Asian Insider Oct 24: Indonesia’s ‘gado-gado’ Cabinet, Hong Kong, 'Ease of doing business' rankings

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

Hi,

Insider took an unscheduled midweek pause yesterday but is happy to be back again.

In today’s bulletin: Hong Kong protesters turn on mainlanders, Modi’s edifice complex and China moves up in ‘ease of business’ ranking.

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

JOKO’S KEDGEREE CABINET

The late US President Lyndon B Johnson famously responded, when asked why he chose to retain J Edgar Hoover, that he’d rather have the famed FBI director “inside the tent pissing out, than outside pissing in”.

Mr Joko Widodo, the Indonesian President, was probably thinking in similar lines when he offered the key role of defence minister to the man who ran twice against him for the presidency, controversial former general Prabowo Subianto. 

That, and the appointment as Education Minister of the country’s most famous tech entrepreneur, ride hailing company Gojek founder Nadiem Makarim, were the most headline catching moves made by Mr Joko as he settles in for his second, and final, presidential term. 

Correspondents Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja and Linda Yulisman report on the Cabinet lineup here: Indonesian President Joko Widodo unveils new Cabinet aimed at growing economy

Meanwhile, Regional Correspondent Arlina Arshad says this looks like a Cabinet of compromises with seasoned pols, technocrats, military men and ex-rivals forming a kedgeree. Locals, she says, are calling it: gado-gado. That’s a salad of assorted vegetables in peanut sauce much beloved in Indonesia.

Read more here: Jokowi's 'gado-gado' Cabinet of technocrats and politicians shows compromise: Experts

CHINA, INDIA: EASY DOES IT

China and India made the top 10 list of governments that have done the most in the past year to improve the ease of doing business in their countries, the World Bank said. New Zealand continues to top the global rankings, with Singapore retaining its second spot.

Despite a bitter trade war, in which the United States is demanding reforms from Beijing to protect intellectual property and open its economy further to American businesses, China made the top 10 improved list for the second year in a row, say Bloomberg and Agence France-Presse. With those improvements, China leapfrogged France to take the 31st spot in the "ease of doing business" ranking, moving up 15 places. 

India landed on the most-improved list for the third year in a row, jumping 14 places to No. 63. It achieved this by abolishing filing fees, lowering the time and cost of seeking construction permits and making trade easier with port improvements and an improved electronic platform for submitting documents.

Read more here: Singapore keeps 2nd place for ease of doing business; China, India among most improved: World Bank

HONG KONG PROTESTERS TARGET MAINLANDERS

Even as there seems to be no end in sight for Hong Kong’s endless anti-China protests, things are taking a decidedly ugly turn with people from the mainland raising fears of being targeted.

Hong Kong Correspondent Claire Huang says mainland Chinese, even if they have stayed neutral amidst the raging protests, have started taking precautions. Some even are considering moving elsewhere, like Singapore. 

 
 

The unrest that has hit the global financial hub for five months has made the city a precarious place to do business for those with links to China. On the other hand, there are protesters who believe that some mainland Chinese have ties to triads in Hong Kong. Since a gang of more than 100 men in white T-shirts attacked them in July, protesters have accused triad gangsters of provoking clashes by targeting activists and residents.

Chinese banks, including the Bank of China, ICBC and China Citic Bank, have not been spared, with rioters setting fire to debris at the branches and smashing ATM machines. Names of some Singapore businesses have also been floated by netizens who objected to recent comments made by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. PM Lee had remarked on Oct 16 at a conference that Hong Kong protesters were trying to "humiliate" and topple the government instead of trying to solve the city's problems.

Read more here: Fears mount as Hong Kong protesters hit Chinese businesses

MODI’S EDIFICE COMPLEX

The Modi government’s disdain for the Nehru-Gandhi family that so dominates the Congress Party is no secret. Nor too their distaste for the political-bureaucratic-military elite gathered in the British-built seat of administration, widely known as Lutyens Delhi, named after Edwin Lutyen, the British architect who planned the capital city during British rule. 

The Modi government’s response: change the face of the national capital.

