Asian Insider, Jan 6: HK mass arrests, M’sians want Umno to stick with PN, Xi’s priorities for 2021

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

Hi all, 

In today’s bulletin: Over 50 Hong Kong democracy activists arrested under national security law, Malaysian voters - especially Malays - want Umno to stick with PN, Alibaba plans to raise billions in bond sale, and more.

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Fresh wave of arrests of HK opposition camp linked to security law

More than 50 Hong Kong politicians and activists have been rounded up by police in a fresh wave of arrests under the city’s sweeping national security law, Hong Kong correspondent Claire Huang reports. At least 52 individuals linked to unofficial primaries held in July to choose pan-democratic candidates to run in the September Legislative Council election were hauled up for subversion on Wednesday (Jan 6) morning. 

The unofficial poll was meant to help the opposition bloc win a majority in the Hong Kong legislature, which would then have enabled them to block government proposals and mount pressure for democratic reforms. The Legco election, now scheduled for September, was postponed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Asked if the latest arrests were meant to obliterate dissent in the city, political observer Lau Siu Kai said the Hong Kong government had already warned that holding the unofficial primaries might violate the national security law, but that the warning fell on deaf ears.

Related: Chinese lawyers involved with HK activists face having licences revoked

M’sian voters, especially Malays, want Umno to stick with PN

Malaysians - especially the Malay majority - want Umno to remain part of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government, a Merdeka Centre survey shows, amid growing calls from the pact’s largest party to cut ties with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and force snap elections.

But as Covid-19 cases continue to rise in the country, civil society groups and politicians say a snap poll should be avoided. A group of 14 opposition politicians have said they are appalled by Umno's continuous demand to hold elections at a time when coronavirus infections are spiralling and when several states have been hit by severe floods. 

Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, president of Malaysia's Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), has stepped in to mend the ties between the two feuding allies, Umno and Bersatu.

In case you missed it: Umno says it will contest in all seats it won at M’sia's 2018 polls

Xi Jinping’s priorities for 2021: The economy and Covid-19

This year will be no less taxing for China’s President Xi Jinping than it was in 2020, global affairs correspondent Benjamin Kang Lim and China bureau chief Tan Dawn Wei write. The plethora of problems that the country faced last year will not go away any time soon, particularly the growing chorus of fear, suspicion and resentment against it. 

As China continues to manage its external challenges, growing the economy will be one of President Xi's top priorities this year, with economists expecting an expansion in domestic demand. Keeping Covid-19 in check will also remain a priority for Mr Xi and his personal prestige, given the Chinese Communist Party’s centenary in July.

You may also be interested in: What the EU is signalling as it signs China investment deal

Alibaba plans to raise S$6.6b via bond sale this month

China’s Alibaba Group Holding plans to raise at least US$5 billion (S$6.6 billion) through a US dollar-denominated bond sale this month, amid regulatory scrutiny of co-founder Jack Ma’s empire. The proceeds will likely be used for general corporate expenditure. 

The fundraising will be a test of investor sentiment towards Alibaba, amid regulatory scrutiny of billionaire co-founder Jack Ma’s empire after his October speech about regulation stifling innovation led to the halting of affiliate Ant Group’s US$37 billion stock market listing. 

Adding to Mr Ma’s woes is an executive order signed by US President Donald Trump banning transactions with eight Chinese software applications, including Ant Group’s Alipay. The move, which also targets Tencent Holdings’ QQ Wallet and WeChat Pay, is aimed at curbing the threat to Americans posed by Chinese apps that have large user bases and access to sensitive data.

HSR cancellation just tip of iceberg in M’sia's rail controversies

Malaysia's cancellation of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail project is only the latest in a series of controversies involving train projects that has cast a light on the governance of these billion-dollar deals, Malaysia bureau chief Shannon Teoh writes

Since the Perikatan Nasional government came to power less than a year ago, at least two other tracks that traverse Kuala Lumpur's greater metropolitan area are facing government intervention over the selection of contractors. These interventions have led to calls from across the political divide for more transparency, with some implying cronyism was at play. 

Delve deeper: M’sian minister expects HSR compensation to S’pore to be under S$270m

In other news...

Saudi says full ties restored between Qatar and 4 nations: Full ties have been restored between Qatar and the four nations that severed ties with Doha in a rift that began over three years ago. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called for unity to confront challenges facing the region, singling out "the threats posed by the Iranian regime's nuclear and ballistic missile programme and its plans for sabotage and destruction". 

Kim Jong Un urges ‘big leap forward’ at rare North Korea congress: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has kicked off the country’s first ruling party congress in five years, saying that its economic development plan fell far short of goal and that the party would explore a “new path” for making a “big leap forward”. 

WHO's Tedros 'very disappointed' China has not granted entry to Covid-19 experts: The head of the World Health Organisation is “very disappointed” that China has still not authorised the entry of a team of international experts to examine the origins of the coronavirus. The 10-strong team had been due to set off in early January. 

Philippines ‘within striking distance’ as China seen gearing up for full naval base operations on Fiery Cross Reef: China's biggest military transport plane landed recently on Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross) in the West Philippine Sea, giving a glimpse of what could happen if the Chinese base there becomes fully operational. 

That’s all for today. We’ll be back tomorrow with more insightful reads. 

Magdalene