Asian Insider July 25: North Korea's new weapons, terror threat, troubling deals with China

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

In today's bulletin: North Korea fires short-range missiles jeopardising talks, terror threat resurfaces, an indepth look at the rift between two leading Malaysian political leaders Anwar Ibrahim and Azmin Ali, deals with China in the spotlight and more.

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North Korea fired, officials suspect, a new type of short-range missile earlier today from its eastern coast. There were two in all that flew hundreds of kilometres. South Korea's presidential Blue House described these as "a new kind of short-range ballistic missile" and added that Seoul would make a final assessment after a joint examination with the United States.

The other weapon: The tests today follow reports earlier this week of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspecting a large, newly built submarine, accompanied by missile programme leaders. This signalled the continued development of a submarine-launched ballistic missile programme, observers said.

The bigger picture: North Korea is prohibited from testing any ballistic missiles under the UN Security Council resolutions. But lately Pyongyang has been accusing Washington of reneging on its commitments to hold military exercises with South Korea. The firings throw into doubt the possibility of talks between North Korea and the United States and other countries, to resolve the stalemate over its nuclear weapons programme and sanctions that remain in place. America's reaction is awaited.

Go deeper:

Trump not bothered by North Korea's 'small missiles'

US-South Korea military exercise won't breach Trump-Kim deal, says Seoul

Beyond the pomp and circumstance of Trump's Pyongyang policy


A series of terror-linked announcements and incidents in recent days serve as a warning of the terror threat that still lurks in Southeast Asia, even though it has been significantly crushed by security officials. Singapore said earlier today that it had detained two radicalised Singaporeans who intended to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). One had made three visits to the suicide-bomber who masterminded the terror attacks in Sri Lanka, while the other had joined a pro-ISIS Facebook page. Elsewhere in the region:

Foreign terrorists trained suicide bombers in Mindanao: Philippine security officials disclosed yesterday that foreign terrorists had been training local militants for suicide attacks in the restive south. The group had succeeded in getting a Filipino to bomb a temporary camp set up by a temporary army counter-terrorism unit.

Indonesia busts Independence Day bombing plot: Indonesian police officials said on Tuesday they had arrested a man in West Sumatra, who was a member of a terror-linked group, and was planning bomb attacks on two police units in the city of Padang, in West Sumatra, on Independence Day on Aug 17.

Meanwhile, Muslim insurgents attacked a military outpost in Pattani, Thailand, late on Tuesday, leaving four people dead.


Malaysian politics have been on a roller-coaster ride these past few weeks after the sudden, mysterious appearance of a gay-sex video sent over whatsapp to a select group of journalists and other influential officials. The video implicated the office of the most likely successor to current Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who heads the Pakatan Keadilan Rakyat party and Mr Azmin Ali, the country's Economic Affairs Minister, who could have been Malaysia's future Prime Minister, and widened the rift between them. But the two have not been sworn rivals always. In fact, the latter worked closely with Mr Anwar for decades. What caused the rift? And where is it headed? Don't miss the full story from Shannon Teoh, our Malaysia Bureau Chief here:

Anwar-Azmin: Mentor and mentee apart after 30 years

Here's more on the continuing saga:

I will not be manipulated, says Mahathir

What now for PKR - retreat or escalation?

Top Anwar aide released on police bail, claims political conspiracy against his boss

My loyalty has a limit, warns Azmin amid rift over sex clip


Countries in the region continue to grapple with how closely they ought to work with China and if the deals make sense. Here are two reports from today's news:

Malaysia resumes work on the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL): Soon after he took charge, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad suspended the ambitious project to connect Malaysia's less developed eastern coast to the wealthier western coast, with support from China, over its exorbitant price tag. Now Malaysia has decided to take it up again. The cost of the project has been reduced and the route shortened. Malaysian officials say the savings could be almost RM12.6 billion (S$4.18 billion) and the rail link will spur investments and tourism.

Australian universities face probe over China deal: A probe is underway to determine if deals signed by Australian universities with Chinese-state-run Confucius Institutes breach foreign interference laws. As many as 13 academic institutions are covered. As such the Confucius Institutes are similar to institutions such as France's Alliance Francaise, but critics say the classes in the Confucius institutions offer a selective view.


The big worry about fake news is the havoc it can unleash. Bangladesh is witnessing just that with eight people killed in vigilante lynchings after rumours spread on social media of children being kidnapped and sacrificed as offerings for the building of a mega bridge. Victims include two women who were targeted by angry mobs. More than 30 others have been attacked.


Japanese car maker Nissan reported a 98.5 per cent profit plunge, a cut of almost 12,500 jobs and fresh production cuts as the company continues to cope with declining vehicle sales and an ageing product line-up.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha faced opposition questions in parliament for the first time earlier today as the former junta leader set out his government's plans. As soon as he started his introduction, he was challenged by a member of the opposition Pheu Thai party to stick to the 66-page policy document and not to offer any extra remarks.

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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