Asian Insider May 15: Xi hits back at ‘clash of civilisations’ view; civil unrest tensions in Indonesia

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


In today’s bulletin: The furore over the ‘clash of civilisations’ remark, civil unrest worries in Indonesia, Australian politicians target resident Chinese ahead of polls, precision cancer treatment in Singapore and an unfortunate account of the ills of social media as a Sarawak teen takes her life.

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China has not taken kindly to remarks by US official Kiron Skinner on the US-China rivalry. The director of policy planning at the US state department said at a think-tank last month that Washington is facing, for the first time, a competitor that is not Caucasian, in remarks that framed the US-China rivalry as a ‘fight with a really different civilisation’.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of a conference to promote cooperation among Asian countries, Chinese President Xi Jinping said all civilisations are unique and no one civilisation is superior to another. Read more on what he said in our report by ST’s China Correspondent Danson Cheong.  

Is a storm building up?

This is another clear indication we’re seeing from China that Beijing will not refrain from taking action against Washington, after US President Donald Trump gave the go ahead for tariffs on US$200 billion worth of Chinese goods to be raised to 25 per cent from 10 per cent. China retaliated with higher tariffs on a revised list of US$60 billion worth of US goods. And now President Xi has spoken up. The key question is where is this headed and will the storm blow over by the time the meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Xi takes place in late June, during the G-20 meeting in Japan.

China’s fight back

 Beijing is counting on its vast domestic market to weather the storm, says Cheong, in another report. More than 60,000 foreign enterprises were set up last year, an official said last week. Will Beijing open up even more? Or, fix the other issues impeding its growth? That will be things to watch out for.

Read more:

Watch US-China trade war closely, prepare for challenges

Timeline of US-China trade dispute

And is a new colonial era shaping up? Many in Asia are anxious. Michael Vatikiotis, a veteran journalist who contributes to The Straits Times says the worry is that much as the colonial powers did centuries ago, both China and the US will demand that weaker countries in their path take sides or face retaliation. Read his article here.


Civil unrest tensions continue to build in Indonesia with official poll results expected next week. Unofficial poll counts have pointed to incumbent President Joko Widodo winning the polls over former general Prabowo Subianto, something the latter has repeatedly said he won’t accept. Claims of vote-rigging have been flying, as well as demands for vote recount.

The big worry: Amid other matters, it’s about a terror-strike. Indonesia’s counter-terrorism squad has rounded up 10 people suspected of planning attacks and more than 32,000 police and military personnel have been deployed. The suspects belong to the Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), which has been linked to the militant ISIS group. Our Indonesia Bureau Chief Francis Chan and his team are closely tracking the developments and we’ll have more on our site.  

Read more:

Prabowo alleges fraud, says he will reject official vote tally

Fraud claims, deaths cloud Indonesia's mammoth elections


Chinese-Australians now make up almost 6 per cent of the Australian population and Australian political leaders have been having a hard time winning them over, amid ongoing debate over the future of Australia-China relations. Opposition leader Bill Shorten, who is favoured to win the federal election, is among those who've taken to WeChat, the Chinese social media platform, to court them, writes our Australian contributor Jonathan Pearlman.

Also in a first, in the tightly contested Melbourne seat of Chisholm, the winner will be a Mandarin-speaking Asian Australian. Read Pearlman’s report on the two leading candidates vying for this seat.  

Read more:

Red wines a sign of the times in Australia's ties with US and China


A city that invests much in cancer prevention, detection and treatment has added one more facility. The Singapore Institute of Advanced Medicine Holdings has installed the cutting-edge ProBeam Proton Therapy System, at its Proton Therapy Centre in Biopolis at one-north. The therapy uses about 60 per cent less radiation than conventional radiation therapy, resulting in a lower risk of damage to healthy tissue around the tumour. The centre is due to open next year.

Read more:

Trial treatment for stomach cancer extending lives

Blood test for gastric cancer could be ready by year end

Novel treatment for liver cancer gets funding boost


A Sarawak 16-year-old jumped to her death after 69 per cent of those who took her Instagram poll chose ‘D’ in an option between ‘D/L”. Police said the letters meant the obvious. Who’s at fault here? Malaysian lawmakers have called for a probe. It’s not clear when the results will be out.  

Other developments

Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s likely successor to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, has said the latter will have a role as a statesman, even after the change of leadership, in yet another move to signal his faith in the 93-year-old leader.

Clashes between followers of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and an opposition leader have heightened tensions in the key eastern Indian city of Kolkata, ahead of the final round of the country's national election.

Cambodia's toughening up on commercial surrogacy, after Thailand put a stop.

Thanks for reading. We’ll have more tomorrow. Should you want more news from Singapore and Asia in the meantime, do read us here.

- Shefali