Asian Insider, June 11: Australia won’t give in to China, airport transit for SIA travellers, Rosmah’s handbags ruined by ‘careless’ police

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

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In today’s bulletin: Australia won’t trade values to appease China, a Filipino single mom’s tragic Covid-19 death, airport transit for SIA travellers, Taiwan scrambles to welcome fleeing Hongkongers, Rosmah’s seized handbags ruined by ‘careless’ police, and more.

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Hospitals across major Indian cities are becoming increasingly overwhelmed as India rises in the ranks of the world’s top several countries with the most coronavirus infections. Medical infrastructure is under pressure particularly in Delhi and Mumbai, with harrowing tales of desperate searches for admission amid a shortage of hospital beds and overworked healthcare staff, India bureau chief Nirmala Ganapathy writes

Tamil Nadu politician J. Anbazhagan became the first Indian lawmaker to die from the disease, as the virus continues to spread “at lightning speed” across the state, recording 1,000 to 1,600 cases a day over the past week, India correspondent Rohini Mohan writes

In the Philippines, thousands - many of them freshly out of jobs - are fleeing Manila for their hometowns as the pandemic hollows out the capital’s economy, Philippines correspondent Raul Dancel writes

A Filipino single mother with coronavirus symptoms who died after being stranded along a highway for five days waiting for a bus to take her home to her four children, has sparked a national outcry over the government’s incompetence. Ms Michelle Silvertino, 33, had been picked up by policemen twice, just hours before her death. 

Read more about the coronavirus situation elsewhere: 

Indonesia posts record coronavirus infections as restrictions ease 

Beijing city reports first confirmed Covid-19 case in nearly two months 

Returning Malaysians under home quarantine to be fitted with wristbands


Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he will not trade values in response to coercion, as the country reels from an escalating spat with its major trading partner China that poses a further threat to its economy on top of the impact from the coronavirus pandemic. 

The relationship between the two countries have worsened after Australia called for an international inquiry into the source and spread of the coronavirus, angering China. Beijing has hit back by banning Australian beef imports, taxing its barley, warning Chinese tourists against visiting the country, and telling Chinese students to reconsider studying there. 

Australia has lodged a protest with the Chinese authorities against the travel and student warnings, but Beijing responded on Thursday (June 11) that its advisories are based on facts. The Australian economy is heavily reliant on Chinese money - China accounted for 38 per cent of all of the country’s exports last year and Chinese students help fuel Australia’s international education business worth some A$38 billion (S$37 billion) each year. 

Read also: 

A new global crisis is looming in East Asia


Taiwan is gearing up to welcome Hong Kong people fleeing their city as China tightens its grip, but the island has little experience of handling refugees and is scrambling to prepare and to keep out any Chinese spies who may try to join the influx. 

Hong Kong’s anti-government protests have won widespread sympathy in Chinese-claimed Taiwan, which has welcomed those who have already come and expects more. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen last month became the first government leader anywhere to pledge measures to help Hongkongers who leave due to what they see as tightening Chinese controls smothering their democratic aspirations. 

Hong Kong voters are set to go to the polls in three months’ time to decide who they want in their Parliament, amid persistent political turmoil in the city and an economy already in recession, Hong Kong correspondent Claire Huang writes. Chief Executive Carrie Lam has specified that the Legislative Council election will be held on Sept 6, with a nomination period slated for July 18 to July 31. 

Read also: 

Claire Huang: Is there upside in supporting the HKD-USD peg?


Singapore’s Changi Airport has set up new transit holding areas in its Terminals 1 and 3, as travellers were from Thursday allowed to transit through the airport from selected cities in Australia and New Zealand to any destination in Singapore Airlines’ group network operated by SIA, SilkAir or Scoot

The transit flights are only for outbound journeys from Australian cities Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, as well as New Zealand cities Auckland and Christchurch. Passengers cannot transit from other destinations in SIA's group network through Singapore into these cities. Transfers to and from flights operated by other airlines are also not currently permitted, the national carrier said. 

Air traffic in Singapore has plummeted since all short-term visitors from anywhere in the world were disallowed entry to or transit through Singapore on March 23. Prior to SIA’s announcement on Thursday, foreign passengers were allowed to transit through the city only if they were on repatriation flights arranged by their governments. 

Plans for the return of international travel elsewhere in the world: 

In Japan, business trips to and from Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam may restart as early as this summer, allowing in up to 250 business travellers a day from these four countries that have seen their coronavirus situations stabilise. 

In Thailand, the government is considering protocols for the eventual return of foreign tourists, after China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and New Zealand expressed interest in setting up travel bubbles with the tourist-reliant nation.


Designer handbags worth millions of ringgit seized by Malaysian police from former prime minister Najib Razak and his wife during a raid related to the 1Malaysia Development Bhd scandal, have been ruined by "magic ink" marker pens

Police were careless while handling the handbags despite knowing their value, and had them marked with ink pens, Mr Najib’s lawyer told the High Court. The damage was discovered by Mr Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor. Police also failed to follow procedures when conducting the seizures, according to the lawyer.


SABAH MINISTER CHARGED WITH MONEY LAUNDERING: Sabah's infrastructure development minister Peter Anthony has claimed trial to charges of money laundering, amid talk of a potential state government takeover by rival factions. Peter, widely seen as a loyalist of Sabah chief minister Mohd Shafie Apdal, pleaded not guilty to five charges of money laundering involving RM8.75 million (S$2.86 million). 

INDIA DENIES VISA TO US PANEL ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: India has denied visas to a US government panel seeking to travel to the country to review its religious freedom, saying such foreign agencies have no standing to assess the constitutional rights of its citizens. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom had in April called for India to be designated a “country of particular concern” along with China, Iran, Russia and Syria, and urged sanctions against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government after it excluded minority Muslims from a new citizenship law. 

CHINA PUNISHES WEIBO FOR INTERFERING WITH COMMUNICATION: China's Internet watchdog has ordered the Sina Weibo social media platform to disable some of its features for a week, in a rare punishment for what it said was interference with online communication, among other things. The move comes after a senior Alibaba Group executive's relationship with a prominent social media influencer came under Weibo users’ scrutiny in April, and some complained that their posts were censored.

That’s it for today. Thank you for staying with us, and we’ll be back with more insightful reads for you tomorrow.