Asian Insider, June 18: China-US study shows asymptomatic spread, Trump ‘asked Xi to help him win’, and Muhyiddin may emerge victor after all

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

Hi all,

In today’s bulletin: Beijing mandates Covid-19 tests; India, China bicker over blame, North Korea won’t start a war, tell-all book says Trump ‘asked Xi to help him win’, and Muhyiddin may emerge victor.

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China’s capital city of Beijing has mandated coronavirus tests for hundreds of thousands of its residents as it expands emergency rules in a “wartime” response to contain its new outbreak of the disease. Residents now require a negative result on a nucleic acid test to travel, as well as to visit some attractions or return to work in industries that involve food handling, officials say. A Chinese medical expert said the situation is “under control”. 

Beijing has seen a surge of 159 new infections since last week, most of them linked to the Xinfadi wholesale market, where about 200,000 people have visited since May 30. The reemergence of the coronavirus in China’s political and economic centre is a sign of the world’s new normal. It isn’t the only country to have been dealt a sobering lesson in the persistence and wiliness of the deadly disease. 

Meanwhile, a study by researchers in China and the US has found that the coronavirus is twice as infectious within households than similar diseases such as Sars, with many new cases spreading before an infected person even starts showing any symptoms. And the World Health Organisation said that dexamethasone, the cheap steroid that can help save the lives of patients with severe Covid-19, should be reserved for serious cases in which it has been shown to provide benefits

Read more: 

How various countries are faring after easing their coronavirus lockdown rules 

Indonesia becomes South-east Asia’s worst-hit country as pandemic spreads


Who started it? That’s what India and China are still bickering over after violent clashes left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead in a disputed border territory in Ladakh this week. At least both sides agree on the need to defuse tensions in the region and are stepping up diplomatic efforts to “cool down the situation on the ground as soon as possible”, bureau chiefs Nirmala Ganapathy and Tan Dawn Wei write

The Galwan border killings - the first in 45 years between India and China - means that things can never go back to the old normal, analysts tell correspondents Elizabeth Law and Rohini Mohan. Underlying reasons for the clash, they say, include rivalry over the building of infrastructure in the disputed area, a convergence of Indian and US geopolitical interests, and India's strong public stance against China's closeness to neighbouring Pakistan. 

In India, grief-stricken families are demanding justice as they await the return of the bodies of their fallen. One Indian soldier had yet to even name his newborn daughter. China’s smartphone maker Oppo cancelled the live online launch of its flagship phone in India after Indian trader groups called for a boycott of Chinese goods. 

Delve deeper: 

A quick take on what the India-China border dispute is all about 

Both sides want no war, no compromise, say analysts


South Korea has condemned the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for her “reckless words and actions”, including rude remarks against the South’s President Moon Jae-in, in a heated war of words after Pyongyang’s unilateral destruction of a joint liaison office, South Korea correspondent Chang May Choon writes. Cross-border tensions have escalated after the belligerent North declared an end to talks with the South and threatened to return troops to border areas, nullifying a 2018 peace deal. 

Seoul’s chief nuclear negotiator Lee Do-hoon made an unannounced trip to Washington on Thursday and is expected to hold consultations with US officials, including Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun who had led denuclearisation negotiations with Pyongyang. Meanwhile, North Korean defectors are still pushing ahead with plans to send hundreds of bottles stuffed with rice, medicine and face masks to North Korea by throwing them into the sea near the border on Sunday. 

Despite its recent actions, North Korea is unlikely to start a war with the South. Its latest moves stem from unhappiness with inter-Korean ties, stalled denuclearisation talks with the US, and its desire to move things along, political observers tell Global Affairs Correspondent Goh Sui Noi.


Winson Oil Trading, a firm that sold fuel to Singapore’s now-collapsed Hin Leong Trading, is seeking at least S$30.4 million from Standard Chartered Singapore in payment for an oil deal, court documents show. 

Winson Oil received a letter of credit from Standard Chartered on April 2 after it sold an ultra-low sulphur diesel cargo to Hin Leong, according to the documents. But the bank did not make the payment, due in May, after it was presented with the letter of credit, the oil trader said. The case is among several disputes between counterparties and banks on payment issues arising from oil deals with Hin Leong, which is now under judicial management to restructure billions of dollars of debt.


US President Donald Trump asked China’s Xi Jinping to help him win re-election and offered “personal favours to dictators he liked”, his former national security adviser John Bolton has revealed in an excerpt of his tell-all book “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir”. The accusations from Mr Bolton, a longtime foreign policy hawk whom Mr Trump fired last year over policy differences, portray a US president with an incoherent policy towards China that prioritised his personal interests over that of the nation’s. 

Mr Trump has denied his former top official's characterisation of events as "lies and fake stories". But the allegations tarnish America’s reputation, undermining the US leader’s claims that he is “tough on China” as they shed light on some of his administration’s “chaotic and often contradictory policy pronouncements”, analysts tell US correspondent Charissa Yong. China said on Thursday it has no intention of interfering in the US elections. 

Read also: 

Other countries featured in ex-Trump adviser Bolton’s tell-all book 

China warms to the idea of four more years of a Trump presidency


MALAYSIA’S PM MUHYIDDIN MAY BE BIG WINNER AS OPPOSITION SPLITS: The Democratic Action Party's open backing for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to return as Malaysia's premier has revealed a clear schism within the Anwar Ibrahim-led Pakatan Harapan. And the move could end the challenge to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's legitimacy, which has been under assault since he took office in March, Malaysia bureau chief Shannon Teoh writes

TOKYO GOVERNOR ELECTION RACE BEGINS; INCUMBENT KOIKE IN THE LEAD: Election campaigning for the right to lead Japan's bustling mega-metropolis has kicked off with a crowded field of candidates looking to topple incumbent Governor Yuriko Koike. Voters will go to the polls on July 5 with such hot-button issues as the Japanese capital’s coronavirus response and the postponed Olympic Games high on the agenda. Ms Koike, 67, is the front-runner in the race so far, Japan correspondent Walter Sim writes

MASSIVE SPYING ON GOOGLE CHROME USERS REVEAL NEW SECURITY FLAWS: A newly discovered spyware effort attacked users through 32 million downloads of extensions to Google's market-leading Chrome web browser, researchers say, highlighting the tech industry's failure to protect browsers as they are used more for email, payroll and other sensitive functions. Google said it removed more than 70 of the malicious add-ons from its official Chrome Web Store after being alerted last month. 

That’s it for today. Thank you for reading. Stay safe if you’re venturing out, and we’ll be back with more good reads tomorrow.