Asian Insider March 14: Asia's turn to call the shots on air safety

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

ASSERTIVE ASIA

For as long as commercial aviation has existed, the West - led by the FAA and EASA - has always called the shots when it comes to aviation safety and regulation. From the amount of liquids and gels travellers can take with them on flights, to whether lithium batteries should be hand-carried or placed in checked bags, Asia has always taken the lead from US and EU regulators. But not this time, says Senior Aviation Correspondent Karamjit Kaur, about Asia leading the way on banning the Boeing 737 Max from its skies.

China and Indonesia were the first countries to order local carriers to ground their Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, after the plane was involved in two crashes in five months.

Singapore went one step further to shut its airspace, with effect from 2pm on Tuesday, to all variants of the B-737 Max; imposing a temporary suspension against operations by both local and foreign carriers. Australia then announced a similar blanket ban, while Malaysia and India asked their airlines to also ground the B-737 Max 8.

About time, perhaps. Travellers in the Asia-Pacific will make up more than half of the total number of new passengers over the next 20 years, the International Air Travel Association said last October. China will displace the US as the world's largest aviation market - defined as traffic to, from and within the country - in the mid-2020s.

Full story:Boeing 737 Max grounding: Asian regulators call the shots

CHINA ‘DISAPPOINTS’

India said on Thursday it was “disappointed” by China again delaying a bid to blacklist the leader of a Pakistan-based militant group that claimed a massive suicide bombing in Kashmir last month. The blast on Feb 14 killed 40 Indian troops and triggered tit-for-tat air strikes and an aerial dogfight in the most serious bust-up in years between New Delhi and Islamabad. Although the suicide bomber was native to the part of Kashmir that India controls, the attack was claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), one of several militant groups based in Pakistan.

China on Wednesday put on hold a request by Britain, France and the United States to add the leader of the JeM, Masood Azhar, on a UN sanctions blacklist which would subject him to a global travel ban, an assets freeze and an arms embargo. China – an all-weather ally of Pakistan which has blocked three similar moves – said it needed more time to examine the sanctions request targeting Azhar, and asked for a technical hold which could last up to nine months.

Full storyIndia disappointed as China blocks bid to ban JeM chief

A BITCOIN FIRST

A cryptocurrency exchange operator has been found in breach of contract and trust over a reversal of seven orders on its platform, the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) ruled on Thursday). The judgment comes after Singapore's first trial involving the cryptocurrency bitcoin, in which electronic market maker B2C2 sued cryptocurrency exchange operator Quoine over reversals made on its platform in April 2017.  B2C2 placed seven orders in April 2017 to sell the cryptocurrency ethereum for bitcoin at a rate of 10 bitcoins for one ethereum. The trades were reversed the following day.

B2C2 said the trades were wrongful and led to proceeds being deducted without authorisation, and sought to recover around 3,085 bitcoins it lost as a result of Quoine's actions.But SICC International Judge Simon Thorley said that the compelling factor against making such an order is that the transfer of bitcoin would take place at today's much higher price. B2C2  has been ordered to pay damages, with the amount to be agreed on at a later date. If there is no agreement, the sum will be decided with a subsequent hearing.

Full story: Singapore's first bitcoin trial: Exchange operator found in breach of contract and trust, to pay damages

CAUSEWAY CALM

Can’t live with each other, cannot live without each other -- that’s how Singaporeans and Malaysians often jokingly describe their ties. Since veteran Malaysian politician Mahathir Mohamad returned to lead his nation in last year’s election, ties have been a little more choppy than is normal. Water sharing, flight paths into a Singapore airport and port limits have been some of the contentious issues. Now, there’s light at the end of at least one tunnel. Malaysian bureau chief Shannon Teoh says Singapore and Malaysia agreed on Thursday to jointly suspend overlapping port claims in the waters off Tuas, saying this was vital to end a stand-off which has seen at least one collision in the waters since the dispute began in December. Instead, they will apply their port limits in effect prior to Dec 6 and Oct 25 respectively, undoing the overlap, and work to start talks to delimit their maritime boundary in the area.

Both ministers also discussed the 1962 Water Agreement between Singapore and Malaysia. They noted that both sides have differing views on the right to review the agreement, and that their attorneys-general will continue discussion on the matter with a view to finding an amicable way forward.

Full story: Singapore, Malaysia agree to suspend overlapping port claims

PRIYANKA AGAIN

Yesterday, Insider took  note of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s first public rally outside the family constituencies in the heartland state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), held by her brother Rahul and mom Sonia. The quick-witted Priyanka was fielded for a bigger role in the affairs of the Indian National Congress Party by her brother Rahul, seeking to tap into her charisma and ease with the public. For the national poll starting next monthm, Rahul had given her charge of leading the campaign in eastern UP, which has half of the 80 seats that UP has in the 543-member powerful lower house of parliament. India Correspondent Debarshi Dasgupta travelled to east UP to see how Priyanka is resonating with the ground and found that in the key town of Gorakhpur, many could not even tell him where the local Congress office was located.

You can't blame them, says Debarshi. The party has been without an office here for nearly two years. In April 2017 it had to move out of its modest rented premises after the proprietor of the building won a legal battle against Congress over a protracted rent dispute. Since then, the "grand old party" of India has been on the lookout for a spot to work out of. Its quest for a roof in this city is in many ways emblematic of the party's attempt to revive its sagging political muscle in this key state.

Full storyReviving Congress' fortunes is a daunting challenge for Priyanka Gandhi Vadra

IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Malaysia's securities commission said on Thursday that it has issued a show-cause letter to Goldman Sachs, which is embroiled in multi-jurisdictional investigations into Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). A show-cause letter typically requires the recipient to explain why they should not be subject to disciplinary action. Goldman Sachs is being investigated by Malaysian authorities and the US Department of Justice for its role as underwriter and arranger of three bonds that raised US$6.5 billion for 1MDB.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, already on course to become his country's longest-serving premier, has played down speculation that he would seek to extend his stay as ruling party leader, saying he is focused on his current term, which ends in 2021. Abe told a parliamentary session Thursday it is a matter of course to follow ruling Liberal Democratic Party rules that prohibit serving a fourth-consecutive term as leader.

Talk about a handy-phone.  An Australian man used his smartphone as a shield to block an arrow that was fired at him during a skirmish outside his home, DPA reported, citing police. The incident took place on Wednesday morning in Nimbin, a hippy town around 750km north of Sydney known for hosting the annual MardiGrass marijuana festival. The 43-year-old man was allegedly attacked outside his house by a man known to him.

And that’s it for today, folks. Will be back tomorrow. Meanwhile, keep checking www.straitstimes.com for the latest on Asia, and the world.

Ravi Velloor