Asian Insider May 13: What if trade talks fail?

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

THE US-CHINA TRADE IMPASSE

The deadlock is not about to be resolved any time soon. We have not heard all that much from the Chinese government directly but editorials from Chinese media are now giving us a sense of the way Beijing is viewing the current impasse. The People’s Daily wrote that “at no time will China forfeit the country's respect” while The Global Times said “the perception that China cannot bear it (a trade war) is a fantasy and misjudgment”.

So what? That the debate is now being framed, not in purely economic terms, but in terms of respect and dignity will make a deal that much harder to reach. There is very little room when one is negotiating with dignity on the line. Trade talks have come back from the brink before, but given the perception of Beijing in Washington is worsening, and vice versa, few are predicting a rapid end to the trade war.

What if talks fail: Expect a significant fallout that will impact the global economy. The countries combine comprise nearly 40 per cent of global GDP, and the IMF is now forecasting that if tariffs escalate, both economies would shrink.

Get up to speed on the trade war:

Latest reports: China defiant towards US on trade as Trump defends tariffs

Analysis: What happens if US-China trade talks fall apart

Background for the busy: 5 must-reads about the US-China trade impasse

SAUDI SHIPS ATTACKED

Saudi Arabia said today that two Saudi oil tankers were among the vessels targeted by a “sabotage attack” off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. A day earlier, UAE officials said four commercial vessels were attacked but did not say who was behind the attack. The two Saudi vessels were on its way to be loaded with crude to be delivered to Saudi Aramco customers in the US.

The big picture: No culprits have been named nor have there been any details about the nature of the attack beyond saying that there were no casualties or oil spills, but all eyes have instantly turned to Iran - a country currently embroiled in an escalating war of words with the US over sanctions. Last week, the US Maritime Administration had warned that Iran could “take action against US and partner interests… after recently threatening to close the Straits of Hormuz”. The “sabotage attack” took place near the port city of Fujairah, which lies about 140 km south of the Straits of Hormuz. Tensions in the region have risen since the US pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal last year and Washington has recently push to cut off Iran’s ability to sell oil.

The full story:Saudi Arabia says two Saudi oil tankers attacked near UAE waters

ELECTION ROUND-UP: INDIA AND AUSTRALIA

The Indian elections are entering its final phase, Australia is going to the polls next week and we are still waiting for the final outcomes of the Thailand and Indonesia elections, so I thought I’d just give a very quick sweep of the state of all the elections today.

Let’s start with Australia, which is holding elections this Saturday. A closely-watched poll shows the labor Party - currently in the opposition - holding a narrow lead of the conservative coalition government. The Labor Party led by Mr Bill Shorten (above), is projected to win 77 seats in the lower House, just one more than needed to form government. But not all the attention is on the front-runners, an Aussie tycoon has funded a multi-million dollar advertising blitz for his United Australia Party that is eclipsing the campaigns of the big parties.

Next we check in on India, which is entering the sixth phase of voting. The election is run over seven phases and 39 days, with votes to be counted on May 23. Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains favourite to win but opposition challengers are being encouraged by what they see as signs that the prime minister’s party may be losing ground. Opposition parties have already begun negotiations for a post-election alliance. Here’s a quick look at how the alliances are shaping up.

ST EXCLUSIVE: FARMING IN SINGAPORE?

Singapore may have been an agrarian society blanketed in farms just 50 years ago, but it has since become the last place one might imagine to start a farm. Yet, in one of the world’s most land-scarce, densely-populated cities, some people are finding a way. Singapore, in fact, has a goal of producing 30 per cent of its nutritional needs locally by 2030.

The Straits Times spent time with a host of modern-day Singapore farmers - producing everything from eggs to vegetables to fish - to see how they overcome challenges of doing something requiring so much land in a city without it.

The Singapore food story: Sowing the seeds of a farming nation

AND FINALLY, LANDING ON THE NOSE

I leave you today with a video of some top-notch flying skills from a commercial airline pilot in Myanmar. The video shows a plane landing with a failed landing gear. It touches down seemingly normally on its rear wheel and then gracefully (as gracefully as possible given the circumstances) bending over to rest its nose on the ground, eventually coming to a halt in that prone position. All passengers made it unscathed.

Watch the video here: Myanmar Airlines pilot saves all 89 on board with nail-biting touchdown after landing gear fails

Other developments:

Vietnam has culled more than 1.2 million farmed pigs infected with African swine fever, the government said today, as the virus continues to spread rapidly in the South-east Asian country.

Sweden's state prosecutor said she would reopen a rape investigation involving WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and that circumstances now existed to seek his extradition from Britain.

Facebook said it had taken down numerous Italian accounts on its platform that were false or were spreading fake news ahead of a European parliamentary election later this month.

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow.

Jeremy