Asian Insider Nov 8: US deal, Boeing’s worry and thwarted Cambodian oppositionists

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In today's bulletin: The US and China may have a deal, Lion Air signals a new worry for Boeing and a focus on Cambodia’s crackdown on the opposition.

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FINALLY, A US-CHINA DEAL?

First, China said a deal is in sight on some aspects of its raging trade dispute with the United States. Now, US officials seem to confirm this, telling the New York Times that an initial trade deal between the two countries would roll back a portion of the tariffs placed on each other's products, a significant step towards defusing tensions between the world's largest economies.

The NYT said however, that an agreement has not yet been completed, and a deal could fail to materialise as it has in previous rounds of negotiations. But if a pact is reached, the Trump administration has committed to cutting some tariffs, according to a US official and other people with knowledge of the negotiations.

Earlier, our China Correspondent Lim Yan Liang, citing Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Gao Feng, had reported that cutting tariffs "in the same proportion and simultaneously" is an important condition in reaching a phase-one deal.

Stock markets rallied after Mr Gao's comments, the first concrete sign in months that not only is a partial deal between the world's two largest economies in sight, but also that the unwinding of punitive tariffs that have dragged global economic growth is on the table. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index climbed 0.6 per cent, while contracts on the S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq all jumped.

In my weekly Speaking of Asia column I argue that recent accommodative comments from US Vice President Mike Pence and the likelihood of a trade deal notwithstanding, the long term trajectory of US-China ties seem fraught and the process of decoupling the economies is well on its way. You can read it here: Pence markers on the China decoupling road

Related story: US downplays Chinese announcement that tariff rollback is on the cards

BOEING’S NEW HEADACHE

Indonesia’s Lion Air has found structural cracks in two Boeing Co 737 NG planes with fewer flights than a US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) threshold for checks, Indonesia's aviation safety regulator said on Friday.

The discovery could make it more likely the FAA will require airline operators to inspect 737 NGs with fewer than 22,600 cycles, which had not been mandated previously. Each cycle typically represents one flight, with a takeoff and a landing.The cracks are on what is known as the "pickle fork," a part that attaches the plane's fuselage, or body, to the wing structure.

One of the airline's newer 737 Max jets last year crashed shortly after takeoff from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board and leading to heightened scrutiny on the carrier's maintenance operations by Indonesia's safety regulator.

An FAA spokesman said the agency had asked operators to report any cracks so it could assess whether it needed to change its inspection orders. The Lion Air jets with cracks had fewer than 22,000 cycles and are now grounded for repairs, a spokesman for the airline said. Lion Air performed the checks even though they were not yet required to "ensure security and safety of the flights," he said.

Related story: Boeing settles first Lion Air lawsuits for at least US$1.2 million apiece: Sources

CHINA: HU’S NEXT

The only son of China's former president Hu Jintao has been offered a promotion to a post equivalent in rank to a Cabinet vice-minister, as part of a programme to groom young cadres, two sources with ties to the leadership have told our veteran China watcher Benjamin Kang Lim.

Ben says it is unclear if Mr Hu Haifeng would accept the proposal which would initially elevate him to acting mayor of the north-eastern port city of Dalian, in Liaoning province. He could not be reached for comment. The promotion could come as early as this year, one of the party sources said, requesting anonymity. He would formally become mayor after confirmation by the local People's Congress, or legislature.

If confirmed, Mr Hu would replace Mr Tan Chengxu, 56, who was named board chairman and party secretary of state-owned Angang Iron and Steel Corp last month. Mr Hu has been party secretary of Lishui city in the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang since July last year, holding a rank equivalent to director-general of a department under a ministry. As party secretary, he outranks the mayor.

Mr Hu's father was China's fourth-generation leader after Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin.

Related story: China to groom next generation of leaders

CAMBODIAN ROADBLOCK

Is the Asean way of mutual accommodation and excessive politeness leading Thailand and Malaysia to help the regime in Cambodia suppress political oppression? Some human rights activists are asking the question after self-exiled members of the Cambodian opposition who planned to return were thwarted in their journeys by Bangkok and Putrajaya.

Indochina Bureau Chief Tan Hui Yee says Ms Mu Sochua, vice-president of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was detained by immigration officials at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at around midnight on Wednesday, two weeks after she was turned away at Thailand's Suvarnabhumi Airport. CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy was prevented from boarding a Thai Airways flight from Paris to Bangkok yesterday, after Thai Premier Prayut Chan-o-cha publicly rejected his request for safe passage through Thailand.

CNRP, which won 44.5 per cent of votes in Cambodia's 2013 general election, was dissolved in 2017 following the arrest of its president Kem Sokha for attempting to overthrow the government.A year later, Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party won a clean sweep of all the seats in Parliament. Ms Sochua fled Cambodia in 2017 just before the crackdown but announced plans to return on Nov 9 - Cambodia's Independence Day - alongside exiled CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy. Phnom Penh accuses them of fomenting a coup.

Meanwhile, the US expressed concern over Cambodia's crackdown on opposition, wire services reported.

Also read: Cambodia deploys troops as opposition leader Sam Rainsy vows dramatic return

SINGAPORE ROLL CALL

Singapore MPs attending Parliament will soon be tracked using a facial recognition system, says Senior Political Correspondent Grace Ho. According to tender documents on government procurement portal GeBiz on Thursday, the Parliament Secretariat will be implementing the facial recognition to replace manual tracking.

The Secretariat, which oversees the organisation of Parliament proceedings, supports the Speaker of Parliament. Currently, attendance is manually recorded in the official minutes of Parliament proceedings. The system, which will include solutions development, software licence and hardware such as the server, network switch, client laptop and video cameras, will enable Parliament to determine how many, and which, MPs are present during any sitting in real time.

Currently, attendance is manually recorded in the official minutes of Parliament proceedings. The quorum for a sitting is one-quarter of the total number of MPs excluding the Speaker. Under the Singapore Constitution, an MP will be stripped of his seat if he is absent from Parliament sittings, or any Parliament committee to which he has been appointed, for two consecutive months without prior permission from the Speaker.

IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

HONG KONG STUDENT DIES: Chow Tsz Lok, 22, an undergraduate student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST)  who fell during protests at the weekend died early on Friday morning, marking the first student death during the anti-government demonstrations that have roiled the city. Mr Chow’s death is expected to spark fresh protests and fuel anger and resentment against the police, who are already under immense pressure amid accusations of excessive force as the city grapples with its worst political crisis in decades.

JACKIE CHAN SPURNED: Martial-arts film star Jackie Chan's planned visit to Vietnam for a charity has been cancelled following an online backlash related to Beijing's expansive claims in the disputed South China Sea. The Hong Kong-born actor was set to visit Hanoi on Nov 10 to support Operation Smile, a charity that gives free surgery to children with facial disfigurements. But the plans were scrapped after thousands of angry Facebook users flooded the charity's official page when his visit was announced last week.

BATAM BRIDGE MISHAP: At least 26 Singaporeans were injured after a bridge collapse at a luxury hotel in next-door Batam, Indonesia. The Muslim self-help group Mendaki said its 26 employees were in Batam for a retreat to discuss work plans for next year. See Correspondent Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja’s report here. 

TOKYO READIES STIMULUS: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday asked his Cabinet to compile a package of stimulus measures to support the export-reliant economy and build infrastructure to cope with large natural disasters. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the package will include steps to promote investment for growth through aggressive use of fiscal investment and loan programmes.

That’s it for today’s bulletin. 

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Meanwhile, seize the day!

Ravi