Asian Insider, Oct 8: Harris-Pence debate, Anwar to see M’sian King next week, India’s tech firms stand up to Google, and more

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

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In today’s bulletin: How the Harris-Pence US vice-presidential debate fanned out, Anwar to see Malaysia King to prove Parliament majority, India’s tech firms stand up to Google, Singapore’s cruises to nowhere, and more.

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US Vice-President Mike Pence and Democratic challenger Kamala Harris clashed early and often over the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in their debate on Wednesday (Oct 7). The policy-heavy exchange stood in stark contrast to the chaotic presidential debate between Mr Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. 

Ms Harris, fulfilling the running mate’s traditional attack role, went after Mr Trump’s record on healthcare and the economy to climate change and foreign policy. “The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” she said. Mr Pence responded by blaming China for the pandemic and touting the administration’s efforts to battle the disease.

The exchange was relatively civil - a welcome change from Mr Trump and Mr Biden’s presidential debate - though both speakers often evaded the questions directed at them. But Mr Pence’s and Ms Harris’ performances are unlikely to change voters’ minds and alter the trajectory of the presidential race, US Bureau Chief Nirmal Ghosh writes.

Delve deeper: 

Takeaways from US vice-presidential debate between Pence and Harris 

Despite Covid-19, Trump edges back into campaign spotlight 


Buzz off! Errant housefly on Pence's head photobombs V-P debate


Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim says he will meet with the country's King to present his case for taking over the premiership from Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. Datuk Seri Anwar said Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin had agreed to grant him an audience next Tuesday, when he will present documentation "of the strong and convincing majority" of Members of Parliament backing his claim to the premiership. There has been talk that he had the support of 121 out of the 222 MPs, but many MPs from Umno and Gabungan Parti Sarawak have denied support for him. 

Meanwhile, Malaysians' souring view of the government's role in the country’s coronavirus resurgence has led to calls for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to step down. In a televised address on Tuesday, Tan Sri Muhyiddin exhorted the nation to abide by the government’s anti-virus orders, insisting that punishment would be meted out "without regard for rank and status". But his remarks left many incensed by his denial of double standards that favour members of the administration in enforcing the rules, Malaysia Bureau Chief Shannon Teoh writes

In other news on Malysian politics: 

Islamist party PAS has a lawmaker in Sabah's state assembly for the first time 

Govt explains why Muhyiddin wasn’t wearing Covid-19 quarantine wristband


Japan plans to remove a ban on overseas travel to China and 11 other countries next month, the Yomiuri newspaper reported. The 11 other countries and regions include Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam and Malaysia. 

The Japanese government, which currently bans travel to 159 countries and regions, will recommend that travellers refrain from unnecessary and non-urgent visits to those 12 countries, the newspaper said. Japan also plans to permit Japanese and foreign national business travellers with residency status to re-enter the country without having to isolate for two weeks, according to the Nikkei.


When former US President Barack Obama drew a red line in Syria on the use of chemical weapons by its President Bashar al Assad in that country’s civil war, he did not enforce it – eroding the credibility of American power. But in 2018 President Donald Trump did, by striking Syria with a barrage of missiles.

“Mr Obama made wonderful speeches but was never really comfortable about exercising power,” former top Singapore diplomat Bilahari Kausikan tells Asian Insider host Nirmal Ghosh in the latest episode of the weekly video and podcast, as he expounds on why we should not idealise Washington's pre-Trump foreign policy and what to expect if former vice-president Joe Biden wins the presidential election. Catch the premiere at 8pm on ST’s YouTube channel here.


A group of aggrieved Indian start-ups are pooling resources to take on what they say is Google's dominance of the country's digital ecosystem, India Correspondent Debarshi Dasgupta reports. Their pushback could draw support from the government as well as judicial intervention. 

Leading the charge is popular Indian digital wallet Paytm, which has launched an Android mini app store in its bid to reduce dependence on the US tech behemoth's Play Store. Google has already been forced to take note of growing criticism of its policies in India, issuing a statement this week promising to set up "listening sessions with Indian startups to understand their concerns more deeply".


Two cruise lines have received the go-ahead to offer "cruises to nowhere" from Singapore starting in November, after a set of safety guidelines was introduced to prevent the on-board spread of the coronavirus. 

Genting Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International, which are homeported in Singapore, will be part of a "safe cruise" pilot catering only to Singapore residents at a reduced capacity of 50 per cent, the Singapore Tourism Board said. These will be round trip cruises with no ports of call, and passengers will be tested for Covid-19 prior to boarding.


INDONESIA’S PRESIDENT JOKO, VISITING KALIMANTAN, ISN’T RUNNING AWAY FROM PROTESTS: Indonesian President Joko Widodo working visit to Central Kalimantan on Thursday was planned long ago, the Presidential Secretariat said, denying claims on social media that he was avoiding mass protests against a controversial new law. Mass protests have broken out from Tuesday in Greater Jakarta against the highly controversial Job Creation Law, following its passage in Parliament on Monday. 

THAILAND GRANTS FRESH TAX BREAKS TO SPUR GROWTH: Thailand will extend tax incentives to millions of its middle and upper income groups to fire up consumption and counter the nation's worst economic slump triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. The concession will allow about 3.7 million taxpayers to deduct 30,000 baht (S$1,300) each from their total taxable income and will cost the government 11 billion baht. 

S’PORE-BASED PAYMENT APP PULLS OUT OF CONTROVERSIAL MYANMAR DEVELOPMENT: Fincy, a Singapore-based currency exchange and payment mobile app firm, is exiting a controversial development in Myanmar accused of facilitating illegal online gambling. Fincy said it was "pulling out of Yatai City following a series of press articles which alleged that it was being used to prevent law enforcement from tracking financial transactions in the city". 

N.KOREAN IN M’SIA LOSES APPEAL AGAINST US EXTRADITION: A North Korean man accused of laundering money has lost a legal bid to halt his extradition from Malaysia to the US to face charges, but will lodge a final appeal. Mun Chol Myong was arrested last year following the extradition request from Washington. He denies FBI claims that he led a criminal group that violated sanctions by supplying prohibited items to North Korea and laundered funds through front companies.

That’s it for today. Thanks for staying with us, and remember to check back tomorrow for more insightful reads.