Asian Insider, Nov 18: US Navy plans new fleet in Indo-Pacific; China’s rift with Australia

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

Hi all, 

In today’s bulletin: US Navy plans new fleet in the Indo-Pacific; China explains reasons for its rift with Australia; A study shows Sinovac’s Covid-19 vaccine induces quick immune response; Xi Jinping’s ‘dual-circulation’ strategy; Covid-19 shakes up list of world’s most expensive cities, and more.

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US Navy plans new fleet in the Indo-Pacific

The Secretary of the United States Navy has called for the establishment of a new fleet closer to the intersect of the Indian and Pacific oceans, in a move that could strengthen America's Indo-Pacific strategy. 

"We can't just rely on the Seventh Fleet in Japan," Mr Kenneth Braithwaite was quoted as saying at a symposium that was reported in USNI News, the journal of the US Naval Institute. Adding a First Fleet would alleviate some of the strain on the Seventh Fleet, the report said.

Mr Braithwaite's remarks follow America's participation in the second phase of the annual Malabar naval exercises in the northern Arabian Sea involving Australia, India and Japan.

China explains reasons for rift with Australia

China gave its most detailed explanation yet on its differences with Australia blaming recent measures by Canberra, which had hurt Chinese sentiments, for the rift between them. 

Some people in Australia adhere to a Cold War mentality, harbour ideological prejudice, regard China's development as a threat, and have then made a series of wrong moves related to China, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a briefing, describing these factors as the "root cause" for worsening relations between the two countries. 

Beijing-Canberra relations have been on a downward spiral after Canberra barred Huawei from building its 5G network and Prime Minister Scott Morrison's government called for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak. The remarks by the Chinese diplomat coincided with Mr Morrison's visit to Tokyo where he signed a new defence agreement with Japan. 

Also read: 

Cases of wine piling up in Australia as China shuns imports

Sinovac's Covid-19 vaccine induces quick immune response: Study

After news this month from US drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna that showed their experimental vaccines were over 90 per cent effective, reports emerged today that said Sinovac Biotech's experimental Covid-19 vaccine CoronaVac triggered a quick immune response. The level of antibodies produced, however, was lower than in people who had recovered from the disease, according to preliminary trial results. 

The Sinovac findings, published in a peer-reviewed paper in medical journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases, came from results in Phase I and Phase II clinical trials in China involving more than 700 participants. The findings make the vaccine suitable for emergency use during the pandemic, wrote Dr Zhu Fengcai, one of the authors of the paper.

Meanwhile, other reports raised concern that China was rushing to use unproven vaccines.

Also read 

Pfizer reaches safety milestone for Covid-19 vaccine, CEO says

Xi Jinping's 'dual circulation' strategy and China's vision of the future

China's 14th Five-Year Plan unveiled late last month has attracted much attention although there is still some confusion about what China means by the "dual circulation" economic development strategy that underpins the plan.

Some believe that it is about meeting increased demand by domestic production instead of imports while others say it is an import substitution strategy. Another view of dual circulation is that it is a course of action that China has to take if it wants to keep growing economically, writes Global Affairs Correspondent Goh Sui Noi. 

The latest development plan, a response to both external and internal conditions, could see the country's economy double in 15 years, and make it the world's largest economy. 

Delve deeper: 

China's new growth plan may push economy past US within decade

Covid-19 shakes up list of world's costliest cities

Paris and Zurich joined Hong Kong as this year's costliest cities worldwide as Singapore and Osaka slipped from their joint-top spot after the coronavirus pandemic weakened the US dollar, a survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit showed. Other cities in the top 10 most expensive cities list include Tel Aviv, Osaka, Geneva, New York, Copenhagen and Los Angeles.

In other news...

3,000 Singapore civil servants to get $10m in compensation after errors: Nearly 3,000 former and current civil servants will receive compensation totaling a sum of $10million after errors were found in their records, which impacted benefits they received such as starting salaries and medical leave wages. The Civil Service will compensate both current and past officers who were underpaid due to these errors.

Thai MPs under pressure to vote on reforms: Thai Parliament was under pressure to vote on possible constitutional reforms as protesters returned to the streets of Bangkok today, a day after six people were shot in violent clashes between pro-democracy and royalist supporters. Tuesday's confrontations have been described as the most serious since the protests began in July.

Ex-Hong Kong lawmakers arrested: Three ex-Hong Kong lawmakers were arrested for joining protests in the city's legislative chamber, in a move that has renewed concerns about Beijing's moves to ramp up pressure on the opposition. The three have been accused of trying to disrupt a June vote in the Legislative Council on a measure banning criticism of the national anthem.

Taiwan grounds F-16s after second accident: Taiwan’s air force has grounded its F-16 fleet after losing a plane on a training mission, in the second loss of a fighter jet in less than a month. Late Tuesday, Taiwan’s air force said a US-built F-16 vanished shortly after taking off from the Hualien air base on the east coast on a routine training mission.  

Thanks for reading this newsletter & The Straits Times. We’ll be back with you with more on all that’s happening in this region, tomorrow.

Shefali