Asian Insider, Jan 7: Mahathir slams Soleimani killing, Wuhan’s mystery virus, Impossible pork

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

Hi,

In today’s bulletin: Malaysia, Japan and China share their concerns over US moves in the Middle East, Wuhan’s mystery virus leaves many nervous, US-China trade deal in the spotlight, Jakarta deploys warships following intrusion by Chinese vessels, digital-only banks in Singapore, Impossible pork with Asian input, and more.

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MAHATHIR SLAMS SOLEIMANI KILLING AS UNLAWFUL, AS THREAT OF WAR IN MIDDLE EAST ESCALATES

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad slammed the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a US airstrike, saying it was immoral, unlawful and comparable to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. His comments reflected the growing discomfort over the US drone strike - seen as a unilateral move, with the immediate trigger for it still being largely unclear.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced he will be visiting Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates next week. While China called for calm, commentators questioned if the assassination was aimed at winning the US President more votes in presidential elections to be held later this year.

Meanwhile, the threat of another war in the Middle East loomed large as a war of words between the United States, Iran and Iraq escalated. Our global affairs correspondent Jonathan Eyal says Iran is likely to bide its time before hitting back at US. To add to this, confusion prevailed over whether the US would consider pulling out its 5,200 troops in Iraq as demanded by Baghdad's Parliament, while 35 people were killed in a stampede during a funeral procession for the slain military commander in the Iranian city of Kerman.

Read more on this issue: 

Dr Mahathir: Soleimani assassination is unlawful, as bad as Khashoggi murder

US Reaper drone left slain Iranian commander Soleimani with little chance

How US troops are preparing for the worst in the Middle East

Iran likely to bide its time before hitting back at US

WUHAN’S MYSTERY VIRUS LEAVES PARTS OF ASIA ON EDGE

A day after China ruled out Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) as the source of the mystery Wuhan virus that left 59 people suffering from pneumonia, people remained anxious about the real cause of the ailment, and if it could spread. The outbreak comes even as China prepares for its busiest travel season of the year when millions return to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year.

While the United States warned citizens travelling to China to avoid contact with animals and those sick, Hong Kong moved to empower officials to deal with a potential crisis and improve border checks, while globally connected Singapore and Taiwan stepped up measures to detect those infected.

Don't miss:

Sars ruled out as cause of mystery pneumonia in China

China grapples with mystery pneumonia-like illness

No need to avoid Wuhan but take precautions, say experts

Lessons from Sars will help Singapore tackle bug from China

CHINA MAY NOT UP US FARM PURCHASES: REPORT

In what seems contrary to President Donald Trump's announcement about a substantial increase in agricultural products purchased by China, a report by reputed Chinese publication Caixin hinted that Beijing might not be inclined to do so.

The report quoted senior agriculture official Han Jun as saying that China will not increase its annual low-tariff import quotas for corn, wheat and rice from the United States, coming just days before Chinese officials are due to travel to Washington to sign the deal.

Read more here: 

China won’t hike grain import quotas for US trade deal: Report

Chinese delegation plans to travel to Washington to sign trade deal

JAKARTA STEPS UP PATROLS FOLLOWING INTRUSION BY CHINESE VESSELS

Indonesia deployed six warships, one maritime patrol aircraft and one Boeing surveillance aircraft to monitor the situation over the Natuna sea after Chinese coast guard vessels reportedly intruded the waters, escorting dozens of Chinese fishing boats, into its exclusive economic zone. Despite Indonesia's efforts, some of the vessels remain a short distance away from Natuna, Indonesian officials told Indonesia correspondent Linda Yulisman.

Here’s more on the South China Sea: 

Indonesia rejects China's claims over South China Sea

South China Sea disputes arise again

RUSH OF APPLICATIONS FOR SINGAPORE DIGITAL BANK LICENCE

Singapore has received twenty one applications for up to five digital bank licences it may offer. Applicants include e-commerce firms, technology and telecommunications companies, fintechs and financial institutions. The names of successful applicants will be announced in June and the new digital banks are to start operating by the middle of 2021.

Once that happens, Singapore will join the growing list of countries in the Asia-Pacific allowing digital-only banks. Japan, South Korea and China already have digital banks in their markets, while Hong Kong and Taiwan issued licences last year and Malaysia is expected to initiate the process this year.

Here’s more: 

Who is gunning for a digital bank licence?

Virtual banking disruption can be a major opportunity for Singapore winners

IN OTHER NEWS

IMPOSSIBLE FOODS WITH ASIAN INPUT: Impossible Foods, based in Silicon Valley, is debuting two faux-meat products at CES in Las Vegas - Impossible Pork and Impossible Sausage. The pork has been developed with feedback from chefs in Hong Kong, Singapore and China.

JAPAN ISSUES ARREST WARRANT FOR GHOSN'S WIFE: Tokyo issued an arrest warrant for Carlos Ghosn’s wife Carole for allegedly lying in testimony, as officials sought ways to bring the fugitive car industry boss Carlos Ghosn back for trial on financial misconduct charges.

INDIA SUFFERS HOTTEST DECADE: India, at the forefront of climate change, just faced the hottest decade on record, with the national weather office calling the impact of global warming "unmistakable" and extreme weather killing more than 1,500 people last year.

That’s it for today. We’ll be back with you tomorrow and thanks for reading.  

- Shefali

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