Asian Insider July 16: Thailand’s military rule, Malaysia’s seizure of funds, and the aborted Indian moon mission

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

THAILAND ENDS MILITARY RULE

Five years after leading a coup that placed Thailand under military control, Mr Prayut Chan-o-cha - an army chief turned civilian prime minister - has declared that Thailand has now returned to a fully democratic country with a constitutional monarchy.

What changed:  While the man leading the government remains the same, several symbolic and functional changes had to be made to take the country out of military rule. Mr Prayut formally resigned as the head of the military government on Monday and he also transferred civilian legal cases military to civilian court. He also said that problems in the country will now be addressed based on a democratic system with no use of special powers. The new civilian government will be sworn in today.

Why it matters:  The unanswered questions centre on whether this means a return to political stability in Thailand after 15 years of turmoil. The official end of military rule does restore some normality back to the country remain suspicious about the levers of power that the junta continue to hold. After all, opposition parties have always contended that the elections earlier this year were structured to ensure the pro-junta party would triumph.

Go deeper:

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha declares end of 5-year military rule

WILL TERRY GOU BE A SPOILER IN TAIWAN ELECTIONS?

Now that billionaire Foxconn founder Terry Gou’s bid to be his party’s nominee for president is officially over - he lost the Kuomintang  party primary to Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu this week - speculation has turned to whether he might run as an independent. He denied he was considering an independent run today through his spokesman, describing it as a fake issue. However, the spokesman did not respond to a question on whether Mr Gou still intended to contest the presidential election next year in a different capacity.

Why it matters:  If the 68-year-old founder of the global tech powerhouse does decide to run as an independent, it will have a significant impact on the outcome. Most analysts expect such a scenario will lead to a victory for the incumbent Tsai Ing-wen with Mr Gou siphoning off votes from the Kuomintang nominee.

The story: Foxconn billionaire Terry Gou denies ever considering solo run to lead Taiwan

MALAYSIA EXPLAINS RM1 BILLION SEIZURE

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has confirmed a report from The Straits Times on Saturday that the government seized RM 1 billion from a bank account of Chinese state-owned company, China Petroleum Pipeline Engineering. The 94-year-old said the money was seized because the company had already been paid 80 percent of the fees despite completing only 13 per cent of the work at the point the multi-billion dollar pipeline projects were cancelled.

The big picture:  Agreements on mega-projects signed by the previous Najib administration have proved to be a constant irritant in Malaysia-China ties since Dr Mahathir returned to the fray last year. And while most of the tension has mainly been on Dr Mahathir cancelling, pausing or reviewing contracts, the government has rarely taken the step of actually seizing funds. This opens a new frontier of this battle.

Recap:

The original ST exclusive: Malaysia seizes $328 million held by Chinese state-owned unit in HSBC

Reactions: Mahathir says Malaysia has the right to seize funds from project

WHAT SCUPPERED THE INDIA MOON MISSION

A day after India pulled the plug on its moon mission, scientists are saying the “technical snag”  to blame was a fuel leak in the rocket engine. Scientists are racing to fix the problem in time for a new launch window at the end of July but it’s possible the launch date could be pushed back for months.

The big picture:  The high-profile aborted mission curbs some of the momentum for India at a time when they appear to be making great strides in the space race. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to launch a crewed space mission by 2022 and placing a rover on the moon was seen as a significant step in that direction. 

The story: Fuel leak halted blast-off for Indian Moon mission rocket: Reports

AND FINALLY, THE SAGA OF A HANDWRITTEN AIRLINE MENU IN BUSINESS CLASS

Our last item today is a story that starts out as something small and comical but then finally ends up somewhere no one could have expected. It starts with a travel vlogger named Rius Vernandes who was on a Garuda flight where he was handed a menu that appears to have been handwritten on pages taken out of a ringed notebook. As any dutiful social media user would, he then proceeds to posts about it. The posts go viral and Garuda comes out to say it is baffled how an internal note got into the hands of a passenger despite Rius’ video clearly showing that other passengers received the same bootleg menu.

A few days later, Garuda issues a circular telling passengers not to take photos and videos in the cabin though it says the rule is not related to menu-gate. Then today, Rius posts a photo of two envelopes from the police saying he had been summoned by the police for defaming Garuda. This is all playing out on Instagram and Youtube. Make of it what you will. 

IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Malaysian police is widening its investigation net in connection with the viral sex videos implicating a minister, including the possible involvement of a state assemblyman, said police chief Datuk Seri Abdul Hamid Bador.

An undersea earthquake with a magnitude of 6.1 struck south of Indonesia's Bali on Tuesday (July 16), the European earthquake monitoring agency EMSC said, causing some residents and visitors on the tourist island to briefly rush out of buildings.

North Korea on Tuesday (July 16) warned that US-South Korea military drills to be held next month “will affect” proposed working-level nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington

South Koreans forced to work for Japanese occupiers will seek a court order to forcibly liquidate Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' assets to compensate them, their lawyers said on Tuesday (July 16), risking more Japanese anger over the issue. The question of compensation for South Koreans for labour during Japan's 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula has soured the US allies' relations, which took a turn for the worse this month when Japan restricted exports of high-tech material to South Korea.

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow,

- Jeremy