Asian Insider, March 23: West sanctions China over Xinjiang abuses; China to boost ties with North Korea, Russia

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In today's bulletin: US, EU, UK, Canada impose more sanctions on China over Xinjiang; Beijing retaliates; China to build closer relations with North Korea & Russia; Myanmar’s military junta releases video accusing Aung San Suu Kyi of corruption; Singapore and Malaysia discuss progressively opening up cross-border travel, India and Pakistan to discuss contentious water issue, and more.

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US, EU, UK, Canada impose sanctions on China over Xinjiang abuses; Beijing hits back

In a concerted diplomatic effort to confront China for alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese officials on Monday. 

This was the first coordinated action against China by the Biden administration. It comes soon after his top foreign policy officials - Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin - visited Japan, South Korea and India to build ties with allies. It also comes soon after the testy exchange between US and Chinese officials in Anchorage, Alaska. 

Beijing’s reprisal was swift. China imposed sanctions on European lawmakers, the EU’s main foreign policy decision-making body known as the Political and Security Committee and two institutes. Reports said Beijing's punitive measures against the EU appeared broader and included a ban on their businesses from trading with China.

Delve deeper

EU-China relations nosedive after sanctions on each other, by Global Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Eyal (For Subscribers)

China to boost ties with North Korea, Russia in wake of US talks

China is looking to boost ties with North Korea and Russia in the wake of a contentious meeting it had with the United States.

The Xinhua news agency released a report citing verbal messages delivered on behalf of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The announcement also follows a visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this week.

Mr Lavrov, who has called for greater cooperation between Russia and China, also promoted settlement of deals in currencies that can replace the US dollar and help reduce risks posed by sanctions.

Myanmar military airs allegations of bribery against Suu Kyi on TV

Myanmar's ruling military junta took to the media to show video testimony of a former top Yangon official alleging corruption by ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in a move to discredit her. According to the testimony, Yangon chief minister Phyo Min Thein is seen saying that he visited Ms Suu Kyi multiple times and gave her money "whenever needed".

Meanwhile, Myanmarese continued to hold demonstrations and candlelight vigils while security forces continued their crackdown elsewhere. And Western countries imposed more sanctions on individuals and groups linked to last month’s coup.

Singapore, Malaysia to work towards progressively restoring cross-border travel

With over a year of living under the threat of Covid-19 gone by, the urge to travel among people, especially internationally, is getting stronger and stronger and the good news is that several economies are trying to ensure that it can take-off. 

In the latest on this front, Singapore and Malaysia today said they had agreed to work towards recognising each other's vaccine certificates to facilitate cross-border travel in the future. This would be in addition to selective travel between the two countries that has been permitted. Dates, however, are still to be announced, with both keeping close tabs on the rate of infections.

The news comes amid discussions that a Taiwan-Singapore travel bubble might open up and a separate one on travel between Singapore and Australia. Separately, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she might announce within two weeks a date for quarantine-free travel with Australia. And Indonesia's Tourism Minister has raised expectations that travel could be allowed to the Riau Islands.

India, Pakistan set for water-sharing talks

South Asia's two nuclear powers - India and Pakistan - are set to hold their first meeting, in three years, to discuss water rights on the Indus River, in yet another move that reflects the easing of tensions between the two countries.

The Permanent Indus Commission, set up under the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960, is set to meet in New Delhi on March 23 to 24. The river-use talks follow a rare military agreement this month to stop firing on the bitterly contested Kashmir border.

Also read 

India and Pakistan appear to be taking another stab at reaching peace (For Subscribers) 

In other news

Most Covid-19 cases in Wuhan had no symptoms, study shows: Over eight in 10 people in the Chinese city of Wuhan who tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies were asymptomatic for the disease and less than half developed neutralising antibodies that protect against a future infection, a new Chinese study shows. Researchers said the study was the first long-term Covid-19 antibody prevalence study from the epicentre of the outbreak in China.

South Korean prosecutors seize ex-president Park's home: South Korean prosecutors have seized the house of former president Park Geun-hye and will auction it off after she failed to pay a US$19 million (S$25.5 million) penalty for corruption, they said.

Taiwan grounds military jets: Taiwan grounded all military aircraft for training and exercises after a pilot was killed and another went missing on Monday (March 22) when their fighter jets had a suspected mid-air collision.

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading The Straits Times and today’s Asian Insider newsletter. We’ll be back tomorrow.