Asian Insider July 5: Inside Uighur re-education camps; India's bold budget

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


Ten years ago, massive rioting broke out on July 5, in Urumqi, the capital of China's Xinjiang province that took the lives of more than 150 people and led to the arrest of thousands others as Uighur Muslims took on the Han Chinese. Now, however, things are different and there's concern about China's handling of the situation, with Beijing having put in place a pervasive security apparatus to subdue the ethnic unrest. 

Last week, The Straits Times, on an invitation from China Daily, toured Xinjiang's main cities and was allowed access to one of the re-education camps, which Beijing calls vocational training centres. ST Associate Editor Ravi Velloor shares his findings in this exclusive report and says: "It is not easy to fault a state that will not tolerate significant sections of its people feeling a stronger loyalty to a transnational ideology that is not only alien to its own laws and culture, but also seeks to influence them into violence against non-believers." 

Why the issue matters?: Going by western media reports, as many as a million people, mostly Muslim Uighurs are in the internment camps across Xinjiang, that shares its borders with no fewer than eight nations. 

Read more: 

China must weigh costs of Xinjiang crackdown

US warns Myanmar, China not to persecute minorities

No let-up in Xinjiang's fight against extremism


Bilateral relations between Seoul and Tokyo hit a new low with calls for boycott of Japanese goods growing in South Korea, with the rift between the two countries widening. Seoul has also moved to dissolve a compensation fund for comfort women backed by Japan. 

Some background: Bilateral ties between the two countries have been tension-ridden for several decades now. This was most obvious during the Group of 20 Osaka summit of leaders when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declined a formal meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, although the two did meet informally, albeit very briefly.  The relationship is over-shadowed by events during Japan's 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula and differences still persist on several fronts - among them the mistreatment of Koreans during Japan's colonial rule, the description of Japan's prewar behaviour in Japanese history textbooks and sovereignty issues over Liancourt Rocks, a group of small islets in the Sea of Japan, known as 'Dokdo' in South Korea and 'Takeshima' in Japan. 

How did ties worsen?: The latest flare-up can be traced to a court ruling by South Korea's top court in October last year that ordered Japan's Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to South Korean plaintiffs, which Japan denounced as "unthinkable." 

What's at stake?: Trade ties between the two and further disruption to  global supplies of memory chips and smartphones. Japan, on July 1, said it would tighten restrictions on the export of high-tech materials used in smartphone displays and chips to South Korea. The restrictions came into effect on Thursday, fueling calls for retaliation in South Korea.

Further reading: 

Japan restricts tech exports to S. Korea in wartime labour row

South Korea eyes investing $1.2b annually in chip supply chain after Japan's export curbs


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government presented its Union budget targeting a near doubling of the economy to US$5 trillion (S$6.78 trillion) by 2024/2025, from its current size of US$2.7 trillion, that was reported on Thursday. This will mean pursuing a GDP growth rate of 8 per cent per annum, economists estimate. Asia's third-largest economy grew at the rate of 5.8 per cent last quarter.  

Can India do it?: Unveiling the budget, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the government planned structural reforms to kickstart foreign and domestic investment. But this will require bold reforms, including freeing up land and labour markets, which the PM couldn't really accomplish in his first term. 

Go deeper: 

India GDP growth to edge up to 7% for 2019: survey

A real test of Modi’s reform credentials

India now needs bold economic reform


Hong Kong's protesters are not giving up and plan a march this Sunday that will begin in Salisbury Garden in the city's Tsim Sha Tsui area in the afternoon and head towards the West Kowloon railway station where high-speed trains from the mainland stop, says our China Correspondent Danson Cheong

Netizens have called for a peaceful march, but fears of a repeat of violence prevail. Meanwhile, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has invited university students to closed-door meetings but at least one student union has declined the offer. 

Further reading: 

China and Britain locked in war of words over Hong Kong after protests in the city

Sense of anger, frustration and hopelessness growing among distressed HK youth: Experts


Are punitive measures always enforceable? Perhaps, not always. As the United States perseveres to levy sanctions on countries flouting its norms, traders are coming up with ways to avoid detection. Ships vanishing from tracking screens, clandestine transfers on high seas and listing of fake destinations are just some of the ways that are being used. 

Other developments:

Now that Mr Joko Widodo's resounding win at Indonesia's presidential polls in April is official, all eyes are on who he will pick to fill his Cabinet and how bold he will be with his choices. Mr Joko, known popularly as Jokowi, has promised to reform government so that his ambitious infrastructure and economic programmes will be implemented promptly during his second term in office. But whether he can push through his preferred choice of technocrats will also depend on his allies in government, says our Indonesia Correspondent Linda Yulisman.

Remember the incident about the Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 plane that disappeared after departing from Kuala Lumpur, in 2014. Now, reports have it, that the airline might be sold to a group of investors linked to the AirAsia group, that made its mark in the budget travel segment. There are concerns about job cuts but the partners wanting to pick up a stake are assuring otherwise.

Sri Lanka is moving to curtail Saudi Arabian influence after some politicians and Buddhist monks blamed the spread of the kingdom's ultra-conservative Wahhabi school of Islam for planting the seeds of militancy that culminated in the deadly Easter bomb attacks in April. Nine Sri Lankans blew themselves up in churches and luxury hotels on April 21, killing more than 250 people and shocking the country a decade after its civil war ended.