Asian Insider, June 26: US Senate approves sanctions on Chinese officials over HK, Asean’s virtual summit, Covid-19 and the youth

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

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In today's bulletin: US Senate approves sanctions on Chinese officials over HK, Asean's virtual summit, Covid-19 and the youth, Malaysian retailers go online, Abe dragged into cash for votes scandal and more.

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The US Senate on Thursday unanimously approved a Bill that would lay out sanctions on Chinese officials who undermine Hong Kong's autonomy as Beijing pushes forward with a controversial security law.

The House of Representatives still needs to pass the Bill, which would allow sanctions in the United States against Chinese officials and the Hong Kong police as well as banks that conduct "significant transactions" with them.

The vote comes as China presses forward with a security law that would enforce punishment over subversion and other perceived threats in Hong Kong, which saw massive protests last year in support of maintaining the financial hub's freedoms.

The new law has pro-democracy book sellers worried, with more than 4,500 small businesses identified on activist sites as "yellow" - meaning they support the pro-democracy movement and vice versa - facing the prospect of being targeted.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong believes he will be a "prime target" of the national security legislation.

See also:

Support dips for Hong Kong democracy protests as national security law looms

Taiwan to ease travel curbs for Hong Kong people for 'humanitarian' reasons


Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called for greater economic integration and cooperation and unity among Asean members to prevent the Covid-19 pandemic from permanently damaging their economies, Regional Correspondent Arlina Arshad reports.

"How Asean countries respond to this crisis will decide whether Asean will forge ahead of the competition or fall behind," he told fellow Asean leaders at their first ever virtual summit on Friday.

The 36th Asean Summit, which was postponed from April due to the pandemic, took place via videoconference. Asean foreign ministers, including Singapore's Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, also attended the meeting.

Read also:

Vietnam PM warns of economic calamity at Asean summit

Cooperation or confrontation? The way ahead for the region


More than 200 children, including newborns and those under five years of age, are believed to have died from Covid-19 in Indonesia as the virus devastated the country's fragile health system. At least 1,543 children in Indonesia tested positive for Covid-19 since the country announced its first coronavirus case in March.

Younger people are making up a growing percentage of coronavirus cases in US cities and states where the virus is now surging, a trend that has alarmed public health officials and prompted renewed pleas for masks and social distancing.

Meanwhile in Europe, fewer than one in a hundred children who test positive for Covid-19 end up dying although a small but significant percentage develop severe illness, a new Europe-wide study showed on Friday.

Don't miss these exclusive Covid-19 updates:

China's feverish overreach wasted an opportunity offered by Covid-19

Why Covid-19 deaths are down but case numbers are up in America

Beijing bolsters efforts to identify false negatives in Covid-19 testing; woman tested negative 4 times before positive confirmation


Even though it has had a negative impact on both public health and the economy, the Covid-19 outbreak was a game changer when it came to digital transformation in Malaysia, forcing retailers to migrate to online platforms in a bid to stay afloat, Malaysia Correspondent Nadirah H. Rodzi reports.

More than 209,000 retail stores, including 90 per cent of stalls and markets, were forced to shut down, resulting in zero sales.

On May 4, the movement curbs were relaxed, allowing most businesses to reopen. By then, thousands of businesses had already ceased operations permanently.

Read more:

Fashion masks a hit as Indonesians, Malaysians seek style in safety

Malaysia to allow social events with up to 250 people from July


Japan's beleaguered ex-justice minister, who has been arrested over election bribery allegations, cited Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when he exerted pressure on recipients to accept cash handouts, Japan Correspondent Walter Sim reports.

"This is from Abe ... Please look after my wife," Katsuyuki Kawai, 57, who once served as Mr Abe's special foreign adviser, reportedly told recipients of the cash handouts. He is accused of distributing 25.7 million yen (S$333,736) to 94 individuals in Hiroshima, many of whom were municipal politicians from the LDP.

Read more on Abe's recent ups and downs:

Japan PM Abe's support rebounds despite ex-justice minister's arrest

Shinzo Abe's support falls into 'danger zone' after prosecutor scandal


SPEAKING OF ASIA: SRI LANKA, THE ISLAND THAT LOST ITS WAY: Sri Lanka, once full of promise, heads into another parliamentary election in August haunted by the communal demons of its past. Associate Editor Ravi Velloor ponders the question: How did Sri Lanka, which so won the admiration of Mr Lee Kuan Yew during his first visit there in 1956, fail to live up to its initial promise of being "a model Commonwealth country carefully prepared for independence"

SINGAPORE'S CHANGING OF THE GUARD GATHERS PACE AS FORMER PM GOH CHOK TONG RETIRES FROM POLITICS: Goh Chok Tong, the man who served as Singapore's second prime minister from 1990 to 2004 is retiring from politics as the city state gears up for an election campaign in which leadership transition is a key issue, specifically a planned handover to the PAP's fourth generation of leaders since Singapore's independence in 1965. Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, 67, will also retire from politics and not contest the upcoming general election, ending a near two-decade-long political career.

PRIME MINISTER MORRISON SIGNALS AUSTRALIAN BORDERS MAY BE CLOSED UNTIL MID-2021: Prime Minister Scott Morrison signalled that Australia's borders may remain closed to most international visitors until the middle of next year as the coronavirus crisis escalates across the world. Mr Morrison was asked whether he shared the view of Qantas Airways chief executive officer Alan Joyce that there was little chance of travelling overseas for at least 12 months.

MALAYSIAN TEEN WHO SLEPT IN A TREE FOR BETTER INTERNET ACCESS DIDN'T EXPECT OVERWHELMING RESPONSE ON YOUTUBE: Malaysian student Veveonah Mosibin posted YouTube videos of herself spending the night up a tree to get better Internet access for her exam, and they went viral, making her an Internet sensation almost overnight, and she now has more than 96,000 subscribers.

That's it for today, thanks for reading and have a great weekend.


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