Asian Insider May 14: After threats, a sudden outbreak of optimism on trade talks

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


If it wasn’t clear before, I think we can now safely say that anyone claiming to know how this trade negotiation will end is lying. After a week of new tariffs and escalating tension (which itself followed months of roller-coaster talks), we wake up today to news that - well, what do you know - both sides are actually quite optimistic that a deal will still take place.

What was said: After the Chinese impose tit-for-tat sanctions on US goods, US President Donald Trump said he would be meeting his Chinese counterpart at the G-20 summit in Japan and that he has “a feeling it’s going to be very successful”. China’s top diplomat Wang Yi similarly an optimistic tone, saying that both countries have the ability and wisdom to resolve each other’s reasonable demands, and in the end reach a mutually beneficial, win-win agreement”. But it wasn’t all sunshine and optimism. China’s foreign ministry also said that the US should not underestimate its determination to protect its interests.

What now?  For businesses affected by the trade war, it’s now just a matter of waiting for things to settle down. No one is betting on a quick deal (or even a slow one) and global supply chains may change before this saga is done and dusted. The protagonists will meet in Japan in June, but expect more surprises before then.

Latest reports on the trade war:

China says hopes US does not underestimate its determination, says trade deal talks to continue

Donald Trump to meet Xi Jinping after China raises tariffs on US goods in tit-for-tat move

'Lost and perplexed': China exporters reel as US tariffs imperil world's supply hub

China's arsenal in the trade war against the United States

Toys, phones and sneakers: The Chinese goods Trump wants to tax next

Analysis from US Bureau Chief Nirmal Ghosh: Trump's tariff war aimed at decoupling the US economy from China


Indonesia is deploying more than 30,000 troops to Jakarta following intelligence indicating the possibility of terror attacks during the release of official presidential election results. Counting is still taking place for the April 17 elections but the results are due within the next week. The move comes a week after Indonesia busted a terror cell linked to ISIS armed with homemade bombs.

Why it matters:  Tensions have been heightened in the country since the April 17 elections and with supporters of challenger Prabowo Subianto not ready to concede defeat despite pollsters all tipping incumbent President Joko Widodo to win. Prabowo supporters held two rallies to pressure the elections watchdog to act of allegations of fraud, with more protests expected in the days ahead. An attack in this climate could wreak significant havoc in a divided country while simultaneously demonstrating ISIS’ capabilities in the South-east Asia.

Full report from Indonesia Bureau Chief Francis Chan: Terror alert in Jakarta: More than 32,000 troops deployed ahead of election results


Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn has approved the 250 senators picked by the ruling military junta, paving the way for junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha to be voted in as prime minister next month.

The big picture:  Thailand had lived under military rule for years after a military coup. A much-delayed election took place this year to restore democracy though many observers say the system was rigged to favour a return to power for Prayut. Under Thailand’s current system, the PM is picked by the 250-member Senate and the 500 member Lower House. Effectively all the 250 Senators are not expected to back Prayut and pro-junta parties will likely have the 126 more votes needed to secure a majority. It would cap an often colourful election season in Thailand that included a very brief nomination of a princess as a potential prime minister.

Full story: Thai king approves junta-picked senators connected to regime


This time, it seems like they are serious about moving the capital out of Jakarta. With flooding, traffic snarls and pollution seemingly getting worse every year, the government is now planning to set up a new administrative capital somewhere else. The city is also sinking faster than any other city in the world. The Straits Times Indonesia Correspondent Linda Yulisman takes a closer look at the quest to relocate.

Full report: Indonesia's quest for a new capital gains fresh impetus


Mr Victor Vescovo this week dived 10,928m into the Mariana Trench, deeper than any human has gone. And what amazing discovery did he make at that depth? He found trash, a bit of plastic to be exact - a truly disappointing find in more ways than one.

Other developments

A flaw on popular messaging app WhatsApp has allowed hackers to remotely install surveillance software on phones via its voice call function, potentially affecting all of its 1.5 billion users worldwide.

Scientists in the United States have detected the highest levels of planet-warming carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere since records began, sounding a new alarm over the relentless rise of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies are headed for a sweeping victory in this week’s crucial mid-term elections, shutting out the opposition in the all-important Senate race amid reports of vote-buying, faulty vote-counting machines and a stalled vote count.

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

- Jeremy