Asian Insider June 26: Trade talks, Iran and another sex video

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

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In today’s bulletin: Trump-Xi’s G-20 meeting is looking like it may be a rerun, more videos emerge in the Malaysian political sex scandal, Iran’s president blames the US for tensions and more.

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The more things change, the more they stay the same

A senior US administration official said today that the US and China could agree not to impose new tariffs as a goodwill gesture to get negotiations going again after they meet in Japan on Saturday. However, positions he outlined - like Washington not willing to accept conditions on tariffs - hint at a potentially tricky meeting.

What to expect:  All the signs are currently pointing a repeat of what happened at the last G-20 meeting in Buenos Aires last year. Then, an escalating trade war cooled a little when both sides agreed not to impose new tariffs when they try and reach a deal. Today, faced with an escalating trade war, it looks like the most anyone is hoping for out of the Trump-Xi meeting is that tensions will ease as both sides agree not to impose new tariffs while they try and reach a deal. All the stumbling blocks that held up the last deal appear to still be stumbling blocks. 

More dejavu:  Another instance of history potentially repeating itself: Japan’s Asahi newspaper is reporting that the draft communique of the G-20 summit with likely call for the “promotion of free trade” while not calling for countries to resist protectionism. At the last meeting, that was the communique we got after US pressure led to the phrase on resisting protectionism removed from last year’s communique.

Latest reports:

 G-20 summit draft communique calls for promotion of free trade

US hopes to re-launch China trade talks, won’t accept conditions on tariffs, says official

New video in Malaysian sex scandal

A new video clip purporting to show malaysian Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali and Mr Haziq Aziz, a former aide to a different minister, have been uploaded to Youtube. The clip appears to have been at the same encounter as the one shown in previous videos. It shows two naked men on a bed apparently facing a television that is showing a news broadcast.

Does it matter?  At this stage, the impact of a video like this will mostly be incremental. Most Malaysians will likely already have made up their mind on whether the saga has hurt Mr Azmin or not. The steady drip of leaks appear designed to keep Mr Azmin on the backfoot and the issue in the forefront of minds at a time when remarks by the prime minister on handing the government over to Mr Anwar Ibrahim looked to have taken a little bit of the sting out of the matter.  Mr Azmin had earlier dismissed a call for him to take a polygraph test.

Go deeper: 

Malaysia gay sex video: New video uploaded on YouTube, 'full version' appears on porn site

Malaysia's anti-graft agency clears Azmin of shady money transfer allegations

Iran points fingers

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has blamed the US for tensions in the Middle East while saying that Iran “never seeks war” and has no interest in increasing tensions in the region. He added that is the had stuck to the 2015 deal, “we would have witnessed positive developments in the region”.

The big picture:  One would not consider the remarks from Rouhani - made in a phone call to French President Emmanuel Macron - exactly fighting words. And that suggests that Iran may be attempting to capitalise on a moment when the international community does not seem that wholeheartedly behind the US (and the US doesn’t seem to care that much about building an international consensus).

ST Exclusive: Paying to secure places in popular schools - without bribing anyone

Our Education Correspondent Amelia Teng is shining a light on a practice among popular international schools in Singapore of offering access for a fee. This is not an under-the-table arrangement either. One school puts the price right on its website: $176,550 for a confirmed place or $90,950 to bump up a nominee on a waiting list. 

Why it matters:  The schools explain that the schemes exist to help firms attract expats. Those relocating often want to ensure their kids can get into good schools and the schemes thus allow companies to guarantee that for their employees. Nevertheless, the practice does show how fine the line is when it comes to figuring out when paying for admission is acceptable and when it is not.

Read the full report: Over $176,000 per place: Firms buy spots at top international schools here for expat kids

And finally, Singapore netizens react to a CEO paycut

Today, SingTel, one of South-east Asia’s largest companies released its annual report that included, among other revelations, a big pay cut for its chief executive. Her salary fell from $6.1 million the year before to $3.5 million. It’s no secret that telcos have been facing challenging conditions and the CEO had said that she oversaw a period for the company that was “far from business as usual”. Perhaps not surprisingly (on hindsight), hundreds of people on Facebook reacted to this news with … erm… let’s call it sympathy.

Here’s a sampling: 

“please understand the HARDSHIP her family and herself gotta go thru during this very difficult time....”

“Oh no. Poor thing. Can we all do some fund raising to help you recoup your lost salary ?”

“This is unacceptable! How she going to survive with just 3.5 million?”

Other developments: 

A Malaysian motorist caught in an accident in Putrajaya on Wednesday morning (June 26) was offered help by a most unexpected person - the King. Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin, who was on his way to a weekly pre-Cabinet meeting with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, stopped his car to offer help to the accident victim.

China can fish in parts of the South China Sea where the Philippines holds exclusive rights, President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman said on Wednesday (June 26), despite warnings from other officials that this would be unconstitutional.

The United States is in behind-the-scenes talks with North Korea over a possible third summit and has proposed working-level negotiations that have been stalled since the second such meeting in February, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Wednesday (June 26).

That’s a wrap for today. Thanks for reading.

-Jeremy