Asian Insider March 5: China prepares for a ‘tough struggle’

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

China lowers its targets

"We must be fully prepared for a tough struggle,” was the stark warning Chinese Premier Li Keqiang gave as he announced a growth target of 6 - 6.5 per cent for China this year. The number compounds anxiety about the health of the world’s second largest economy just two months since it announced a lacklustre (for China) 6.6 per cent growth in 2018. And despite the conservative growth estimate, the premier made clear that there would be no stimulus this time. It is too early to panic about the good times being over for China but this is likely the start of a different phase of growth for the country.

Other developments at China’s NPC 2019 today:

-China will open up more sectors and give greater emphasis to opening up based on rules, said Chinese Premier Li Keqiang assuring foreign companies that they will be treated as "equals" to Chinese companies.

-China’s top banking regulator  said China can “absolutely” reach an agreement with the United States on opening up its financial sector.

Ghosn granted bail

Some three months since he was first arrested for alleged financial crimes, former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn was granted bail today by a Japanese Court. His bail, which requires him to submit to surveillance, was set at 1 billion yen or about US$9 million. The development is a major milestone in a case that is being watched closely, especially by foreign executives in Japan or professionals considering jobs in Japan. The uneasiness was focused - not strictly on his guilt or innocence - but on the fact that he has not been able to secure freedom while awaiting trial.

Full story: Tokyo court grants bail to Ghosn after 107 days in jail

Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund records RM6.27 billion loss

Khazanah Nasional, Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, recorded its first pre-tax loss in more than a decade - citing challenging global markets last year. Whatever the cause, the fact that the fund is announcing a loss in the year it was taken over by the new Pakatan Harapan government will likely be fodder for the ousted administration. Former Prime Minister Najib Razak has already posted a jab on Facebook, saying the fund never suffered losses while he was in Prime Minister.

Full story: Malaysia state fund Khazanah records pre-tax loss of $2 billion

A closer look at Jokowi's running mate Ma'ruf Amin

To burnish his religious credentials for the upcoming election, Indonesian President Joko Widodo picked senior Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate. It was a potentially divisive choice given the cleric’s history as a hardliner.

Dr Ma’ruf has been taking more moderate positions since being added to the ticket and in our ongoing series of reports on the Indonesian elections, Indonesia Correspondent Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh  considers whether this shift to the middle will persist once the elections are over.

Full storyWill Indonesian vice-presidential candidate Ma'ruf Amin's conservative leanings prevail if he is voted in?

Follow all the latest from the Indonesia elections at our special microsite.

And finally, MasterChef Thailand in the soup

There are many reasons to get upset while watching cooking shows. Sometimes they give the prize to the wrong person, sometimes a judge tells a contestant that her chicken rendang needs to be crispy, sometimes they decide to alienate other races by running the show in just in Chinese.Today, we can add a new one to that list of ways cooking shows can get your goat: Cooking up endangered animals.

A recent episode of MasterChef Thailand featured the cooking of the endangered spotted eagle ray. To make matters worse, this episode was aired on World Wildlife Day. To make matters even worse, the producers of the show responded to criticism by naming popular dishes the  ray is an ingredient in ( "deep-fried ground pla yeeson" and "deep-fried sun-dried pla kraben nua dam" - if you’re interested).   

Read about the whole debacle here: Debate rages over cooking of rays on TV show Masterchef Thailand

That’s it today, see you tomorrow.

-J

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

-Facebook has banned political advertisements from outside Indonesia ahead of the country's April 17 presidential poll, just weeks after being heavily criticised by the European Union for not doing enough to counter election meddling

-Pakistan has stopped an Indian submarine from entering its waters, the navy said today, as tensions continue to run high between the nuclear-armed foes.

-A Vietnamese woman accused of murdering the half-brother of North Korea's leader will testify in court for the first time next week, when the long-running trial over the Cold War-style hit resumes.