Asian Insider July 9: Hong Kong Kills Bill

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

THE BILL IS DEAD

Hong Kong’s controversial extradition Bill that sparked weeks of protest marches is dead. Speaking to the media at the government headquarters in Admiralty, the territory’s Chief Executive, Mrs Carrie Lam, sought to allay lingering doubts about her administration’s sincerity and worries that it would restart the process of pushing the controversial Bill through the Legislative Council, says Hong Kong correspondent Claire Huang. “So I reiterate here, there is no such thing. The Bill is dead,” she maintained, though stopping short of giving in to protesters’ demands to fully withdraw the Bill.

Mrs Lam appealed to the public to give her administration the opportunity and time to “take Hong Kong out of the current impasse and try to improve the current situation”.

“I fully understand that the responses of the government may not have fully met the wishes of the people, especially the protesters who have gone on the streets several times to express their views,” she noted.

MAHATHIR ON THE MOVE

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad raised eyebrows last week when he suggested that members of other Malay parties should join his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM). Now, says Malaysia correspondent Trinna Leong, he has stepped back from that stand, saying his intention had been to dissuade politicians from forming more Malay-based parties and further splitting the majority community's vote.

The clarification came after a two-hour-long meeting with other leaders in his ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition who apparently expressed concern that the move would turn PPBM into a replica of their arch rival Umno. "My colleagues said I was wrong and gave me a lashing," Tun Dr Mahathir joked at a press conference after the meeting.

Our Kuala Lumpur bureau chief, Mr Shannon Teoh, has the backstory on the personalities and politics behind Dr Mahathir’s move. The Premier, he says, is issuing a thinly veiled message that it is open season again in Malay politics, and his party wants to take over the crucial mantle of representing Malaysia's majority ethnic community.

DRONE GROAN

Singapore is moving to have drones registered and impose stiffer penalties for those who flout flying rules, part of measures to tighten control of unmanned aerial activity following two illegal incursions that disrupted operations at Changi Airport last month.

Parliament has been told that there will also be a licensing framework for pilots of large and more capable drones and Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min says the city-state will ensure that operators are made aware of their responsibilities.

Senior aviation correspondent Karamjit Kaur says currently Singapore bans flying drones within 5km of airports or military airbases, or at altitudes above 61m, without a permit. Offenders can be fined up to S$20,000 and jailed for up to a year. Last week, two people were charged with operating a drone close to an aerodrome, while another two cases are under prosecution. On Monday, a company was fined S$9,000 after pleading guilty to a charge of operating a drone without a permit.

Even as the intrusions at Changi have caused some to suggest that Singapore should ban the use of drones, Dr Lam pointed to their uses, saying: "It is therefore important that we continue to take a balanced approach."

TAIWAN GETS U.S. ARMS

The US State Department has approved the possible sale to Taiwan of M1A2T Abrams tanks, Stinger missiles and related equipment at an estimated value of US$2.2 billion, the Pentagon said, ignoring Chinese criticism of the deal.

The sale of the weapons requested by Taiwan, including 108 General Dynamics Corp M1A2T Abrams tanks and 250 Stinger missiles, would not alter the basic military balance in the region, the Pentagon's Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said in a statement. DSCA notified Congress on Monday of the possible arms sale, which it said could also include mounted machine guns, ammunition, Hercules armoured vehicles for recovering inoperative tanks, heavy equipment transporters and related support.

The United States is the main arms supplier to Taiwan, which China deems a renegade province. Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.

China's Foreign Ministry said last month when the possible sale was first reported that it was seriously concerned about US arms sales to self-ruled Taiwan, and it urged the United States to halt the sales to avoid harming bilateral ties.

KOREAN CHIPS ARE DOWN

Investors who have stomached the ups and downs of South Korea's stock market this year have just been dealt another blow: resurgent tensions with Japan. A trade war initiated by Japan to curb exports of materials crucial for the production of memory chips has wiped out more than US$35 billion in value from the Korean equity benchmark in July, Bloomberg News reported. Investors sold shares in semiconductor makers amid rising concern that they will be the biggest victims of the dispute.

Japan's decision to tighten controls over exports to South Korea of special materials vital to its tech industry erased about 16 trillion won from Samsung Electronics Co's market cap. SK Hynix Inc has shed 1.5 trillion won. Both Samsung and SK Hynix make up almost a quarter of the benchmark Kospi index. 

South Korea's stock market had already been roiled by US-China trade tensions, concerns surrounding the outlook for memory chip demand and sensitive relations with North Korea on its denuclearisation plans. Last week, President Moon Jae-in's government lowered its growth forecast for this year.

IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Prominent rights lawyer Amal Clooney has said she will join the legal team defending Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, whose news site has repeatedly clashed with President Rodrigo Duterte. Ms Ressa, who was named a Time Magazine "Person of the Year" in 2018 for her journalism, faces several criminal charges along with her website Rappler, in what press freedom advocates have branded an act of "persecution".

China’s cooling economy shrank the ranks of the country’s millionaires last year, according to Capgemini, weighing on the total value of assets held by the rich globally. The number of Chinese individuals with more than US$1 million in financial assets slid 5 per cent to 1.2 million during 2018 on the back of a US$500 billion drop in the value of the assets they held, according to the Paris-based consulting firm. The research, says the Wall Street Journal, shows China’s tug was a big contributor to a 2.9 per cent, US$2 trillion loss in wealth among the richest world-wide.

The Malaysian government is studying proposals to revive loss-hit Malaysia Airlines, said Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. The four proposals were mostly from local companies, who offered to either buy a stake in the flag carrier or to manage it, he told reporters near Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday. He didn't name the companies that sent in the proposals.

That’s it for the day, folks. Stay with us on www.straitstimes.com for the latest from Asia, and around the world. 

Meanwhile, seize the day!

Ravi