Asian Insider newsletter Feb 18: MBS' Asia tour and China's first blockbuster

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


Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman began his Asian tour in Pakistan on Sunday, and will also make stops in India and China this week. The tour - which originally also included Malaysia and Indonesia - is largely seen as an attempt by the controversial leader to rehabilitate a global image damaged by speculation that he had a hand in the killing of journalist Jamal Kashoggi.

His first stop is a friendly one. Pakistan needs both friends and money and Saudi Arabia can offer it both. Last October, Saudi Arabia offered Pakistan a US$6 billion aid package as the South Asian nation sought a bailout from the IMF. Little surprise then that Pakistan rolled out the red carpet for the prince, even sending fighter jets to accompany his plane into Islamabad. Now to see what sort of welcome he gets in India and China.

We will bring you all the updates from his tour in your inbox, or you can head to


Here's a quick update from our bureaus on the upcoming elections in Thailand and Indonesia.

Let's start with Thailand, where elections will take place in a little over a month. Anybody just checking in today would detect nothing out of the ordinary in this round of polls.

That's because, a week after what was one of the most dramatic weekend in Thai election history, the short-lived tenure of Princess Ulbolratana Rajakanya (above) as a prime ministerial hopeful seems to have dropped off the radar. Most now expect the party that nominated her to be dissolved while she appears to have quickly returned to her pre-politics persona. There may be some reaction yet from the public, but for now, everything seems to have returned to normal.

Read Indochina Bureau Chief Tan Hui Yee's report: After the Thai royal storm, Princess Ubolratana's short foray into politics seems like a footnote

In Indonesia, meanwhile, the two contenders, President Joko Widodo and and Mr Prabowo Subianto faced off in the second of five televised debates on Sunday. While the second one was markedly better than the somewhat lacklustre first one, the moment that will likely stick out centred on Mr Prabowo's apparent confusion about the term "unicorn". For the record, "unicorns" in world of tech startups are companies that reach a valuation of US$1 billion.

Indonesia Correspondent Linda Yulisman's wrap on the debate: Jokowi, Prabowo spar over economic issues

The "unicorn" moment: Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo stumbles on tech jargon


Elections, terrorism and fear make for a potent mix. Hence, there were immediate concerns about the fallout from the suicide bomb attack that killed 44 paramilitary personnel in Kashmir last week.

Already there have been reports of a backlash against Kashmiri Muslims living in India, including some Kashmiris getting fired from their jobs or evicted from homes by homeowners fearful of becoming a target. With elections just months away, the attack is now dominating the agenda and it places increasing pressure on the Modi government to launch a muscular response. It has not announced any strikes thus far, but the likelihood of armed retaliation is increasing.

India's reaction so far:

- India raises import taxes on Pakistan goods after terror attack that killed dozens

- India detains 23 men with suspected links to group behind deadly Kashmir attack


No longer content simply trying to influence Hollywood blockbusters, China is now trying to make some of its own. It's first action blockbuster - a US$50 million space epic called The Wandering Earth - was released in China over the Lunar New Year and it has been drawing in the crowds. Over the first 10 days, the movie, which features a storyline where Chinese astronauts (spoiler alert) save the world, made some 3.16 billion yuan (US$470 million) - becoming China's fifth highest grossing film of all time.

And while domestic success is enough to make or break a movie in China these days - Chinese box office revenue last year topped 60 billion yuan and it now has 20,000 more screens than the US - the big question is whether its productions can find an audience overseas.

See also: China's first big-budget sci-fi blockbuster hits jackpot at home, but what will foreign audiences make of it?


Singapore Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat just completed his budget speech in Parliament minutes ago. There's a lot to unpack here including a S$1.1 billion (US$810 million) bonus for all Singaporeans called the Bicentennial Bonus and $6.1 billion set aside towards easing the burden of healthcare costs for nearly 500,000 people. We're still working through the details of the two-hour-long speech but you can get all the latest on the budget here:


"Wow, this in-flight meal is delicious. I would order this in a restaurant," said no airline passenger ever. And yet, here we have a report that budget carrier AirAsia is planning to open a fast-food restaurant offering its in-flight food to people who are not a captive audience.

So far there are no details on pricing, location, whether you will get real cutlery or whether you have to pay a fee for seats with a little more legroom.

The real story we are not making up: AirAsia opening restaurant based on its in-flight menu, says CEO Tony Fernandes

That's it for today. See you tomorrow!



1. AirAsia opening restaurant based on its in-flight menu, says CEO Tony Fernandes

2. Malaysian MP offers RM10,000 reward for info on MRT robber who beat up woman in lift

3. Japan PM Abe nominated Trump for Nobel Peace Prize on US request: Asahi

4. Malaysian toddler dies after falling onto knife that pierced her abdomen in freak accident

5. Malaysian minister Yeo Bee Yin to tie the knot on March 29

6. Flap in China over 'toxic chicken soup for the soul'

7. Woman brutally beaten in KL lift robbery

8. Malaysian Islamist party PAS admits lying

9. Spanish fashion label Zara's freckle-faced ad 'insulting China'? Don't be so sensitive: China Daily editorial

10. Indian priest sentenced to 20 years in jail for raping minor

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