India Bureau Chief Nirmala Ganapathy says the Indian government has invited bids for a revamp of the Central Vista, and also redevelopment of the Parliament building or construction of a new one, and potential demolition of government offices to make way for a common secretariat for all ministries.

The government has said it will not touch heritage structures, but wants to rebuild office buildings to cut down costs of maintenance and put in infrastructure like toilets and eateries for tourists. Conservationists and heritage groups are screaming.

Read more here: India has big plans for iconic heritage area

NO CHILL PILLS HERE

At their highest level meeting since their bilateral row flared earlier this year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon agreed on Thursday on the importance of cooperating on North Korea and other issues, seeking to rebuild relations amid a bitter feud over history and trade. 

But Reuters reports that there was scant sign of real progress and Mr Abe reiterated that South Korea would need to keep its promises for ties between the two Asian allies of Washington to improve.

Relations between Tokyo and Seoul have deteriorated to their lowest in decades since South Korea’s top court last October ordered some Japanese firms to compensate Koreans forced to work in their wartime mines and factories.

Mr Lee, who was in Tokyo to attend Japanese Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony this week, delivered to Mr Abe a personal letter from South Korean President Moon Jae-in in which Moon called for attempts to resolve the pending bilateral issues, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported. Messrs Moon and Abe have not held a summit in more than a year and the statements made no mention of any meeting planned between the two.

Read more here: Japan’s Shinzo Abe renews call on South Korea to keep promises to mend ties

SIKH ROUTE

Pakistan and India signed an agreement that would open a corridor to allow Sikh pilgrims to visit one of their holiest shrines despite a flare-up in tensions over Kashmir.

Wire reports said the project, hailed as a peace corridor, has survived a deterioration in relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours since India revoked the special constitutional status of its part of Kashmir. The ‘Kartarpur Corridor’ is meant to allow Sikh pilgrims from India to visit Kartarpur Sahib in the eastern Pakistani province of Punjab.

"Today we have signed the agreement on Kartarpur with India," Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said on Thursday.

Under the agreement, up to 5,000 pilgrims can visit seven days a week. The pilgrims can stay from dawn to dusk after paying a service charge. The first group of pilgrims from India will arrive on Nov 9, the day Prime Minister Imran Khan is scheduled to formally inaugurate the corridor. 

Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, spent the last 18 years of his life and died at Kartarpur Sahib, which is now in Pakistan.

Read more here: In rare act of cooperation, India and Pakistan decide to open religious corridor in November

IN OTHER NEWS

China Commieclave: China's ruling Communist Party will hold a long-delayed leadership meeting next week, state media said on Thursday, as Beijing battles unrest in Hong Kong, a lingering trade war and a slowing economy. The much-delayed Fourth Plenum of the party's Central Committee is a closed-door meeting of high-ranking officials. It will run from Oct 28 to 31 in Beijing, and will be the first since February 2018.

Ghosn Plea: Former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn on Thursday urged a Tokyo court to dismiss the case against him, accusing Japanese prosecutors of a "pervasive pattern of illegal misconduct". The claims, made in two filings to the Tokyo District Court, allege that prosecutors colluded with Nissan and effectively subcontracted out their investigation to employees of the automaker who were trying to oust Ghosn.

Terrorist Release: Unrepentant terrorist Yazid Sufaat, the only Malaysian with links to the 9/11 bombers, is set to be freed from prison next month, says Malaysia Correspondent Nadirah Rodzi. Malaysia's national police chief has confirmed a report in The Straits Times last Saturday that the 55-year-old US-trained biochemist, who once attempted to produce weapons of mass destruction for Al-Qaeda, would be released from Simpang Renggam Prison, where he has spent two years, the maximum allowed under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota).

Pence Talking: US Vice President Mike Pence, who often happily plays ‘bad cop’ on the China account, is set to deliver a key speech on China later today. Our Washington Bureau will be tracking his speech, which comes a year after a similar address gave the clearest signals of the deteriorating US-China relationship. 

Track these, and other Asia-related developments on our website www.straitstimes.com.

Meanwhile, seize the day!

Ravi