Asian Insider July 24: China's new defence white paper, S.Korea-Japan trade spat, Tokyo Olympics

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

In today's bulletin: China says its troops in Hong Kong can be deployed to maintain law and order, South Korea - Japan trade spat enters a crucial phase, former Jakarta governor Ahok rules out being in politics, countdown begins for 2020 Tokyo Olympics and problems of traffic congestion surface in 'green and happy' Bhutan.

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China's armed forces in Hong Kong can be deployed to maintain public order at the request of the city's government, a spokesman of the People's Liberation Army said in Beijing, at a briefing for China's new defence white paper. The document, the first in four years, accuses Washington of undermining global strategic stability and outlines plans to build a modern, high-tech army. It also warns against Taiwan's independence and highlights the problem of separatism.

Stern warning on Hong Kong protests: In its most stern warning yet, Beijing said it was closely following the developments in Hong Kong. PLA spokesman Wu Qian said: "Some behaviour of the radical protesters is challenging the authority of the central government and the bottom line of 'one country, two systems', and that is absolutely intolerable." The Defence Ministry also warned those seeking independence for Taiwan, calling it a "dead-end".

Modernising PLA: China plans more cutting-edge technology for its soldiers. War is evolving towards "intelligent" combat, the national security plan says and cited the growing use of AI, big data, cloud computing and "new and high-tech military technologies based on IT", the document notes. China's defence spending will also go up.


South Korea has urged Japan to refrain from removing Seoul from a Japanese list of countries facing minimum trade restrictions. Seoul's e-mailed note to Tokyo comes as Japan is set to take a decision on the revision, after canvassing public opinion which was due to end today. At the same time, a two-day hearing is on at the World Trade Organisation on the dispute.

The bigger picture: Seoul's request comes amid an ongoing spat between the two neighbours over compensation for wartime forced labour and Japan's move to impose restrictions on the export of high-tech materials for making memory chips and display panels. South Korea has said that should Japan remove Seoul from the 'white list', it would hit the very foundation of its economic and security ties. Japan's top government spokesman, meanwhile, said relations were in a very severe state. Our East Asia Editor Goh Sui Noi says the row might even threaten the US-Japan-South Korea security alliance. Read her commentary here:

History gets in the way of better Japan-South Korea ties

Go deeper:

US tech warns Japan-South Korea spat could cause global harm

Anti-Japan boycott turns into 'Buy Korean' campaign

Little spillover from tensions in Japanese daily life from trade dispute with South Korea


The going can be tough for change-makers. One such individual is former Jakarta governor Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama, who won much appreciation for his efforts to improve Jakarta. But controversies thereafter saw him convicted of blasphemy in 2017. Now he's a free man but he's ruled out making a comeback within the government's high ranks. And believes his political career is over. Meanwhile, all eyes are on Indonesia's new Cabinet, which President Joko Widodo is due to announce.

Read more online:

All eyes on Indonesian President Joko's new Cabinet

More roads, more dams, more power plants for Indonesia


Tokyo unveiled medals designed to reflect the "energy" of athletes as the city marked the countdown to the 2020 Summer Games. These 'eco-friendly' medals are made from metals extracted from mobile phones and other small electronics donated by the Japanese public and weigh between 556 and 450 grams. The Tokyo Olympic Games will run from July 24 to August 9 next year, before the Paralympics takes place from August 25 to September 6.

Tokyo's preparations: The city's preparing in earnest for the games. More than 200,000 people have come forward for 80,000 volunteer positions. Half of all the new constructions are ready and the government has opened the venues to people to try out. One enthusiast turned up at 5:30am to check out the baseball pitch. Organisers are hoping the games will give Tokyo a new sheen.

Go deeper:

The final countdown: Tokyo marks one year till 2020 Olympics

2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games on schedule

Going for gold: Tokyo unveils 2020 Olympics medal designs


A country well-known for valuing happiness over economic growth is now grappling with a road congestion issue, with booming car sales ensuring a five-fold increase in cars, buses and trucks on its roads in the past two decades. No traffic lights on roads and poor traffic etiquette - some leave their carks parked in the middle of the road - is testing the good humour of Bhutanese people. But the nation remains carbon-negative still.


Four people were killed in a late-night attack by Muslim insurgents on a military outpost in Thailand's violence-wracked south. The attack comes as anger snowballs over the case of a Muslim rebel suspect who was left in a critical condition after spending several hours in a notorious army interrogation unit.

Malaysia's two biggest opposition parties - former ruling party Umno and its former nemesis, Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) - have agreed on the terms of a formal electoral pact set to be unveiled next month, a move that could threaten many seats won by the ruling Pakatan Harapan in the last general election.

China has defended a joint air force exercise with Russia that triggered a furious response from regional US allies South Korea and Japan over a perceived airspace violation. The Chinese and Russian warplanes "strictly abided by the relevant regulations of international law and did not enter the airspace of other countries", a defence ministry spokesman said.

That's it for today. Thanks for reading and we'll have more for you on happenings in Asia, and the world, tomorrow.


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