Asian Insider: Najib in jail | Chugging along the Laos-China Railway

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We hope you’ve been keeping well.

In our Asian Insider newsletter this week, former Malaysian premier Najib Razak’s loyalists have petitioned the King to pardon the politician, who was sent to jail this week to serve 12 years for graft linked to the 1MDB scandal. Over in the Philippines, children finally return to school after more than two years of pandemic-disrupted studies while spiralling inflation has made lives harder for people in South Asia and South-east Asia.

Najib behind bars

Supporters of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak have started to push for him to get a royal pardon from the King, drawing opposition from civil society groups. The move comes less than 24 hours after Najib was sent to prison to serve a 12-year sentence following the Federal Court’s dismissal of his final appeal against a conviction related to the 1MDB scandal.  

The dramatic hearing, which saw a revolving door of lawyers, repeated emotional pleas to the judges as well as tears from family members and supporters, ended on Tuesday with reactions divided along partisan lines.

Politically, this will strengthen Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s hand, even as he begins his second year in power.

Read more: 

Umno meetings expose rift between ruling party's leaders

Malaysia PM Ismail's one year in power: Reforms aimed at keeping power

In the news: 'Responsive but responsible': KL walks tightrope for election budget as deficit soars 

Sign up for the Malaysia edition newsletter and follow us here for the latest developments from the country.

Prickly relations with China

US-China ties have reached a new boiling point since US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan earlier this month. A group of panellists at a recent discussion urged both Washington and Beijing to relook the competition between them to avoid serious miscalculations that could send the world down a dangerous path.

Within the US, Mrs Pelosi trip to the island highlights the tensions between Congress and the White House on their ties with Taipei, and greater discord looms with new legislative measures in the works as well as  the upcoming mid-term elections, writes US correspondent Charissa Yong in the latest Power Play column

Meanwhile in India, over 23,000 students are still unable to return to China to resume their studies, even as Covid-19 border curbs ease, leading some to question whether soured diplomatic relations had contributed to the students' plight.   

Podcast: Impact of Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan 

Analysis: Do visits by foreign officials help or hinder Taiwan? Experts weigh in 

Commentary: She is loved in China, so can ex-Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos play peacemaker? 

In the news: Xi and Putin to attend G-20 summit in Indonesia, Jokowi says

Back to school

Millions of children in the Philippines finally return to school after living through one of the world's longest pandemic-induced closures due to poor vaccination rates and the perennial classroom shortage problem. However, there are worries that the prolonged closure has left deep scars on students' academic growth and labour potential, writes Philippines correspondents Mara Cepeda and Raul Dancel. 

Watch: Back to school - Millions of students in the Philippines finally return to classrooms

Read more: Philippines declares 'war' against online child pornography

In the news: 

Philippine President Marcos to make state visits to Indonesia, Singapore in September

Muted anniversary of Benigno Aquino's killing in Marcos-led Philippines

Feeling the pinch

Soaring inflation is leaving people poorer and hungrier across Asia. In this Asian Insider special report, find out the reasons for the surge in prices, how people are coping and what governments have been doing to mitigate the impact. 

Read more: Indonesia looks to sorghum as wheat substitute for noodles

Freebies culture in India

India has a culture of election freebies, where political parties promise everything from goodies like laptops and mixer grinders to electricity subsidies in the run-up to state or federal elections. The freebies culture, unchecked for many years, has come under scrutiny, writes India bureau chief Nirmala Ganapathy as two years of Covid-19 pandemic puts pressure on the coffers of many states.

In the news: India appoints public defenders to help prisoners awaiting trial get bail

Read more: Singapore-supported centre helps India address skilled manpower shortage

All aboard the Laos-China Railway

Eight months since the launch of the Laos-China Railway, it’s still hard to buy tickets. The popularity of the train service has silenced some of the initial criticism of the Belt and Road project, reports Indochina bureau chief Tan Hui Yee. 

Watch: Picture-postcard vistas along the new railway line 

Podcast: A ride on the new Laos-China Railway

Soaring deadly beauties

Kite-flying is a popular sport across India but the flying beauties can be deadly. The kite strings are coated with glass or metal powder to make them sharp, which turn lethal for humans when the threads fall back to earth, reports India correspondent Debarshi Dasgupta in the latest dispatch of Letter from the Bureau.

Elsewhere in Asia

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