Asian Insider March 1: (Almost) War and Peace

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


Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, an Indian Air Force pilot in Pakistan’s custody, is due to be set free some time today - a move that will go a long way towards de-escalating tensions that spiked in the Kashmir region this week. Reports differ on how the jet he was in ended up crashing on the Pakistan side of the line of control but he has been the human face of hostilities since.

Despite the imminent return, the situation remains tense. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, facing elections in a few months, will likely only be content with an outcome that represents a complete victory, not something akin to a draw. Also, the souring of ties are spilling into other arenas. Pakistan’s foreign minister said today he is boycotting the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Abu Dhabi because his Indian counterpart was invited as well.

Full story: India Bureau Chief Nirmala Ganapathy reports that the situation remains tense in India despite efforts at de-escalation

See also: India Correspondent Debarshi Dasgupta’s writes about how the wing commander became a symbol of the conflict


North Korea wanted a complete lifting of sanctions in exchange for a limited dismantling of its nuclear infrastructure. Faced with such a lop-sided deal, the Americans had to walk away. That was the explanation US President Donald Trump gave yesterday after his meeting with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un was abruptly cut short.

Today, the North Koreans provided their version and - I suppose to no one’s surprise - it is rather different from the American version. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said North Korea was only seeking partial sanctions relief in exchange for Pyongyang permanently dismantling all nuclear material production.

Who to believe is a difficult question to answer but the disparity in versions further affirms the inherent problems with the process the US and North Korea embarked on. As South Korea Correspondent Chang May Choon noted in her excellent analysis, the breakdown in Hanoi was a reflection of the weaknesses of the leader-centric approach to negotiation.

Catch up with all our coverage of the eventful summit:

China Bureau Chief Tan Dawn Wei writes about how the promising summit went south quickly: In just a few hours, the praise and smiles unravelled in no deal

The fallout (so far):

-South Korea's economic cooperation plans with North hit a snag

-What does failure of Trump-Kim summit mean for key players in nuclear stand-off?


One major summit over, another one to come. US President Donald Trump may have left Hanoi without an agreement but many are hoping that doesn’t happen at his next high profile summit.

Mr Trump is expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in weeks to sign a trade deal that would end - at least temporarily - the US-China trade war. Reports today - the date of the initial deadline for a deal - indicate that officials on both side are now on the verge of a final deal.

But It is still to early to celebrate. While China has said precious little about negotiations, conflicting signals have been coming out of the White House - with official remarks ranging from hailing a “historic” deal to warning that work still needs to be done.

Full story: US prepares final China trade deal as hawks urge caution


Huawei today pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud and conspiracy in a US Court, setting up a trial to begin in 2020. The plea comes after days of Huawei starting to push back against  American attempts to contain them. US officials have for weeks now been telling allies that the Chinese tech giant cannot be trusted and warning that anyone allowing the firm to install its telecommunications equipment will face repercussions.

The two-fold Huawei counter-argument is this: 1) The US has misunderstood Huawei and 2) US itself has a history of wide-spread telecommunications surveillance. A Huawei official made a pointed reference to Edward Snowden - a National Security Agency subcontractor that leaked documents revealing a broad government surveillance programme - during a talk at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona. Huawei also bought full page ads in a host of major US newspapers urging readers not to believe everything they hear about the company.


Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has overcome many political hurdles before but the latest one might be the one that does him in. Global Affairs Correspondent Gil Yaron considers the implication of the serious charges filed against the prime minister just 40 days before the elections and isn’t exactly sanguine about Mr Netanyahu’s political fate.


What you are looking at is a photo of a Malaysian man taking a pair of scissors to a RM21,120 (US$5,180) luxury bag. Why is he doing this to his own bag? He said he was protesting mistreatment by the staff in the boutique. That will show them…. I think. You can watch a video of him snipping up the bag here.


-The United States  offered a US$1 million reward for information on a son of late Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, seeing him as an emerging face of extremism.

-The Philippine government said today that it would file criminal charges against six officials of French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi Pasteur over the deaths of children injected with its Dengvaxia anti-dengue vaccine.

-Weak demand in China and growing global fallout from the US-China trade war took a heavier toll on factories across much of Asia in February. In many cases, business conditions were the worst Asian companies have faced since 2016, with demand weakening not only in China but globally.

-Broadcaster Al Jazeera's interview with former Malaysian premier Najib Razak won the Interview of the Year prize at the Royal Television Society Television Awards 2019. During the interview, Najib lost his cool and walked out as he was quizzed over matters such as the notorious "pink diamond" scandal and state investment arm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

That's it for today. Have a good weekend!