Asian Insider, June 4: Big UK banks endorse HK security law, China eases flight curbs, a united Umno, India’s viral anti-China app, BreadTalk delists and Grab expands

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

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In today’s bulletin: HSBC, Stanchart endorse Hong Kong security law, how a more united Umno spells trouble for Malaysia’s PM Muhyiddin, China will let 95 foreign airlines apply to resume flights, India’s anti-China app goes viral, BreadTalk delists and Grab expands.

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HSBC Holdings and Standard Chartered - the two British institutions that dominate Hong Kong’s banking system - have waded into the political minefield of the former colony’s future by endorsing China’s security law for the city. Big businesses now having to kowtow to Beijing was the cost the world was paying for turning a blind eye to a bully, Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai tweeted. Activist Joshua Wong vowed to stay in Hong Kong, citing a “need to stand up and fight back” and urging Britain to impose harsh sanctions to pressure China into dropping the legislation that could curb political dissent in the city. 

The latest developments come as US President Donald Trump said he was not considering imposing sanctions on his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping personally. But the Chinese Communist Party must be “taken down” or the "information and economic hot war that they're engaging with the West is going to metastasize into a kinetic war", ultra China hawk and former White House strategist Steve Bannon tells US bureau chief Nirmal Ghosh

Hong Kong marked China’s Tiananmen crackdown on Thursday (June 4), with candlelight ceremonies planned across the city after authorities banned a mass vigil amid the coronavirus pandemic and seething anger over the planned security law. In the afternoon, the Legislative Council passed a Bill to criminalise disrespect of China’s national anthem, a move critics say is another sign of Beijing’s tightening grip on Hong Kong. The vote was delayed earlier in the day after pro-democracy lawmakers threw foul-smelling fertiliser in the legislative chamber to protest against China’s “murderous” Tiananmen crackdown.

China’s Tiananmen protests: From reform hopes to brutal crackdown, a timeline


Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak has warned of a “high chance” of elections being called in the country if its political turmoil persists. If Malaysia’s leaders cannot focus on reviving its economy, then most of its people would rather take the risk of dismissing Parliament, Mr Najib, now a lawmaker and member of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno), wrote on Facebook. Umno is ready for a general election, party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said in a separate Facebook post following Mr Najib’s visit to his home, even as he brushed off allegations that they were plotting to overthrow Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. 

A Najib-Zahid partnership would mean a more united Umno, which spells trouble for Mr Muhyiddin, Malaysia bureau chief Shannon Teoh writes as he explores a potential solution for the prime minister to secure the ground under his feet. Deputy Works Minister Shahruddin Salleh has resigned, saying it was a mistake to join Mr Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional government that is now barely clinging on to power. Lawmaker support for Mr Muhyiddin has been uncertain since he assumed leadership after a power struggle in February. It is unclear how many seats his administration commands, after an opposition-planned confidence vote was barred in Parliament last month. 

Read also: Malaysia PM Muhyiddin Yassin sacks allies of predecessor Mahathir Mohamad


China will let foreign airlines currently blocked from operating in the country over coronavirus concerns, resume limited flights, lifting a de facto ban on US carriers. The move comes after the United States barred Chinese passenger carriers from flying to the US, citing Beijing’s restrictions on American airlines. A total of 95 foreign airlines that have suspended services to China can now apply to resume flights, the country’s aviation authority said, without referring specifically to US airlines. Qualifying foreign carriers will from next Monday be allowed flights once a week into a Chinese city of their choosing, it added, estimating the number of international flights to rise from 50 a week from June 8 to 150. 

Travel resumption elsewhere: 

Japan to allow foreigners' re-entry for humanitarian reasons 

New Zealand says July likely too early to resume travel with Australia 

Jonathan Pearlman: Queensland border closure causes friction as Australian tourists barred


Singapore food and beverage icon BreadTalk Group will delist from the Singapore Exchange on Friday, with the completion of its compulsory acquisition by BTG Holding. The move brings its founder George Quek full circle as he takes private the F&B firm he started in 2000. Mr Quek and his wife are partners with Thailand-based hospitality company Minor International in forming BTG Holding.

BreadTalk, which also operates F&B outlets Food Republic and Toast Box, has been struggling financially, posting a S$5.8 million net loss last year. Its operating environment “remains challenging across key markets, including Singapore, China and Hong Kong,” it said earlier this year. Staff salaries were temporarily cut between 10 to 50 per cent from March to June. BreadTalk’s delisting is likely to give the firm a freer hand to adapt itself to tackle the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on its operations, analysts say.


An Indian campaign to boycott Chinese goods has been raging online, with an Indian-made app to remove Chinese-made ones going viral in recent days, India bureau chief Nirmala Ganapathy writes

The Android smartphone app, called Remove China Apps created by Indian startup OneTouch AppLabs, removes apps made by Chinese firms including TikTok and CamScanner. It was India’s top trending free app, downloaded five million times, until Google suspended it from the Play store on Wednesday. Google did not say why it was removed. The #BoycottChineseProducts hashtag has also been trending on Twitter, with at least one famous Indian personality, model-producer Milind Soman, announcing that he had quit popular Chinese video-sharing platform TikTok. 

The upsurge of nationalism in India comes as it grapples with China over their undelineated border, after skirmishes last month between soldiers in the union territory of Ladakh and Sikkim led to a troop buildup on both sides.


GRAB ACCELERATES SOUTHEAST ASIA EXPANSION: Singapore-based ride-hailing giant Grab Holdings is expanding delivery services from convenience stores and supermarkets across 50 cities in Southeast Asia, teaming up with 3,000 stores to increase delivery of groceries and other products to consumers stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Before the Covid-19 outbreak, Grab provided the service in just two countries; it is now available in eight, including Myanmar and Cambodia. 

PHILIPPINE CONGRESS PASSES ANTI-TERROR BILL: Philippine lawmakers have passed a controversial "anti-terror" Bill that they say is meant to rein in terrorists and communist insurgents, but which civil rights activists insist will unleash draconian measures on government critics. The proposed law allows the government to wiretap suspects, arrest them without warrants and hold them without charge for 14 days. 

MOURNING THE DEATH OF A LANGUAGE AMID THE PANDEMIC: The last speaker of Sare - one of the world's oldest surviving languages spoken in the Andaman and Nicobar islands in the Bay of Bengal - has died. Mrs Licho, who was in her early 60s, was a bridge to one of the two surviving languages of the Great Andamanic family of languages, a veritable treasure trove of India’s diverse linguistic heritage. Linguists estimate that half of the world’s remaining 6,500 languages will be dead by the end of this century, India correspondent Debarshi Dasgupta writes. 

That’s it for today. Thank you for reading, and we’ll be back with more insightful stories for you tomorrow.