Asian Insider March 6: Money, money, money

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

Billionaires list

Let’s just tick off some of the highlights from this year’s list:

-The same few American businessmen that have dominated this list for years (Bezos, Gates and Buffett) still dominate.There is inequality even among the ultra rich so don’t expect this to change for a long time.

-Among newcomers, 21-year-old Kylie Jenner, the founder of Kylie cosmetics and one of the less controversial members of the Kardashian-Jenner clan, was declared the youngest self-made billionaire ever.

-Forbes and other measures indicate that Asia leads the world in minting billionaires.

-2018 was, very relatively speaking, not a great year for billionaires as a whole. There are 55 fewer billionaires this year than last year and 46 per cent of the people still on the list have seen their enormous wealth shrink to ones that are merely incredibly large.

-China lost more than twice as many billionaires (49) last year than Singapore has on the list (22).

Now on to the controversies sparked by the Forbes list.

-How “self-made” can someone really be if they are born into an already rich, very famous family? There is no doubt Kylie Jenner grew her company and her business instead of inheriting it, the question is whether an ordinary person could ever pull themselves up by their bootstraps in the same way with similar results.

-How much can you trust these rankings anyway? Coming a week after US President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen testified to Congress about the mogul’s previous attempts to inflate or deflate his wealth, it has become abundantly clear that it is impossible to get an accurate picture of the complicated private holdings of the ultra wealthy.

The full story on the 2019 list

Malaysia’s biggest Malay-Muslim parties unite

Umno and PAS, two former fierce rival parties in Malaysia have formalised a pact to cooperate - bringing together the two biggest stalwarts of the Malay community and adding another headache to the Pakatan Harapan government’s growing list. There have already been fears of a resurgence of racial politics in Malaysia after two recent by-election campaigns that featured race-based rhetoric were won by the then informal alliance of Umno and PAS.

And the statements coming out of yesterday’s meeting to formalise the pact are unlikely to soothe any nerves. Umno acting president Mohamad Hasan seemed to present two conflicting ideas when he said that while "we want to unite the Muslims and Bumiputera",   "our agenda is not to create a Malay pact versus the non-Malays". The two non-Malay parties allied to Umno had, even before the formal pact, said they were looking to form new alliances.

Why is it such a big headache for the government? The Malay vote is a majority in more than half of parliamentary districts and are also a significant portion of the electorate elsewhere. Critically, the Pakatan Harapan would not have won the last election if Umno and PAS vote tallies were combined.

Full story: Umno, PAS formalise political ties

Air pollution in Asia

It’s been a rough few months Asia in terms of air pollution with a host of major cities all suffering from poor air quality. China’s and India’s air quality issues have been perennial problems, though India now has the dubious honour of having seven of the 10 most polluted cities. We also seeing reports on worse than normal pollution in places like Bangkok, Mongolia, Afghanistan and now South Korea. The reasons range from vehicle and manufacturing emissions to forest fires and even fireworks. Air pollution also tends to spike at this time of the year due to the dry season and little fires started by people trying to stay warm in winter. But the increasing severity suggests that current coping strategies are no longer sufficient.

See also: China's Hainan province to end fossil fuel car sales in 2030

North Korea restores missile launch site

That didn’t take long. Less than a week after the US President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un walked away from Hanoi without a deal, there are now reports that Pyongyang is rebuilding a site it started dismantling after the first summit in Singapore.

The reports did not state when rebuilding began though dismantling works that were started last July were halted a month later. The moves shine now an even harsher light on the path forward for Trump-Kim talks. What pressure levers will Mr Trump be able or willing to pull in given he how he touts the meetings as a major foreign policy success?

Full storyNorth Korea rebuilds part of missile site it promised Trump to dismantle

And finally, the world’s most expensive car

Since I started today with the world’s richest people, I thought I’d end with a car that only they can afford.  Behold the Bugatti La Voiture Noire, the world’s most expensive new car.

The US$18.9 million sports car is a one-of-a-kind with a 6-cylinder engine, 1,500 horsepower and six exhaust pipes. It is a truly beautiful lust-worthy machine.

(However, it doesn’t seem to accommodate a child safety seat so I guess I won't be putting down a booking deposit.)

There’s a fair bit of other developments of note (listed below) in today’s edition, so I’ll sign off here. Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow.



-Former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn left a detention in Tokyo on bail on Wednesday (March 6), ending more than 100 days in custody after being arrested on alleged financial misconduct.  He was wearing a blue cap, a white medical face mask and a work jacket with orange reflective stripes.

-In Lianghui news, China's state planner said today that more opening measures will be introduced in the agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and service industries, allowing wholly foreign-owned firms to operate in more sectors.

-Malaysia's Tourism Minister caused consternation in Germany when he reportedly said there are no gays in Malaysia.

-Singapore-headquartered app giant Grab Holdings has secured US$1.46 billion of fresh funding from the Softbank Vision Fund, a subsidiary of Japan's Softbank.

- Jailed former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak was granted bail today, nearly a year after he was arrested over corruption charges.

-New Delhi is denying reports of an Indian submarine trying to enter Pakistani waters as "misinformation”  one day after Pakistan said it stopped the submarine from intruding.