Asian Insider June 6: Xi builds ties with Putin, steps up 5G efforts: Boeing discusses mega-deal with China

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

Xi builds ties with Putin, steps up 5G efforts, fights back with new report on trade

Less than a week has gone by, but it already seems like the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, was held a long time ago. Then, both Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe and US Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan mentioned working with each other, although with conditions. Now, it seems like things have changed. The last 48-hours have seen Chinese President Xi Jinping take a slew of measures that are unlikely to improve tensions between his country and the US. Take a look: 

- President Xi hailed his ties with Russia as signalling a deepening of partnership, as he met President Vladimir Putin. This comes as both face growing tensions with the US. "Step by step, we've been able to bring our relations to the highest level in history," Mr Xi said, according to a Kremlin transcript. 

- China has granted 5G licences to the country’s three major telecom operators and China Broadcasting Network Corp that will trigger fresh investment in the sector and benefit top vendors such as Huawei Technologies. Beijing had originally set 2020 as the deadline to begin the commercial deployment. 

- Meanwhile, China's commerce ministry issued a new report that says US has reaped substantial benefits from their bilateral trade. Bilateral goods trade surged by roughly 252 times from 1979 to US$633.5 billion (S$865 billion) last year, it notes. It also says that if the US were to liberalise its export barriers against China to the same level as those for France, the US trade deficit with China would narrow by a third. 

Why this matters?: Growth is slipping. International Monetary Fund's managing director Christine Lagarde has said the tariff threats were sapping business and market confidence and could slow down growth, that is actually expected to improve next year.

Boeing in talks for mega deal with China even as Trump threatens more tariff hikes

It's hard to say if this is true but it seems that Boeing could be in talks for one of the largest orders ever of wide-body jetliners with Chinese airlines. And this comes while the trade war is on and President Donald Trump has threatened tariffs on a further US$300 billion worth of Chinese goods. Guess, for Boeing, it might be hard to ignore that China is on track to become one of the world's largest aviation markets in the 2020s. 

Meanwhile, there were more moves from Washington that could have a bearing on its relations with China. Take a look: 

- Reports say the US is preparing to sell over US$2 billion in weapons to Taiwan. 

- Also, US sells 34 drones to South China Sea allies

Rise of incumbents in Asia continues: Thailand’s new PM is the outgoing leader

The rise of incumbents in Asia continues with Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha returning for a second term after a vote that extended well beyond midnight in Bangkok on Wednesday. He beat the only other contender Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit by a wide margin, winning 500 to 244 votes. Three MPS abstained from voting, while one was on sick leave. Thanathorn didn't vote as he has been suspended from his MP duties and neither did Democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who resigned as an MP.

What's the problem? The new Thai PM leads a 19-party coalition, that has a slim Lower House majority of 254 seats. As Tan Hui Yee, our IndoChina Bureau Chief writes, the Palang Pracharath Party that nominated him for PM, managed to cross the threshold only because of the last minute addition of the 53-seat Democrat Party on Tuesday. Many in Thailand also resent the fact that the country is not returning to civilian rule.

How are the other incumbents doing? Their governments are still falling into place. Here are some updates from our bureaus:

Francis Chan are Indonesia Bureau Chief says President Joko Widodo is likely to keep his focus on the economy during the second term.

Nirmala Ganapathy, our India Bureau Chief shares the dilemma for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after US President Donald Trump opted to withdraw tariff exemptions for India, which puts him in a tough spot between having to balance domestic aspirations and demands by the US for greater market access. 

Seoul to aid Pyongyang and Kim Jong Un’s sister resurfaces

South Korea has approved the disbursement of US$8 million aid for North Korea, where more than 10 million people are short of food, after record low harvests in the country, according to recent UN estimates. The move comes just before US President Donald Trump is due to make a stopover to the country, on his way to Osaka, Japan for the G-20 meeting.

The bigger picture: This is the first time Seoul has agreed to the humanitarian aid since 2015 and comes as President Moon Jae-In continues to pursue his efforts to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table. The aid is to be given via the UN. But, a media outlet connected to the North Korean government has dismissed it, describing it as “non-essential”.   

Go deeper: Don't try our patience, North Korea tells US a year after accord signed at Trump-Kim summit in Singapore  

Moon Jae-in pledges to push for successful third Kim-Trump summit

Related story:

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's younger sister Kim Yo Jong, appeared in public after a gap of almost two month, dispelling rumours that she was being held under probation, after the failure of Trump-Kim talks in Hanoi.  

Women in Japan protest wearing heels to work, but a minister says it is okay

A virtual protest movement is underway in Japan with a select group of women complaining about wearing heels to work. The #KuToo campaign, as it is called, is a play on Japanese words "kutsu" - meaning shoes - and "kutsuu" - meaning "pain". Launched by actress Yumi Ishikawa, who submitted a petition calling on laws that would ban employers from forcing women to wear heels, has found over 21,000 supporters online. But Japan's Health Minister Takumi Nemoto has dismissed their request saying dress code expectations requiring women to wear high heels at work are "necessary and appropriate". But Ishikawa, and her supporters, are not giving up.

Related story:

Meanwhile, the controversy over admitting female students in medical schools that hit the spotlight last year, seems to be building up again, with a Japanese woman suing three Tokyo medical schools that she says rejected her because of her gender and age. Her lawyers say this is just the tip of the iceberg.  

Other developments:

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to travel to Iran next week, making him the first Japanese PM to do so in more than four decades as Tokyo hopes to mediate between Washington and Teheran.

Sri Lanka is grappling with an attack of dengue that has seen over 28 people dead and over 18,000 people infected by the virus 

Hong Kong's top court ordered the government to grant spousal rights and benefits to the husband of a gay civil servant who married overseas, in a new landmark ruling for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.

Thanks for reading. We'll be back tomorrow with more. 

-Shefali