere suspicion of being small-time drug users and peddlers", while bigger players were left alone.

That’s it for today.

- Ravi Velloor


China's Parliament will vote in March on a new foreign investment law that will ban forced technology transfer and illegal government "interference" in foreign business practices, the official Xinhua News agency reported on Wednesday.

It might smell like a skunk run over on a hot summer’s day, but Southeast Asians consider the prickly skinned durian the king of fruits. Not surprising, therefore, that a rare variety of durian is being sold for 14 million rupiah (S$1,343) each at a shopping mall in Tasikmalaya, an Indonesian town. 

Singapore banks, considered among the safest in Asia,  hired a larger proportion of technology specialists than their Hong Kong counterparts last year, according to a report by labour market intelligence start-up JobTech. Some 20 per cent of Singapore bank job postings in 2018 were technology-related, compared to 5 per cent for Hong Kong lenders.

Apple Inc plans to cut the price of some of its flagship iPhones for only the second time in the device's 12-year history, pegging its retail value to past prices in local currencies outside the United States instead of the rising US dollar. The move is an attempt to stem weak sales of the iPhone, particularly in overseas markets such as China.

For the fourth episode of the US dating show, The Bachelor, production moved to Singapore, giving the group of mostly white, mostly blonde women some "Crazy Rich Asians"-esque fantasy dates. Critics say the show lacked sensitivity to local tastes

Never stand in front of a judge or behind a donkey. - Indian proverb.