Asian Insider, May 14: Is Muhyiddin’s power slipping, China slams US ‘lies’, SIA’s 95% profit plunge, and how Alibaba turned wasted crops into a business

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

Hi all,

In today’s bulletin: Muhyiddin’s administration risks collapse, Japan lifts emergency order, China-US tussle over coronavirus hacking, SIA profit plunge casts pall over its future, and strong typhoon hits Philippines

Reading this on the web or know someone who might enjoy receiving Asian Insider? Our sign-up page is here.

MUHYIDDIN IN FIRING LINE

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s already slim grip on power is showing signs of slipping, after an MP from his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia appeared to desert him and claimed that the party is on the path to irrelevance, Malaysia Bureau Chief Shannon Teoh writes. 

Mr Muhyiddin delayed a confidence vote initially scheduled next Monday, with his government citing containment of the coronavirus pandemic as taking priority. The May 18 meeting will now feature only the Malaysian king’s royal address, with all other discussions disallowed. 

Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad cried foul, saying the decision indicates that Mr Muhyiddin lacks a parliamentary majority. But those close to Mr Muhyiddin’s ruling Perikatan Nasional alliance say they have a majority among the 222 members of parliament. Parti Amanah Negara chief Mohamad Sabu said the move to ban debates during the session reflects the ruling alliance’s anger over the no-confidence motion

Meanwhile, police launched an investigation into allegations that Islamic Affairs Minister Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri flouted Malaysia’s movement control order, after Mr Zulkifli reportedly uploaded photos of his activities on his Facebook page earlier this month.

Delve deeper: 

Anwar says Pakatan Harapan won't allow any attempt to disrupt King's royal address in Parliament on May 18

CAUTION & RECKLESSNESS IN EAST ASIA

South Korea raced to trace contacts linked to its Seoul nightclub cluster as new coronavirus cases continued to surface. Anonymous testing helped bring people forward, but some 700 out of more than 5,000 who visited the first five clubs identified in the cluster - all known to be gay bars - remain uncontactable, South Korea correspondent Chang May Choon writes. 

Health authorities promised to revise their practice of publicising patients’ travel routes, over fears of a backlash against those who visited the clubs. Officials say they understand some individuals may fear social stigmatisation, and will try to improve tracing privacy by reducing the amount of information usually released about confirmed patients. 

In Japan, the government lifted a state of emergency across a large part of the country, but said the biggest urban centres of Tokyo and Osaka will remain under restrictions until there is a convincing containment of the coronavirus. 

Elsewhere in East Asia: 

Taiwan's baseball scene became the world’s first professional league to start a new season amid the pandemic, with some 1,000 fans cheering their teams live at a stadium last week, reports Katherine Wei, our correspondent in Taipei. 

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters ignored social distancing rules, gathering by the hundreds in shopping malls across the city to mock unpopular Chief Executive Carrie Lam on her birthday. 

China’s carmakers, centred in Wuhan, are clocking overtime as they struggle to emerge from the depths of the pandemic after suffering their worst quarter ever, reports Elizabeth Law, our correspondent in Beijing.

CHINA SLAMS US ‘LIES’ OVER HACKING

Beijing rubbished US claims that China is targeting valuable coronavirus research, rejecting the accusations as lies and slander that “undercut ongoing international cooperation against the pandemic”. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security had earlier warned that Chinese government-backed hackers are trying to steal information about coronavirus vaccines and treatments from US health-care, pharmaceutical and research organisations. 

The incident represents an escalation in US efforts to combat Chinese cyberespionage, and comes as US President Donald Trump ratchets up his attempts to blame China for not doing more to prevent the global spread of the virus that has killed more than 85,000 people in the United States and ravaged the economy.

SIA’S 95% PROFIT PLUNGE

Singapore Airlines’ full-year operating profit plummeted 94.5 per cent from a year ago as the coronavirus pandemic grounded planes and brought most of global travel to a halt. Singapore’s flagship carrier reported S$59 million in operating profit, down from $1.067 billion in the last financial year ended March 31. 

Some analysts say SIA may face more losses in the year ahead, given the "staggering" crash in the April-June quarter, when there were virtually no flights. Earlier in the day, the company’s shares fell to a 30-year low, sinking 6.5 per cent to US$3.74 by the midday break, while its rights shares sank 30 per cent to S$0.665. 

Read more: 

SIA to strengthen balance sheet for the future through rights issue: CEO

POWERFUL TYPHOON HITS PHILIPPINES

Central Philippines was hit with fierce winds and heavy rains as powerful Typhoon Vongfong made landfall, forcing a complex and risky evacuation for tens of thousands of people already hunkered down at home during the coronavirus pandemic. 

At least 200,000 people live in coastal areas or flimsy homes in the province near where the storm hit. Tens of millions more live along the typhoon’s path, which is expected to take it near the densely populated capital Manila.

IN OTHER NEWS

HOW ALIBABA’S LAZADA TURNED DUMPED PRODUCE INTO A BUSINESS: When farmers in Cameron Highlands dumped hundreds of tons of produce after coronavirus lockdowns shuttered markets and restaurants across Malaysia, they opened a window of opportunity for Alibaba. Its South-east Asian subsidiary Lazada set up an online store to link farmers and homebound Malaysians, redirecting the unwanted produce into the homes of those who would have use for it. 

JOHOR PLANS TO START INVESTMENT FIRM IN SINGAPORE: The Johor state government’s plan to set up the Johor Investment Company (Jico) in Singapore is aimed at boosting bilateral relations and improving trade between the two. 

INDIA LAUNCHES CONTACT-TRACING APP: India has rolled out a version of its Bluetooth contact-tracing app for 5 million JioPhones - the cheap internet-enabled devices sold by Reliance Industries' telecoms unit - as it looks to increase the system’s reach. The Aarogya Setu (Health Bridge) application, launched last month, has been downloaded by 100 million Indians. 

That’s it for today. Thank you for reading, and check back tomorrow for more insightful reads. 

Magdalene