Asian Insider, Nov 26: Australia's stranded coal, Cambodia defers treason trial, China's corporate debt

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

Hi all, 

In today’s bulletin: Australia works to break its coal stalemate with China; Cambodia defers a treason trial of more than 100 opposition figures; Malaysia tests 1.7 million foreign workers for Covid-19; China's corporate debt bears watching; and more.

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Australia works to break China coal stalemate

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he has appointed his "best people" to work on breaking a stalemate that has seen more than 50 ships laden with Australian coal stranded off Chinese ports, as tensions between the trading partners increase.

More than US$500 million (S$669.26 million) worth of Australian coal and about 1,000 crew on the ships are stuck after China blacklisted a wide swathe of Australian commodities and foodstuffs, amid what Mr Morrison described on Thursday (Nov 26) as an "extraordinary period" in the relationship.
China, which said on Wednesday that the coal shipments were delayed due to strengthening of examination and testing of the imports, has become increasingly vocal in recent weeks in saying Australia is to blame for strained ties. A Chinese diplomat in Canberra last week gave a document to Australian media outlets outlining 14 grievances and accusing the nation of "poisoning bilateral relations".

Mending ties won't be easy: Mr Morrison's ministers have had no direct contact with their counterparts in Beijing since at least April. That's when Australia exacerbated existing grievances with China by calling for independent investigators to be allowed into Wuhan to probe the origins of the coronavirus.

Read also:

Australian businesses forced to adjust as China trade curbs bite

Cambodian court defers treason trial

A Cambodian court convened on Thursday (Nov 26) for the treason trial of more than 100 opposition figures and then deferred proceedings until next year, delaying a case widely condemned as a move by long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen to decimate his political rivals. Deputy prosecutor and court spokesman Kuch Kimlong confirmed judges had decided the case be divided into two and heard in January and March.

A total of 121 defendants, all tied to the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), were summoned to appear on Thursday but many have fled into exile, convinced they would not get a fair hearing. The CNRP was banned and its leader Kem Sokha arrested ahead of an election in 2018, allowing Mr Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party to win every parliamentary seat.

See also:

Cambodian opposition activists sentenced for treason

Malaysia to test 1.7m foreign workers for Covid-19

Malaysia on Wednesday (Nov 25) ordered mandatory Covid-19 screening for 1.7 million foreign workers as the number of confirmed cases has spiked among them. The authorities have also started imposing a fine of RM50,000 (S$16,442) per worker, effective Thursday (Nov 26), on employers if their foreign staff are housed in crowded spaces.

This announcement came as 2,684 workers - most of them foreigners - of the world's biggest maker of rubber gloves Top Glove have tested positive for Covid-19. The company, which employs 21,000 workers globally including 11,000 in Malaysia and makes just under two-thirds of the world's medical rubber gloves, on Wednesday defended its worker welfare record, reported Malaysia correspondent Hazlin Hassan.

Read also:

Surge in demand globally for ultra-cold freezers ahead of Covid-19 vaccine roll-out

Hong Kong will empower doctors to mandate Covid-19 tests for suspected virus patients

Be wary of China's corporate debt

China’s onshore and offshore corporate bond defaults are expected to rise, and early signs suggest that state-owned enterprises (SOEs) can no longer expect implicit state guarantees, Associate Editor Ravi Velloor has written. South-east Asia must watch developments closely as a company that goes belly up hurts investors and the financial institutions that lent it money, he said.

Onshore delinquencies in China have reached 104 billion yuan, or nearly US$16 billion, so far this year, according to Bloomberg data. The offshore figure is US$8.1 billion, more than twice the total last year. Missed principal and interest payments have amounted to 34 billion yuan so far this year, constituting the second-biggest trigger of company defaults.

Read also:

China Vice-Premier Liu He vows zero tolerance for misconduct after recent bond defaults

New Zealand to declare climate emergency

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's government is to declare a climate emergency, in a symbolic step to increase pressure for action to combat global warming. The government will put forward a motion to declare the emergency next Wednesday (Dec 2), the government said as Parliament reconvened after a general election won by Ms Ardern's party. 

In her last term, Ms Ardern's government passed a Zero Carbon Bill, which sets the framework for net zero emissions by 2050, with cross-party support in Parliament. If a climate emergency is passed, New Zealand would join countries like Canada, France and Britain that have taken the same course to focus efforts on tackling climate change. Last week, Japanese lawmakers declared a climate emergency and committed to a firm timetable for net-zero emissions.

See also:

Carbon pricing rises as world's weapon of choice in climate fight

In other news...

South Korea, China vow cooperation: The foreign ministers of South Korea and China pledged on Thursday (Nov 26) to work together to advance bilateral ties and tackle regional and global issues including stalled nuclear talks involving North Korea and the coronavirus pandemic.

Australia dismisses soldiers over Afghan killings: Australia has issued termination notices to at least 10 special forces soldiers after the release of a report that found credible evidence of unlawful killings in Afghanistan. An independent report published last week in redacted form said there was evidence that 39 unarmed Afghan prisoners and civilians were killed by 19 Australian soldiers.

India's coding craze: As Indian parents dream of their offspring becoming the next Sundar Pichai, Google's Indian-origin CEO, firms have been cashing in on that hope, offering coding lessons to children as young as those in kindergarten. 

That's it for today, thanks for reading. We'll be back tomorrow.

Sui Noi