Asian Insider, Nov 30: China plans to raise retirement age, Thais protest, Singapore boosts food production

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

Hi all,

In today's bulletin: China's plan to raise the retirement age to cope with a rapidly ageing population sparks anger among the public; Thai protesters march to an army barracks to challenge the King's personal control over some army units; Singapore wants to grow more food locally as the pandemic and climate change raise worries of global food shortages; and more.

Reading this on the web or know someone who might enjoy receiving Asian Insider? Our sign-up page is here.

China's plan to raise retirement age sparks anger

China is making a new push to raise one of the world's lowest retirement ages as it tries to cope with a rapidly ageing population, a move that's fuelling public discontent and will test the Communist Party's ability to implement reforms. The ruling party alluded to the change earlier this month when it released an outline of its five-year economic plan, which included a recommendation to "implement postponing the retirement age". Specific measures in the plan are due to be unveiled in March.

China's retirement age has remained unchanged for more than four decades at 60 for men and 55 for female white-collar workers, even as life-expectancy has risen. In places like Japan and Taiwan, most men and women can retire and start drawing a pension at 65.

Experts say raising the age at which workers are eligible for state-supported pensions is crucial for ensuring the sustainability of the retirement system. Raising the retirement age would also help China maintain economic growth, by slowing the rate at which the working-age population shrinks as a result of falling birth rates.

A public backlash derailed a previous proposal to increase the pension eligibility age in 2012.

See also:

China planning new policies to take on ageing population: State media

Thai protesters challenge King's military command

Thousands of anti-government Thai protesters marched to an army barracks on Sunday (Nov 29) to challenge King Maha Vajiralongkorn's personal control over some army units. It was the latest act of defiance against the King by protesters who have broken taboos by criticising the monarchy. The Thai constitution says the monarchy must be revered and laws ban insulting the institution.

Protesters, many carrying inflatable ducks which have become a protest mascot, stopped at the gates of the 11th Infantry Regiment, part of the King's Guard that played a role in the suppression of anti-establishment protests in 2010. Lines of riot police blocked protesters at the gate.

Protests which began in July initially demanded the departure of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former junta leader, and a new Constitution, but now also seek to curb the powers of the King.

Read also:

Twitter suspends Thai royalist account linked to influence campaign

Thai protest leaders face charges of insulting monarchy

Singapore boosting local food production amid pandemic

Singapore is stepping up efforts to grow more food locally, with the ongoing pandemic highlighting how diversifying food sources may not be enough to ensure a stable supply, reports environment correspondent Audrey Tan. Plans to bump up local food production continued over the past year, even as the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted global supply chains, she quoted Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment (MSE), as saying in an interview with The Straits Times last week.

While efforts are made to diversify food sources, there is a worry that there could be shortages from all sources. Shoppers rushing to supermarkets and emptying shelves there during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic alluded to the possibility of a global food shortage, said Ms Fu. With climate change and extreme weather, it is also conceivable that there may be a shortage on a global scale.

Singapore last year set a goal - dubbed 30X30 - to produce 30 per cent of its own food by 2030, up from less than 10 per cent today. The Government wants farmers to do this by leveraging technology. The pandemic has not set back this goal, with efforts sped up to help local farms ramp up production over the next six to 24 months.

Read also:

South Korea decides against tightening Covid-19 rules despite third wave

First foreign students arrive in Australia since coronavirus closure in March

China's factory activity expanded at the fastest pace in more than three years in November

Farmers hurt whenever Java volcano erupts

Farmers huddled at a makeshift shelter of Tlogolele village are worried about Indonesia's most active volcano Mt Merapi erupting again, reports Indonesia correspondent Linda Yulisman. More than 2,000 people from four districts have been moved to shelters near the villages as the country's geological agency raised Merapi's alert level to the second highest on Nov 5 due to increased volcano activity.

Memories of the volcano's last major eruption in 2010 that killed more than 300 people and displaced 20,000 are still vivid. But the land surrounding the volcano is fertile from the ash it spews and highly suitable for farming. Around a quarter of a million people live within a 10km radius of the volcano benefiting from it but also threatened by it.

Evacuees like Mr Bambang goes back every day to his farm 20km away to feed his cattle. This time, he and the others have the added worry of Covid-19.

See also:

Thousands flee as Indonesian volcano bursts to life

A look at Indonesia's volcanic hot spots

China, US in race to lead in climate change

Beijing has laid out ambitious climate goals. In September, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared at the United Nations General Assembly that the country was aiming to hit peak carbon emissions by 2030 and become carbon neutral before 2060 - the first time the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases has laid out a long-term trajectory for its decarbonisation.

China's drive to become a global leader in climate issues and green technology will have a competitor in the United States now that the Trump administration is on its way out. President-elect Joe Biden is intent on rebuilding America's climate leadership and will appoint former secretary of state John Kerry as its climate czar.

Climate experts are now watching closely if Beijing's actions will match its words, and whether it will cooperate with Washington on what is the most pressing issue of our time.

In other news...

Australia bush fire destroys part of world heritage site: Australian firefighters are struggling to control a massive bush fire that has destroyed 40 per cent of the Unesco world heritage listed Fraser Island as a heatwave sweeping the region raises concerns of hotter conditions that will fuel the blaze.

China plans hydropower on key Tibet river: China is planning to develop hydropower on the Yarlung Tsangpo River in Tibet that flows through India and Bangladesh as the Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers, which are important for irrigation and have religious significance in the two South Asian countries.

Australia demands Chinese apology: Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday (Nov 30) Canberra is seeking an apology from Beijing about a tweet by a Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman containing a false image of an Australian soldier holding the knife to the throat of an Afghan child.

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

Sui Noi

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.