Asian Insider, July 22: US orders China's Houston consulate to close; cracks in US-South Korea military alliance?

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

Hi all,

In today's bulletin:

China threatens retaliation over US order to shut its consulate in Houston; US Defence Secretary Mark Esper's remarks lead to concerns over the presence of US troops in South Korea; differences within Malaysia's ruling pact; a senior Indonesian official questions an Asean pact; tech wearables to detect Covid-19, and more.

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US-CHINA TIES TAKE ANOTHER HIT WITH US ORDER TO CLOSE CHINA'S HOUSTON CONSULATE

US-China ties hit a new low with Washington asking China to close its Houston consulate, around the same time as the indictment of two Chinese nationals for cyber espionage that targeted defence contractors and Covid-19 researchers, among others.

China slammed the abrupt closure of its consulate and vowed to retaliate if the decision was not reversed. In Houston, at China's consulate, reports said papers were being burnt in open containers.

US-China ties have deteriorated in recent years over trade ties, the South China Sea, differences over the presence of media in each other's countries as well responsibility for the spread of coronavirus infections.

Earlier this week, in London, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the two leaders discussed ways to tackle China's growing might. Mr Pompeo was due to meet Hong Kong democracy activist Nathan Law as well as the city's last British governor Chris Patten.

Meanwhile, reports said US Defence Secretary Mark Esper plans to visit China later this year for talks on measures to improve two-way communications in a crisis situation.

Go deeper

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CRACKS IN SOUTH KOREA-US MILITARY ALLIANCE?

Cracks seem to be emerging in the military alliance between South Korea and the United States due to differences over sharing of costs involved in stationing 28,000 US troops in South Korea.

Analysts and experts say that should the US opt to reduce the presence of its troops it might signal weakness to North Korea and bolster China's influence in the region.

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper's comments at a forum on Tuesday seem to hint that Washington could be considering a reduction in the size of its force in South Korea. While no order has been given, Mr Esper told the forum that the administration was looking to adjust its posture globally.

Read more:

Seoul should be more active in concluding defence negotiations with Washington: Korea Herald

Fear is mounting on an island at the edge of North Korea

MALAYSIA'S RULING PACT GRAPPLES WITH DIFFERENCES

A few key issues seem to be slowing efforts of Malaysia's ruling pact to work together for upcoming elections, which could take place by the end of the year.

Members of the ruling parties are at odds over which flag to fly at the polls with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's Perikatan Nasional (National Alliance) yet to be registered as an official entity, writes Malaysia Bureau Chief Shannon Teoh.

At stake is not just which symbols and logos would be more amenable to voters, but who ultimately signs off on candidates for 222 parliamentary and up to 587 state seats that are up for grabs.

Also read:

Premium: Malaysia Bureau Chief Shannon Teoh

Muhyiddin's slim win in Malaysia's Parliament shows pressing need for a larger mandate

INDONESIAN OFFICIAL QUESTIONS ASEAN PACT AS FDI DROPS

A senior Indonesian official has raised questions about the merits of being part of the Asean Economic Community with data pointing to a drop in foreign direct investments for a second straight quarter.

Indonesia needs to reconsider the benefits it gets from being part of the Asean Economic Community, the head of the country's investment board (BKPM) Bahlil Lahadalia said today. He added that this was a rational debate given Britain's decision to leave the European Union.

Indonesia, which is Southeast Asia's largest economy attracted 97.6 trillion rupiah (S$9.2 billion) of FDI in April-June, excluding investment in banking and oil and gas, a 6.9 per cent drop in rupiah terms from a year ago and a roughly 3 per cent fall in dollar terms, investment board (BKPM) data showed. That followed a 9.2 per cent fall in FDI in the first quarter as investors postponed investment decisions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

SMART WEARABLES TO DETECT COVID-19

Researchers and technology companies are working on wearable technology devices that could detect coronavirus infections early. Finland-based smart ring maker Oura has come up with the Oura smart ring that can recognise Covid-19 symptoms up to three days in advance. While fitness firms Garmin and Fitbit have come up with efforts to harness the data collected by their smartwatches and fitness trackers to detect Covid-19. Deputy Tech editor Trevor Tan reports.

For more updates on Covid-19 click below:

Global coronavirus cases exceed 15 million

Hong Kong Covid-19 cases hit daily peak, government orders face masks in indoor venues

Undiagnosed coronavirus infections could be 27 times higher in South Korea's Daegu city: Study

IN OTHER NEWS

DAM COLLAPSE IN CHINA POINTS TO A 'BLACK SWAN' DISASTER: The dam at a small reservoir in China's Guangxi region gave way last month after days of heavy rain in a collapse that could be a harbinger of sterner tests for many of the country's 94,000 aging dams as the weather gets more extreme. Located in Yangshuo county, famed for its other worldly karst landscape, the dam collapsed at around midday on June 7, inundating roads, orchards and fields in Shazixi village, residents said.

CHINA, FRANCE DISCUSS COOPERATION ON PLANES, 5G: China and France promised to work more closely in areas ranging from aircraft sales to 5G networks in a video meeting that highlighted some of the countries' biggest economic concerns during the pandemic-driven slump and an intensifying rivalry with the US. However, Beijing said French claims about the imprisonment of ethnic and religious minorities in China's Xinjiang region were unacceptable.

TAIWAN PARLIAMENT AGREES TO REBRAND CHINA AIRLINES: Taiwan's Parliament passed a proposal today to rebrand the island's largest airline to avoid confusion with carriers on the Chinese mainland. China Airlines (CAL) is frequently mistaken for Air China - the mainland's national carrier - and there have long been calls to rename it or make it more clearly Taiwanese. But it was not clear when this would happen.

INDIA'S OVERHAUL OF CRIMINAL LAWS ATTRACTS CRITICISM: India is undertaking what could be the biggest overhaul of all its criminal laws ever. But the committee set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs to review the colonial-era laws is facing strong criticism. This though reforms are long overdue. India Correspondent Rohini Mohan reports.

That's it for today. Stay safe and we'll be back with you tomorrow.

Shefali

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