Asian Insider, July 8: WHO’s uncertain future, the ‘swing’ voter in Singapore GE & exodus of tech firms in Hong Kong?

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

Hi all,

In today's bulletin: Australia mulls restricting returnees as coronavirus infections surge, US to withdraw from WHO, the 'swing' voter in Singapore GE, the dilemma for big tech firms in Hong Kong, FBI on the China threat, and more.

Reading this on the web or know someone who might enjoy receiving Asian Insider? Our sign-up page is here.

CORONAVIRUS INFECTIONS SURGE; AUSTRALIA TO RESTRICT RETURN OF CITIZENS

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will bring a proposal before the Cabinet on Friday to slow down the return of its citizens by reducing the number of repatriation flights, in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus infections.

Overnight, Canberra closed the border between Victoria and New South Wales, the busiest in the country, while Melbourne returned to partial lockdown. There's growing concern over lapses that led to an increase in infections that possibly began with returnees and an inquiry has begun in Victoria.

Indonesia, which has the highest number of coronavirus cases in Southeast Asia, reported its biggest single-day increase in new coronavirus cases today, while Malaysia announced it will not hold its National Day parade in August this year with infections still spreading.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte urged people to be patient about the opening up of the economy with the nation grappling with the fastest rise in cases since June 1 after the capital region repened. Thailand said it will delay plans for so-called travel bubbles with countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

In South Asia, a resurgence of cases in Indian states hailed earlier as models for battling the coronavirus infection, is causing concern.

WHO'S UNCERTAIN FUTURE AS US BEGINS PULLOUT

The World Health Organisation (WHO), which leads the global fight against several maladies and infections, faced an uncertain future as United States President Donald Trump formally began the withdrawal of the US from WHO.

The withdrawal will take effect in a year on July 6, 2021 and will see a suspension of US$400 million (S$550 million) in annual US contributions. U.S. President Donald Trump, in May, accused China of exerting "total control" over the body and said it had failed to implement reforms.

The Geneva-based body has been at the forefront of the global fight against coronavirus infections.

Meanwhile, WHO has acknowledged that evidence was emerging of the airborne spread of the coronavirus after a group of 239 scientists from 32 countries urged the organisation to update its guidance on the spread of the disease.

Read also:

China Bureau Chief Tan Dawn Wei: The WHO and other battles over China's voice in global agencies

SINGAPORE GE2020: WILL SOCIAL MEDIA SENTIMENT TRANSLATE INTO ACTUAL VOTE SHARE?

Campaigning for the Singapore general election, due to take place on Friday, comes to an end today.

Much has been happening in the virtual space with political parties producing teaser videos and taking their rallies online but e-campaigns and rallies can be challenging for undecided voters, observers say.

A key question is how much influence does social media have in this so-called digital general election and will it translate into actual vote share?

Watch Straits Times executive editor Sumiko Tan share her view in today's episode of Editor's Take: Will social media sentiment translate into actual vote share?

For the latest on Singapore GE, visit our microsite here: GE2020: Singapore votes

Also read & watch:

Singapore GE2020: 5 questions with four political party leaders

WILL HONG KONG SEE AN EXODUS OF BIG TECH FIRMS?

Could Facebook, Google and Twitter be headed for a showdown with China after the new security law takes effect in Hong Kong? The three companies are all blocked in the mainland but after the new regulations in the city of Hong Kong, these three companies together with Microsoft Corp, Zoom Video Communications and ByteDance's Tik Tok have suspended requests for data from the Hong Kong government.

Observers say a bigger question looms: will the reaction of the big tech firms now have a wider impact on Hong Kong's future as a financial hub. Others say the importance of markets in China and Hong Kong are relevant and these firms will gauge the significance of being there against possible reputational damage in other places they operate.

Read also:

China converts Hong Kong hotel into new national security office

CHINA IS TARGETING DIASPORA LIVING IN AMERICA, SAYS FBI DIRECTOR

In an address being noticed by those following US-China ties, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Christopher Wray has said China is targeting hundreds of political rivals and dissidents living in the U.S. to get them to return to the country. Beijing is also looking to compromise American healthcare organisations, he said at the conservative Hudson Institute think-tank in Washington.

ST's US Correspondent Charissa Yong says that while the litany of complaints is familiar, the speech had details not previously shared by the FBI in an open forum.

IN OTHER NEWS

JAPAN AND AUSTRALIA IN SECURITY TALKS TO COUNTER CHINA: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison will hold a virtual summit on Thursday to discuss ways to deepen defence and security ties as both nations seek ways to counter an increasingly assertive China. Meanwhile, Japan Correspondent Walter Sim reports that Japan is viewing Asean as a potential strategic partner in the crisis-proofing of its economy and will connect funds, technology, know-how and business networks with the grouping, according to a white paper released on Tuesday.

INDIA ARRESTS SOUTH KOREAN CEO OVER GAS LEAK: Indian police arrested 12 LG Polymers officials, including its South Korean chief executive Sunkey Jeong, two months after a gas leak at the company's south India chemical plant killed 12. A case of culpable homicide was filed against the company's South Korean parent, LG Chem Ltd.

AIRASIA FUTURE IN 'SIGNIFICANT DOUBT': AirAsia Group Bhd shares sank today after its auditor Ernst & Young said the carrier's ability to continue as a going concern may be in "significant doubt." In a statement to the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange, Ernst & Young said AirAsia's current liabilities already exceeded its current assets by RM1.84 billion (S$600 million) at the end of 2019, a year when it posted a RM283 million net loss. That was before the coronavirus crisis.

That's it for today. Have a good week ahead, stay safe and we'll be back with you tomorrow.

Shefali

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.