Asian Insider, Oct 29: India hits grim Covid-19 milestone, Umno’s top council meets tonight

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In today's bulletin:

India hits bleak Covid-19 landmark, Umno's top council to meet tonight, US, Indonesia talk South China Sea, Taiwan fighter jet crash, violence in the US elections, and more.

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India crossed a grim milestone of 8 million coronavirus cases on Thursday (Oct 29), with a daily rise of nearly 50,000 infections. The world's second-most populous nation also has the second-highest tally of Covid-19 cases after the United States. The Marshall Islands in the Pacific, meanwhile, confirmed its first infection - ending its status as one of the few nations in the world to remain virus free - and Sri Lanka's capital is going back into lockdown.

While many places around the world are hitting new highs in Covid-19 infections, Taiwan has achieved a different kind of record - 200 days without a locally transmitted case. The island holds the world's best virus record by far, even as the pathogen explodes anew in Europe and the United States.

The global resurgence in coronavirus cases poses a high risk to the world's economic recovery as various countries impose tighter restrictions to contain the spread of the disease, according to Reuters polls of some 500 economists. Asian stock markets fell on Thursday - but not as sharply as Wall Street's rout overnight - as the region's brighter economic outlook offset investor worries about fresh lockdowns in Europe.

The latest in Covid-19 travel news:

Singapore to allow travellers from China, Australia's Victoria from Nov 6; no quarantine if Covid-19 test negative

Get more coronavirus updates at our dedicated website.


The top decision-making council of Malaysia's biggest ruling party Umno is set to meet on Thursday evening, days after announcing its continued support for the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government. The agenda of the special meeting is unclear, but sources say it is believed to have been called to discuss the possibility of the deputy prime ministership being given to Umno, a post it has been pushing for to remain loyal to PN.

Meanwhile, Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the National Security Council will study proposed standard operating procedures to be in place for the Batu Sapi by-election, with strict measures to be in place due to raging Covid-19 cases in Sabah. The Batu Sapi seat fell vacant after the death of Datuk Liew Vui Keong on Oct 2, and it must be filled within 60 days as stipulated by the federal constitution, the defence minister said.

In case you missed it:

Regional Correspondent Leslie Lopez: Muhyiddin gets a breather, but for how long?


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has rejected China's "unlawful claims" in the South China Sea and pledged to cooperate with Indonesia "in new ways" to ensure maritime security in the area, Regional Correspondent Arlina Arshad reports. On his stopover trip in Jakarta on Thursday, he praised the country's "decisive action" to safeguard its maritime sovereignty around the Natuna Islands.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the South China Sea should be maintained as "a stable and peaceful sea" where international law is respected and implemented. Experts in the country say a strong US military presence in the region may help to contain China's growing assertiveness in the contested waters, but Indonesia, in principle, will never enter into any formal alliances with major powers.

In other news on the South China Sea:

Philippines building up fleet in South China Sea to counter Chinese


The high risk of election-related violence during and beyond the US presidential election on Nov 3 is worrying, experts tell US Bureau Chief Nirmal Ghosh in Asian Insider's latest video this week. The premiere of the interview airs at 8pm on ST's YouTube channel.

US President Donald Trump is the "accelerant on top of all this", Dr Colin P. Clarke, senior research fellow at global security consultancy The Soufan Centre, says. "His rhetoric has been… incendiary, deliberately so, and he has basically stoked the flames and amplified tensions."

The preconditions for "rural insurgency" are already in place, Assistant Professor Vasabjit Banerjee at Mississippi State University's Department of Political Science and Public Administration adds. The availability of rough and remote terrain, political cover, and in some cases weak or complicit law enforcement, may facilitate potential violence.

Get the latest US presidential election updates at our dedicated website.


China has taken more steps this month to loosen its grip on the yuan than at any other time since curbs were imposed in 2015. Although the changes were widely interpreted as an attempt to slow the currency's appreciation, they have been deployed without significantly weakening the yuan or destabilising global financial markets.

Instead, the result has been a steady Chinese currency that remains near a two-year high - potentially emboldening officials looking to push ahead with yuan reform. A growing consensus among analysts is that the yuan has every reason to stay strong, even if appreciation happens at a slower pace from now.

Earlier this month:

China acts to slow yuan's rapid ascent without causing panic


Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha gave the green light to amending the kingdom's constitution on Wednesday, as the parliament's two-day special debate on the country's ongoing political crisis wrapped up. But the parliament must still follow the current constitution, as it remains in effect until a new one is established, he said.

Charter amendment is one of three core demands being made by Thailand's pro-democracy protesters. They have also demanded the resignation of Mr Prayut and his government, and reforms of the monarchy. Mr Prayut has insisted he will not resign, but said he had no objection to "switching off" the unelected Senate's power to vote for a prime minister.

Read also:

Germany does not believe Thai king has breached state business ban


TAIWAN FIGHTER JET CRASHES, FUELLING WORRIES ABOUT AGEING FLEET: A Taiwanese fighter jet crashed and its pilot was killed while training over the Western Pacific on Thursday morning, highlighting concerns about the island's ageing military fleet at a time of increased pressure from China's air force. Rescuers are searching for a Taiwanese F-5 jet after it plunged into the sea off the east coast of Taitung county during a training exercise.

PANDEMIC SLOWS VIETNAM'S RESPONSE TO DEADLY FLOODS: A series of storms buffeting Vietnam this month has underscored the complexity of responding to disasters during the coronavirus pandemic. In such emergencies, rescue teams would normally be dispatched from neighbouring countries to help. But this time, owing to the pandemic, Vietnamese officials have declined such offers of assistance.

CHINESE SPACECRAFT SET FOR MARS LANDING IN MAY: A Chinese spacecraft is expected to land on Mars in May, the state-run China News Service has reported. The spacecraft, which left Earth in July, is set to land in Utopia Planitia, a plain in the northern hemisphere of Mars. Separate spacecraft launched by the US and the United Arab Emirates this year are also en route to Mars, though only the US one will attempt a landing.

GIGANTIC CORAL REEF DISCOVERED OFF AUSTRALIA: Scientists have discovered a massive coral reef - higher than the Empire State Building - at the northern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. Measuring more than 500m high, the detached reef is the first to be discovered in more than 120 years. The reef is also taller than the Sydney Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers, both of which measure 305m and 452m respectively.

That's it for today. Hope you enjoyed today's stories, and check back for more tomorrow.


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