Asian Insider May 7: US-China trade talks take an ugly turn

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


Months and months of talks between trade negotiators from the US and China now appear to be on the verge of breakdown. One day after US President Donald Trump threatened new tariffs, the administration is accusing China of backtracking on previous commitments and issuing an ultimatum: If there is no deal by midnight on Friday, there will be new tariffs on Chinese imports.

Can there be a deal by Friday?  Anything is possible. There was talk before things suddenly went south that the deal was 90 per cent done and planning was starting on a summit between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. But not many fancy the chances. The Chinese delegation heads to Washington for talks on Thursday. The two sides have slightly more than a day to get an agreement.

Full report from US Correspondent Charissa Yong: Chinese backtracking on commitments triggered Trump tariff threat, say US trade officials

Also see Hong Kong Correspondent Claire Huang’s report on the bing Hong Kong academics are facing with the souring of US-China ties.


The US government has returned to Malaysia some US$57m recouped from the scandal-hit state fund 1MDB. The money was part of the US$60m forfeited from a US-based film production company co-founded by Riza Aziz, the stepson of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak. Riza is accused of using funds 1MDB to fund production of films like the Wolf of Wall Street.

The big picture:  Including the US payment and the sale of the US$126 million mega yacht Equanimity, Malaysia says it has now recovered US$322m worth of 1MDB assets in the year since investigations began. However, at its peak, 1MDB amassed debts of around US$14 billion. The relatively small amounts recovered to date, along with the slow pace of prosecutions, is revealing the difficulties investigators have had unravelling the complex financial scandal.

Full report from Malaysia Correspondent Trinna Leong: US returns US$57 million in first tranche of 1MDB money to Malaysia


Indonesia’s anti-terror squad has foiled a plot to stage suicide bombings during the announcement of the results of the presidential elections. It captured eight alleged terrorists who are alleged to have planned to attack mass rallies planned for the election results.

Why it matters: The developments raises immediate questions both about the spike in activity among ISIS affiliates of late as well as the terror groups deep networks in South-east Asia. Many from the region had gone to Syria to join the caliphate and remains to be seen what happens when these fighters return. That the plot has targeted election activity also highlights the tension in INdonesia right now as it awaits official election results.

Full report: Indonesia nabs ISIS-linked militants plotting suicide attacks during election results announcement


In the third in a three-part series on the Indian elections from Associate Editor Ravi Velloor, he is in Uttar Pradesh reporting on anxiety among the Muslim community over what they see as the advance of hard-line Hindu forces. As Mr Velloor writes, at the ongoing elections, India is poised to choose between two visions -  the idea of India bequeathed by founding Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who was staunchly secular, and one propounded by Hindu nationalist Vinayak Damodar "Veer" Savarkar, who is credited with the Hindutva philosophy adopted by Modi’s BJP.

Read all three Eye on India stories here:

Part 1: Last-mile issues could trip Modi in India's heartland

Part 2: Congress seeks southern comfort

Part 3: India's Muslim minority feels a chill wind
Get the latest on the Indian elections from at special elections site here.


Spoiler alert. We now know that the seventh in line for the English crown is a boy, the first son of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. What we do not know is what the baby looks like or what his name is. Thankfully, the parents have provided us a tantalising - saying that the name will be unusual and one that will unify the UK and US. Cue Twitter and a host of guesses relating to anything people can think of that might unify the two countries. Among the highlights: Royal Baby “LeBron Thames”, “Ukus”, “Cambridge Analytica”, “We F***d up in 2016”, “Paddington 2” and, my personal favourite, “Prince Imperialism”.

Other developments:

Two award-winning Myanmar journalists who were jailed over their coverage of the Rohingya crisis were freed from jail after a presidential pardon.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's special media adviser, Datuk A. Kadir Jasin, has called upon the authorities to probe taxes paid by Mados, a company believed to be linked to Johor royalty.

An Indonesian volcano erupted today, sending a massive column of ash and smoke 2,000m into the air, coating local villages in debris. Mount Sinabung on Sumatra island - which has been rumbling since 2010 and saw a deadly eruption in 2016 - spewed the thick plume after activity picked up recent days.

That’s it for today, thanks for reading and see you tomorrow