Asian Insider July 22: Mayhem in Hong Kong, India's Moon Mission, Duterte's plans

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

In today’s bulletin:  Carrie Lam and China warn protesters in Hong Kong after night of violence, India succeeds in its second attempt to send a rocket to the moon; Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte sets his agenda for the second-half of his term, Cambodia's growing proximity to China, Kim Jong Un votes, and more. 

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WHAT IS HONG KONG HEADING FOR AFTER NIGHT OF VIOLENCE?

The mayhem in Hong Kong is raising serious concern. After a night of protests and attacks, that left more than 40 injured, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam spoke earlier today to strongly condemn the attack on China's main representative office in the city and another on ordinary citizens and protesters at a train station in Yuen Long, near the border with China. She's called on the police to conduct a thorough investigation and find the culprits. 

What next? Both Ms Lam and China have condemned the attack on the liasion office, during which protesters defaced some walls and a national emblem, as a blatant challenge to the government and national sovereignty, that will not be tolerated.  There's also growing concern about the involvement of Hong Kong's shadowy network of triad criminal gangs in recent episodes of violence.  Both raise several questions. What does China intend to do? The episode is one of the greatest challenges facing Chinese President Xi Jinping's government in recent years. And, how would the protesters react to whatever China opts to do. Also, can Hong Kong deal with the triads getting involved in the protests?   

Tense stalemate: For now, traffic has resumed around China's liaison office and graffiti on the wall of the office has been covered by black plastic. The Hong Kong government headquarters remained open today. But growing signs that the chaos is taking a toll on the economy, is adding to the restlessness in the city.

Go deeper: 

Xi Jinping faces tough choices amid HK protests

What you need to know about the extradition Bill protests in Hong Kong

INDIA'S MOON MISSION LIFTS OFF

India succeeded in its second attempt in recent weeks to launch a rocket into space today, to perform a soft landing of a rover on the moon that will make the country only the fourth to reach the moon. United States, Russia and China are the other three that have been on the moon. The 10-billion rupee (S$197.2 million) mission, if successful, will enable India to carry out studies on the presence of water on the South Pole of the moon. It is the country's most ambitious mission yet to cement its position as a leading low-cost space power. 

Here's the latest report: 

India's moon mission lifts off, hopes to probe lunar south pole

DUTERTE'S STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte asked Congress to reimpose the death penalty in his State of the Nation address today, in which he vowed to step up his war on drugs and corruption. His address, which comes as he completes the first-half term of his presidency, is being much watched for signs of his policies during the rest of the term. We'll have a full report for you, on his address, on straitstimes.com. 

How's he fared so far? Raul Dancel, our Philippines Correspondent says he's managed to pluck some low-hanging fruits: tax reforms meant to beef up the government's purse, a law creating an autonomous Muslim region, free public college education, free irrigation, universal healthcare, a 1,000 peso (S$26) pension hike for senior citizens and easing of curbs on rice imports. And he's cleaned up Boracay. But he has yet to deliver on his most dramatic promises. 

Read his full story here: 

Rough ride likely for Duterte in second half of presidency

Go deeper: 

An empowered Duterte sets his sights on drug war, death penalty in second half of his term

Duterte U-turns on allowing China to fish

CAMBODIA'S GROWING TIES TO CHINA RAISE ALARM

Cambodia has denied reports that it has entered into an agreement with China that will allow Beijing to place armed forces at a Cambodian naval base. This was disclosed by the Wall Street Journal in a report on Sunday (July 21). The article said the deal would allow China exclusive access to part of Cambodia's Ream Naval Base on the Gulf of Thailand, which would enhance Beijing's ability to challenge US allies in South-east Asia. Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen has said it was the "worst-ever made up news against Cambodia". 

Why this matters? News of Cambodia's growing proximity to China comes amid an unresolved trade war between Washington and Beijing, which is impacting on regional economies and affecting global supply chains, forcing countries to realign their relationships to maintain stability. Earlier this year, Cambodia started work on a US$2 billion (S$2.70 billion) Chinese-funded expressway - the country's first - that will connect the capital Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, a southern resort and seaport that attracts Chinese tourists, once it is completed by 2023. The project, however, had sparked criticism that Cambodia could end up as a 'colony' of China. 

Read more online: 

Chinese-built Cambodian resort stirs geopolitical tensions

US presses Cambodia over possible Chinese military presence

DEMOCRACY IN PYONGYANG

North Korea votes. That's not all. More than 99.98 per cent of registered voters turned up to exercise their franchise, a 0.01 per cent improvement on the figures registered in 2015. This was to elect representatives to provincial, city and county assemblies in local elections, which is held once every four years. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un voted too.  

IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today called for debate on revising the post-war, pacifist constitution, saying this is what voters wanted as shown by the results of the upper house election. Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition won a solid majority, but together with like-minded allies, fell short of the two-thirds "super majority" needed to begin the controversial process of amending the constitution, which has not been changed since it was adopted after Japan's World War Two defeat.

South Korea's exports, a bellwether for global trade, appear set for an eighth straight monthly decline as trade disputes take a toll on global demand. Exports during the first 20 days of July fell 14 per cent from a year earlier, data from the Korea Customs Service showed on Monday.  

Horrifying details are emerging in the case of an attack on a Japanese animation studio last week, that has left 34 dead, making it one of the worst mass killings in Japan in decades. Reports say smoke spread so fast that a majority of the victims who had tried to flee through a rooftop door were unable to open it before perishing. Of those who died, 19 were found piled on top of each other on a stairway between the third floor and a door to the roof. 

It's been a busy Monday. Thanks for reading and we'll have more for you on happenings in Asia, and the world, tomorrow. 

Shefali