Asian Insider Jan 9: Hong Kong to up its budget spend; Jokowi wants exports KPI for envoys and how fake news fans the bush fires

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

Hi,

In today’s bulletin: We look at how Hong Kong plans to spend its way out of the recession, Indonesia sets up a pragmatic way of assessing the effectiveness of their ambassadors and Australians grapple with fake news impeding their fight against bush fires and more.

Want to receive the latest developments to the biggest stories in Asia every evening? Just click on this link to sign up for The Straits Times’ Asian Insider.

HONG KONG WILL SPEND BOLDLY TO SHORE UP ITS WEAK ECONOMY

Wrecked by over seven months of civil unrest in the city, Hong Kong is looking for ways to spend its way out of its current recession. The city's Financial Secretary Paul Chan said that the annual budget, due on Feb 26, will maintain spending on infrastructure and public services and include an additional stimulus. "We will continue to spend boldly to help those disadvantaged," he said, noting that more people might face job cuts as businesses continued to be affected by unceasing trouble in the city. The additional spending could trigger a deficit of more than HK$100 billion (S$17.4 billion). 

Read more:

Hong Kong home prices fall for 5th straight month

Hong Kong parents looking to send their kids to study in Singapore

NEW KPI FOR INDONESIAN ENVOYS: SELL MORE LOCAL PRODUCTS

Our Indonesia Correspondent Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja reports that in an effort to bolster the economy, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has announced that the performance of Indonesian envoys overseas will be measured by the volume of exports sent to the countries assigned to them. He urged ambassadors to map out export opportunities, gather market intelligence and identify problems. “I hereby ask the Foreign Minister to formulate a clear and measured KPI (key performance indicator) on the ambassadors' performance so we know who is performing, who is not and therefore know who needs to be replaced," he said.

Also read:

Jakarta aims to change laws to attract foreign investments

HOW FAKE NEWS FANS THE FLAMES OF AUSTRALIA’S FIRES

Deep in the burning forests south of Sydney this week, volunteer firefighters were clearing a track through the woods, hoping to hold back a nearby blaze, when one of them shouted over the crunching of bulldozers. "Don't take photos of any trees coming down," he said. "The greenies will get a hold of it, and it'll all be over." The idea that "greenies" or environmentalists would oppose measures to prevent fires from ravaging homes and lives is simply false. "It's really reckless and extremely harmful," said Dr Joelle Gergis, an award-winning climate scientist at the Australian National University. "It's insidious because it grows. Once you plant those seeds of doubt, it stops an important conversation from taking place."

Don't miss:

How a stuffed tiger in Indonesia got burnt in Australia

WUHAN FLU MAY BE CAUSED BY NEW VIRUS SIMILAR TO SARS AND MERS

A cluster of more than 50 pneumonia cases in the central Chinese city of Wuhan may be due to a newly emerging member of the family of viruses that caused the deadly Sars and Mers outbreaks, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said. While the United Nations health agency said that it needed more comprehensive information to confirm precisely the type of pathogen causing the infections, it said a new coronavirus was a possibility. Preliminary lab results conducted by a team of experts showed a new type of coronavirus caused the outbreak that began in December. 

Read more:

Hong Kong on high alert to contain outbreak

TAIWAN ELECTIONS: THE CONTENDERS, VOTERS AND ISSUES

Taiwanese are going to the polls this Saturday (Jan 11) to elect their president and legislators. While incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is expected to be re-elected to a second and last term, the DPP could lose its current majority in the Legislative Yuan.

The Straits Times East Asia Editor Goh Sui Noi shares her insights on the stakes in the upcoming poll.

ASIAN INSIDER VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: THE US-IRAN CONFLICT

Would war break out in the Middle East? Iran and the United States moved closer to war this week when Iran launched missiles at US-Iraqi bases in Iraq, in retaliation for the killing of Iranian top commander Qassem Soleimani by the United States. The Straits Times US Bureau Chief Nirmal Ghosh explores the ramifications with Ms Jasmine El-Gamal, senior non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council, and Dr Inderjeet Parmar, professor of international politics at the City, University of London. 

Related Story:  The threat from Iran’s weapon arsenal

IN OTHER NEWS

SINGAPORE: Former chief justice Yong Pung How, who implemented rigorous reforms to transform the Singapore court system into a model of efficiency, died on Thursday morning, the Supreme Court has confirmed. He was 93.

MUMBAI: India's weddings are famously lavish - lasting days and with hundreds if not thousands of guests - but this season, many families are cutting costs even if it risks their social standing. It is symptomatic of a sharp slowdown in the world's fifth-largest economy, with Indians spending less on everything from daily essentials to once-in-a-lifetime celebrations.

BEIJING: China's Vice-Premier Liu He, head of the country's negotiation team in trade talks with the United States, will sign a Phase 1 deal in Washington next week, the commerce ministry said on Thursday. Mr Liu will visit Washington on Jan 13-15.

LONDON: And finally, if you are a psychic, do you count as a weirdo or a misfit? World-renown psychic entertainer Uri Geller has applied to work for the British government after Prime Minister Boris Johnson's chief adviser called for "weirdos and misfits" to apply for jobs. "You say you want someone on the 'frontiers of the science of prediction'? Well look no further," Mr Geller, 73, wrote in his letter to 10, Downing Street.

Thank you for reading the Asian Insider, and for being a reader of The Straits Times.

See you tomorrow!

Ooi Boon