Asian Insider, May 22: China drops GDP target, Malaysian PM into self-quarantine, Pakistan passenger jet crashes

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

Hi all,

In today’s bulletin: China drops GDP target, India coronavirus spikes, Pakistan passenger jet crashes into residential area, Hong Kong braces for possible capital flight and more.

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NPC BEGINS: CHINA DROPS GDP TARGET, SLOWS DEFENCE SPENDING, TO DEBATE HONG KONG SECURITY LAW

China's top leaders took to the stage in front of a sea of masked delegates as they kicked-off the National people’s Congress (NPC) on Friday, with Premier Li Keqiang announcing that the country would not set a gross domestic product (GDP) target this year, China Bureau Chief Tan Dawn Wei reports. Analysts had predicted the move, which comes as the Chinese economy grapples with the coronavirus pandemic and an uncertain trade environment. 

Li also said China would build more medical facilities and expand testing capabilities, as part of medical reforms to prevent the resurgence of an epidemic like Covid-19, which has infected 82,000 people in China and killed about 4,600.

Slowed by the virus, the Chinese economy contracted 6.8 per cent in the first three months of the year, the worst on record, forcing the country to slow defence spending. This could send a positive signal as Sino-US ties deteriorate, China Correspondent Danson Cheong writes.

Over the next week the NPC will also tackle a draft national security act for Hong Kong - a clear sign that Beijing is tightening its grip over the former British colony that has been rocked by pro-democracy protests, China Correspondent Elizabeth Law reports. 

The new law will ban any acts that “split the country”, subvert state powers or organise terrorist activities, an official summary stated. Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam vowed to “fully cooperate” with Beijing on the law.

During his speech, Li left out the word "peaceful" in referring to Beijing's desire to "reunify" with Chinese-claimed Taiwan, an apparent policy shift that comes as ties with Taipei continue on a downward spiral.

Taiwan Correspondent Katherine Wei reports: China must keep Hong Kong free, not lead it into 'bigger turmoil': Taiwan

INDIA REPORTS BIGGEST RISE IN CORONAVIRUS CASES AS LOCKDOWN EASES

India reported around 6,000 new cases of coronavirus on Friday - the country’s biggest jump in a day. This comes just as New Delhi eased its lockdown and as airlines prepare to resume some domestic flights.

The country reported a total of over 118,000 confirmed cases and 3,583 deaths on Friday, a roughly 5 per cent increase from Thursday's figures.  

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has extended a lockdown to May 31, but relaxed rules in areas with lower numbers of cases and allowed state governments to issue their own guidelines on some matters.

See also: Airlines in India surprised by move to resume local flights.

Don’t miss from Senior Health Correspondent Salma Khalik: The cautious, uneasy easing of Covid-19 restrictions

INDONESIA PROBES BREACH OF DATA ON MORE THAN 2 MILLION VOTERS

Indonesia's election commission is investigating the release of 2.3 million voters' private information on a hacker website along with a threat to release the data of about 200 million people, the agency said on Friday.

The electoral data from the world's fourth most-populous nation was posted anonymously on the hacking forum raidforums on Wednesday and analysts said it could be used for identity theft and fraud.

Read more: Indonesian e-commerce portal probes alleged leak of 91m users' data.

HONG KONG BANKERS WORRY THAT NEW LAWS COULD LEAD TO CAPITAL FLIGHT

China’s planned new security laws for Hong Kong are alarming bankers and hitting the markets, as capital and talent are expected to flee the Asian financial hub. 

Globally, Hong Kong ranked second in wealth per adult after Switzerland in mid-2019, and the city ranked 10th in terms of the number of ultra-high net worth individuals or those with more than US$50 million (S$71.2 million) in assets, according to a Credit Suisse report.

Hong Kong competes fiercely with Singapore to be considered Asia's premier financial centre. Global private banks including Credit Suisse and UBS, as well as Asian wealth managers have their regional operations in the two hubs.

See also: Hong Kong shares plunge after China plans new security law.

PAKISTAN PASSENGER PLANE CRASHES IN RESIDENTIAL AREA

A Pakistan passenger plane flying from Lahore with more than 100 people believed to be on board crashed in the southern city of Karachi on Friday, the country’s aviation authority said.  

Images aired on national television showed the Pakistan International Airlines flight had smashed into a residential area, with clouds of thick black smoke billowing from the site.  

The crash comes just days after the country began allowing commercial flights to resume after planes were grounded during a lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic.  

Pakistan has a chequered military and civilian aviation safety record, with frequent plane and helicopter crashes over the years.

IN OTHER NEWS

MALAYSIAN PM MUHYIDDIN IN QUARANTINE AFTER OFFICER TESTS POSITIVE FOR CORONAVIRUS: Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin will self-quarantine at home for 14 days starting Friday (May 22), after an officer at a post-Cabinet meeting he attended tested positive for the coronavirus.

A DIFFERENT HARI RAYA: HOW MUSLIMS IN THE REGION ARE PREPARING FOR FESTIVITIES: Traditions make way for social distancing as millions of Muslims in the region prepare to celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri on Sunday to mark the end of the fasting month. The Straits Times correspondents report from Malaysia, Indonesia and India.

PHILIPPINES LAWMAKER PROPOSES TAX TARGETING TECH GIANTS IN CORONAVIRUS FIGHT: A Philippine lawmaker has introduced a Bill in Parliament aimed at taxing big tech firms such as Facebook, Alphabet's Google and Youtube, Netflix and Spotify, to raise funds to battle the coronavirus.

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. We’ll be back on Tuesday.

Tom