Asian Insider May 27: Cooperation? Competition? How about Coopetition?

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


Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, on his first official visit to China in that capacity, used a speech to Chinese Communist Party cadres in Shanghai over the weekend to urge the US and China to find some common ground amid a rapidly worsening trade war. Mr Heng proposed a relationship he called “coopetition” - a portmanteau of cooperation and competition - where the use superpowers would find mutually beneficial areas to cooperate in while competing in the rest.

The big picture:  Mr Heng’s call reflects a lot of the anxiety with which Singapore and countries around the world are watching the world’s two biggest economies slug it out. At the OECD Economic Outlook Forum over the weekend the Organisation’s  secretary general warned that the world economy “is in a dangerous place” as the OECD lowered its forecast for growth. With most countries in the world having the US or China as their largest trading partners, it’s clear the war will have casualties that extend well beyond the borders of the two countries.

No longer a war between governments:   While this may have started as a political and economic stand-off between the administrations of Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, it now seems to have extended beyond that. Our correspondents, China Bureau Chief Tan Dawn Wei and US Bureau Chief Nirmal Ghosh tell of mutual efforts at demonising the other side to ordinary people.  In China, the US is now seen as a country bent of thwarting the rise of China while being ungrateful for goodwill measures Beijing has taken. And while anti-American movies had been kept off the airwaves during the Hu Jintao era to improve relations, they are now back on. Meanwhile in the US, all talk of managing the peaceful rise of China has been replaced by talk of the various ways the country is undermining the US.                    

Go deeper:

View from Singapore:  US, China should find areas of cooperation amid competition

View from Beijing: China won't give in to an unequal deal

View from Washington: US swinging to demonisation?


There was some bonding for visiting US President Donald Trump in Japan over the weekend as he and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe played golf, watched a sumo wrestling match and had dinner. Today, they are due to talk business.

Any progress on US-Japan trade? There is no deal expected to be signed any time during his trip, but Trump is already making clear that none of the bonding has lessened his appetite for tariffs or changed his very straightforward views on trade deficits. Trump has said they needed to work on the “tremendous imbalance” in trade between the two countries. He had earlier threatened to raise tariffs on US$50 billion worth of Japanese cars and car parts. Trump said he would have something on the deal to announce in August after the Japanese Upper House elections. Today’s meeting is not expected to move the needle much.

Latest reports from Trump’s visit to Japan

Trump says US suffers 'tremendous trade imbalance' with Japan, may announce trade deal in August

Japan's Abe says Trump supports his intention to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

Japan to buy 105 F-35 US stealth warplanes: Trump

Trump says hopes to have more to announce with Japan's Abe on trade deal 'very soon'


Mr Prem Tinsulanonda, a former Thai prime minister, and one of the country’s most prominent political figures, died on Sunday, aged 98.

A history of influence: Mr Prem latest position was as a the head of the privy council under King Maha Vajiralongkorn, and before that a long-time adviser to the late king Bhumiphol Adulyadej. He gained a reputation for deftly balancing power factions and staving off two attempted coups in the 198os as an unelected  prime minister across five successive governments. But critics also accuse him of engineering the 2006 coup against then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra - triggering a political divide that the country is still feeling the effects of. It is suggested that Mr Prem’s premiership - regarded by elites as a time of peace - served as a model for the drafters of the current Constitution.  It is then perhaps fitting that he would pass in the same week that the winners of the election run under the new Constitution move to seal a coalition.

Go deeper:       

Prominent former Thai general and PM Prem dies at 98

Pro-junta Thai party moves to seal governing coalition


It’s been 13 years since Malaysia launched the ambitious special Iskandar development region in the southern state of Johor but the  project has thus far enjoyed only mixed success. China, Singapore and the US - the three largest foreign investors in the region - have collectively put in some RM70bn already but thus far the region has not been the growth vehicle many had hoped it would be. In February the new Malaysian government announced that it was doubling the size of the region to 4,749 sqkm - 6.5 times the size of Singapore.

Regional correspondents Arlina Arshad and Eileen Ng went down to Iskandar to take a closer look at how things are changing in the region.

Growing Iskandar Malaysia elicits mixed feelings in Johor


This photo of a long queue of climbers waiting to ascend the ridge to the summit of Mount Everest is making the rounds online. It is apparently now peak season in Everest with a record number of climbers making the ascent. Nearly 1,000 could attempt the summit this year. And all that congestion - which forces climbers to stay on the hike longer than usual - is contributing to a tragically high death toll. At least 20 people have died climbing in the Himalayas this season.

Other developments:

Japan sweltered under an unseasonal heat wave on Sunday that rewrote heat records for the month of May, as the mercury surged above 38 deg C in many parts of the northernmost island of Hokkaido.

Malaysia's last surviving male Sumatran rhino Tam died on Monday (May 27) afternoon. Tam, believed to be in his 30s, had been suffering from kidney and liver damage for quite some time. He had been living in captivity, with the species considered extinct in the wild in Malaysia.

Australia's opposition is set to anoint Anthony Albanese as its new leader, hoping to win back the working class after a shock election defeat to the conservative government. The Australian Labor Party unexpectedly lost to incumbent leader Scott Morrison on May 18, despite leading in the polls running up to the election.

That’s a wrap for today. Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow.