Asian Insider, July 27: China takes over US consulate in Chengdu; Coronavirus resurfaces in Vietnam, Indonesia’s human-trafficking network exposed

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

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In today's bulletin: America's consulate shuts as per deadline in Chengdu, coronavirus infections raise alarm across the region, Indonesian police reveal human trafficking network hiring poor labourers to work on Chinese ships, Japan's slow-paced digitalisation, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim accuses former PM Mahathir of duping him, and more.

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Another milestone in deteriorating US-China relations was reached early this morning as China took over the premises of the US consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu.

At midday on Monday, police removed a roadblock that restricts access to the facility and allowed dozens of passersby to take photos and videos. One man stook across the street playing the Chinese national anthem from his phone.

The closure was in retaliation over Washington's decision to shut its Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas.

It capped a dramatic escalation in tensions between US and China in recent weeks, with analysts and experts anxious about what happens next with one hundred days left till the November 3 presidential elections in the United States.

Meanwhile, in a related development, China today refuted allegations that it recruited Singaporean Dickson Yeo as a spy, and instead accused the US of having reached "a state of extreme suspicion".

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Vietnam's surprise discovery of three cases of coronavirus infections over the weekend has raised fresh alarm within the country. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc issued a stay-at-home order for the entire city of Danang as the government prepared to evacuate 80,000 people from the city.

Hong Kong today announced further restrictions to curb a surge in cases, with one of them being a ban on gatherings of more than two people, a total ban on restaurant dining and mandatory face masks in all public places.

Malaysia said it might reimpose its countrywide lockdown if the number of Covid-19 cases climb to more than 100 a day, with the number of new infections on the rise.

Reports from India said the number of new coronavirus infections is now growing at the fastest rate in the world, increasing 20 per cent over the last week to more than 1.4 million cases.

Japan, meanwhile, urged businesses to push for 70 per cent telecommuting amid a rise of cases among workers, some infected during after-work socialising.

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A probe into the discovery of a body of an Indonesian worker found on a Chinese fishing vessel earlier this month has exposed a human-trafficking network run by Indonesian agents that lured poor, unsuspecting workers with promises of good wages at sea while working on Chinese ships.

Often subjected to torture, these labourers would face non-payment, overwork, violence and sometimes death. The victim, 20-year-old Hasan Apriadi who died last month, was one of them. Officials said he was forced to work despite being ill.

In all, six recruiting agency bosses are now facing human trafficking charges, including allegations that they lied to dozens of Indonesians placed aboard Chinese fishing vessels by saying that they would be working as waiters or staff in retail stores overseas, police said.


Two decades after Japan announced an aggressive plan to go digital, much of bureaucracy still works in a paper-driven culture.

Japan reiterated its "digital transformation" goals this year too but till date officials in various ministries do not hold teleconferences together and much of the administrative work is not done online, impacting productivity.

Much of the problem stems from Japan's preference for paper documents and seal for approval at government offices. And many of the local government offices have developed their own computer systems that are not compatible with each other.

Elsewhere, digitalisation is making progress. Here are a couple of stories:

Covid-19 pandemic has sped up digital transformation in firms: Study

Covid-19 accelerated smart city initiatives in Indonesia


The split between the two Malaysian leaders anchoring the country's previous coalition government has become even more apparent. Parti Keadilan Rakyat President Anwar Ibrahim has said he has now realised that he was duped by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, in an interview with Sin Chew Daily. Datuk Seri Anwar said he really believed that Dr Mahathir would hand over the baton to him after two years in office. But now he knows otherwise.


VERDICT ON NAJIB IN FIRST 1MDB TRIAL DUE TOMORROW: A Malaysian court will hand down its verdict in Najib Razak's first corruption trial tomorrow, nearly 16 months after it began probing the former prime minister's role in the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal. Najib and his inner circle are accused of plundering sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) in a mind-boggling fraud that stretched around the world.

JACK MA SUMMONED BY INDIAN COURT: An Indian court has summoned Alibaba and its founder Jack Ma over a former employee's claim that he was wrongfully fired after objecting to what he saw as censorship and fake news on company apps, Reuters reports. In court filings dated July 20, the former employee of Alibaba's UC Web, Mr Pushpendra Singh Parmar, alleges that the company used to censor content seen as unfavourable to China, and its apps UC Browser and UC News showcased false news.

HANG SENG TO LAUNCH NEW INDEX OF TECH STOCKS: A new index focused on China's technology giants is set to give investors greater access to their growing dominance in Hong Kong's market. The new index will track the 30 largest tech companies listed in the city. The Hang Seng Tech Index will include Tencent Holdings, Alibaba Group Holding, Meituan Dianping and Xiaomi. The gauge would have achieved returns of 36.2 per cent for 2019 and 35.3 per cent for the first half of this year, according to compiler Hang Seng Indexes.

That's it for today. Hope you had a good weekend. Read us as we track key happenings in Singapore, Asia and the world. Stay safe and we'll be back with you tomorrow.


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