Asian Insider March 27: India becomes a space superpower

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

Happy Wednesday, Today, we look at India's successful anti-satellite missile test, the resumption of US-China trade talks, check in on the Indonesian elections and more.

INDIA SHOOTS DOWN A SATELLITE

India said today that it shot down a low-orbiting satellite with a missile fired from a testing facility in Odisha, eastern India. The successful test was announced in a rare televised address by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who said it meant “India has registered its name in the list of space superpowers”.

Why it matters: Shooting down a satellite is an incredibly difficult and expensive operation and only the US and China have successfully targeted a live satellite in recent years. Russia has developed an anti-satellite system but it has not yet been tested against a live target. India’s success was thus a notable show of force and scientific expertise.  It will no doubt give Mr Modi a boost at the upcoming polls while raising concerns in Pakistan about India’s missile defence capabilities. No surprise then that this would yield an unscheduled televised address from PM Modi.

Go deeper:

India shoots down satellite, joining space superpowers: Modi

Anti-satellite weapons: Rare, high-tech, and risky to test

STILL MORE TALKS

For what seems like the umpteenth time in just the past few months, trade negotiators from the US and China are meeting. And for what seems like the umpteenth time, there is talk of good progress being made. The US trade secretary and treasury secretary are due in Beijing tomorrow while the top Chinese negotiator is set to travel to the US next week.

The big picture: Progress has been frustratingly slow thus far. Every forward step seems to be greeted by several backwards ones. We were in the midst of step back when this new flurry of diplomatic activity began. A planned summit between US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping this month to finalise the agreement was recently pushed back till late April at the earliest and Mr Trump has said that he plans to keep existing tariffs in place even after the deal is struck. The one difference now is that Mr Trump heads into this round of negotiations on the back of a political victory at home. It’s too early to tell if it will change his posture or if this round of talks will actually produce something.

The full story: US, China trade talks to resume as Trump vows 'excellent deal'

ELECTION CHECK-IN: INDONESIA

There are just three weeks to go before the largest democracy in South-east Asia heads to the polls, so I thought I’d give a quick update on how things are shaping up there.

Who’s leading?: President Joko Widodo entered the race with a double-digit lead in polling and is still expected to win on April 17, but the race doesn’t seem as straightforward as it did a month ago. Polling released last week shows support for Jokowi dropping below 50 per cent while support for his opponent rose by almost five percentage points. At its peak, approval for the Indonesian president was almost 70 per cent.

Analysis from Indonesia bureau chief Francis Chan: A close finish to Indonesia's presidential race?

The key issues:

Like many other elections in this part of the world, the economy and jobs remain the key issues, but Indonesia does have some unique topics unique to it. In this election, race and religion have featured very prominently as Jokowi continues to battle to demonstrate his Muslim credentials. Then there are the forest fires. It dominated the discourse in the aftermath of the presidential debate last month. Mr Widodo is proud of his record of forest fire mitigation and but his opponent has been arguing that it is not as good as the president makes it out to be. The one aspect we have not seen yet is foreign policy and that might change when the Jokowi and Prabowo face off in their fourth debate this weekend.

Get all the latest from the debate on Saturday and the Indonesian elections at our dedicated microsite.

NURUL IZZAH STANDS BY HER WORDS

The daughter of Malaysia’s would-be prime minister Anwar Ibrahim is refusing to back down after taking flak for remarks she made in an interview published by The Straits Times over the weekend. Nurul Izzah Anwar told reporters during an impromptu huddle in parliament that she will continue to speak her mind. The MP also stood by the most contentious parts of her remarks - where she called the current prime minister a “former dictator” - noting that she had made similar statements years ago.

The big picture: That her remarks kicked up such a fuss could be an indication of the frustration with the pace of reform in Malaysia as well as the seeming antipathy some quarters now regard Singapore. The furore was, in part, not because she had called the prime minister a former dictator but because she had done so in an interview with a media outlet from a noisy neighbour.

The full story: Nurul Izzah Anwar says she will continue to speak up about what's right and important

AND FINALLY, ASIA’S BEST RESTAURANT IS FRENCH

A public service announcement for foodies. For the first time in five years Asia has a new “best restaurant” according to the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019 list. Singapore’s Odette has unseated Bangkok’s Gaggan.

Thailand and Singapore are well represented on the list, though not always in terms of cuisine - and that has always been one of the quirks of fine dining lists in the region. To eat at the top two restaurants in Asia requires one to travel to Singapore to sample its French cuisine and then head to Thailand to eat Indian food.

Asia’s best restaurants: Singapore's French fine dining eatery Odette is the top restaurant in Asia

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

Thailand’s Pheu Thai Party has announced a seven-party coalition which it claims has won a majority of Lower House seats in Sunday’s general election, the first since a 2014 military coup. The former ruling party, which was ousted from government by the coup, pipped the pro-junta Palang Pracharath Party to the post today by announcing it had roped in allies with at least 255 seats in the 500-seat House of Representatives.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday that China and Europe were "advancing together" but that the two trading blocs needed to overcome "suspicions". "Of course there are differences and competition, but it's positive competition," Mr Xi told a press conference in Paris with the leaders of France, Germany and the European Commission.

The trial of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak for alleged criminal breach of trust and abuse of power over money linked to state investment fund 1MDB was today ordered to proceed.

That's it for today, thanks see you tomorrow.

-Jeremy