Asian Insider July 4: Hong Kong, Japan, voting age in Malaysia

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

NEW PROTESTS PLANNED IN HONG KONG

Protesters in Hong Kong are planning two further demonstrations this weekend after the lull following the shocking scenes that took place on Monday. There have been no organised protests since protesters stormed the legislature and thrashed the place but a group calling themselves Hong Kong Mothers is urging people to join them on Friday evening to share support for young protesters. Then on Sunday, a march is planned that will culminate at the West Kowloon Railway Station - where the high speed rail trains from the Chinwse mainland stop.

A turning point?  After the storming of the legislature on Monday, some had begun to question if popular opinion of the protests is starting to turn. The authorities in Hong Kong and China have taken a harder stance on protesters than at any point during the past few weeks - condemning the violence and promising action. So far 13 have been arrested. The two upcoming protests will be a barometer of how much energy remains in this movement.

Latest reports:

New Hong Kong protests planned for Friday and Sunday

Chinese state media blames 'Western ideologues' for Hong Kong protests

MALAYSIA MOVES TO LOWER THE VOTING AGE

Malaysian lawmakers are debating a Bill that would lower the voting age in the country from 21 to 18. Passage would require something that has not yet happened under this government - multi-partisan support for a piece of legislation. But it could well happen.

The numbers:  The most common voting age around the world is 18 and many of Malaysia’s regional neighbours stipulate 18 as the voting age. If passed, it would add 1.5 million voters to the rolls at the next election due in 2023. In a country of 30 million, there are currently 15 million registered voters.

Why it could happen:  Both the ruling party and opposition parties can see reasons to support the Bill. it’s one of those dream pieces of legislation where everyone believes it will help their cause. The ruling Pakatan Harapan believes lowering the voting age will get more urban youths - a key base for the party - to the ballot box. Race-based parties Umno and PAS believe they will benefit if Malays - who form a large majority of the young voters - turn increasingly right-wing.

Further reading:

Pakatan Harapan hopes for opposition support as it tables motion to lower voting age to 18

JAPAN GEARS UP FOR POLLS

Official campaigning for Japan’s Upper House election begins today, with 124 seats up for grabs in the 245 seat chamber of the Diet.

 What is the Upper House:  The Upper House, or the House of Councillors, is the less powerful of Japan's bicameral Diet. The term for each lawmaker runs for six years, which means an election is held every three years to choose lawmakers for half of the chamber. Unlike the Lower House, it cannot be dissolved for a snap poll and, unlike in a general election, the Upper House election will not lead to any change of government.

Why it matters:  As Japan Correspondent Walter Sim writes, the elections could determine the direction the government takes on a few key issues. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is hoping to secure a solid mandate that will help him push through policy objectives like his long-cherished dream of revising Japan’s pacifist Constitution and his plan to raise the sales tax from 8 per cent to 10 per cent.

Further reading:

Campaigning for Japan's Upper House polls begins

TRADE TALKS RESTART NEXT WEEK

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters that representative from the US and China are arranging to resume talks next week. The two sides have already been communicating by phone since last weekend but there has been no formal talks since the flurry of meetings ended in May.

Managing expectations: Though most experts have been quietly optimistic about at least a limited deal by the end of the year - the consensus is that the leaders of neither country would benefit from keeping the trade war up - most also point out that the fundamental differences are no closer to being solved. If the last round was any indication, stay tuned for months of meetings producing mixed signals.

Latest reports: 

Trump officials say US-China trade talks to resume next week

Analysis: Limits to what can be gained from China-bound investment

THE WORLD’S MOST POWERFUL PASSPORTS

It’s a tale of mixed fortunes in the latest passport ranking by global citizenship firm Henley and Partners. While Singapore retains top spot - joined by Japan - both the US and the UK dropped to joint sixth, the lowest position either country has been ranked since 2010. That said, the differences aren’t that great. Singapore and Japan passport-holders get visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 189 destinations while the US and UK passport holders get the same ease of travel to six fewer destinations. Afghanistan remains rooted at the bottom of the table with only 25 destinations available to citizens without a visa.

Other developments:

India has moved a step closer to inviting bids for the purchase of 114 fighter jets, currently the world's largest deal in play, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to boost the capability of the country's armed forces and replace an ageing combat aircraft fleet. The deal - valued at more than US$15 billion (S$20.33 billion) - has attracted initial offers from global defence majors, including Boeing Co, Lockheed Martin Corp and Sweden's Saab AB.

A tornado swept through the north-eastern Chinese province of Liaoning on Wednesday (July 3), killing six and injuring 190, the state broadcaster said, amid a series of "extreme" weather events that government forecasters have linked to climate change. The tornado damaged nearly 3,600 homes and affected more than 9,900 residents in Kaiyuan, a city of around half a million people, according to China Central Television.

Mr Trump's decision to turn Washington's annual Fourth of July celebration into a kind of Trump-branded rally for America has drawn criticism from Democrats, top representatives of the city government and many military officials, who believe the President is using the troops and their gear as political props.

That’s a wrap for today. Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow.

-Jeremy