Asian Insider Feb 1: Pigs can fly

UPBEAT BEIJING

Beijing has hailed the "important progress" made at this week's trade talks between China and the United States, calling them "frank, specific and constructive". Its reaction came the morning after US President Donald Trump said he was optimistic of reaching the “biggest deal ever made” with China and he would soon meet his Chinese counterpart, Mr Xi Jinping.

Danson Cheong says Beijing struck an upbeat tone on the outcome of the two-day talks, noting that negotiators had discussed a range of issues but focused on the trade imbalance, intellectual property rights protection, and the implementation mechanism of any eventual deal reached.

The clock is ticking on the 90-day trade war truce that the leaders of both countries brokered in Argentina last December. A deal must be reached by March 1, failing which the US will impose heightened tariffs on US$200 billion of Chinese imports.

PIGS CAN FLY

Global business targeting wealthy Asians is finding that pigs can give their products wings. This Lunar New Year, Feb. 5, ushers in the Year of the Pig for Chinese and luxury fashion brands are going the whole hog to capture the lucrative Chinese market, says Melissa Heng.

So, for its latest capsule collection, Italian luxury brand Gucci has looked to the classic story of the Three Little Pigs for inspiration. And, over at French fashion label Louis Vuitton, one can find accessories such as a pig-shaped key holder and pink scarf with an abstract piglet print.

Over on the mainland, the world’s biggest human migration is on as millions go home for family reunions over the New Year period and China is counting on biometrics and other technology to ease the holiday crush, says Lim Yan Liang.

A MANILA POLICY MAKEOVER?

In recent years, Philippine nationalism has been defined by rising anti-China sentiment -- until Rodrigo Duterte arrived as President in Malacanang Palace and started sounding off against treaty ally United States.

Now, the government's recent call for a review of its Mutual Defence Treaty (MDT) with the United States moves things further along and puts into question one of Asia's oldest alliances at a time of growing US-China rivalry in the region.

Richard Heydarian says in this analysis that the December announcement is significant on several counts, more so since it was made public by no less than Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who spent more than a decade as a defence attache in Washington and has devoted years to strengthening the Philippine-US alliance.

What’s driving this? Growing frustration among the Philippine elite over the US' ambiguous commitment.

INDIA REINS IN AMAZON

With homegrown companies such as Alibaba having a lock on the Chinese market, e-commerce such as Amazon have looked to India, the world’s No. 2 market by population, to fuel growth. Indeed, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos has pledged US$5 billion to boost growth in India. However, new rules that went into effect in India Friday caused widespread disruption for Amazon.com, forcing it to take down an array of items from its India website including Echo speakers, batteries and floor cleaners.

Two sources with direct knowledge of the matter said the products began to disappear from the Amazon India site late on Thursday as it began complying with the revised norms before a midnight deadline.

India's new e-commerce investment rules bar online retailers from selling products via vendors in which they have an equity interest, and also from making deals with sellers to sell exclusively on their platforms. Elections are looming and the government is specially mindful of the concerns of small businesses.

Amazon finance chief Brian Olsavsky has warned of a tepid first-quarter, citing India and other reasons.

SINGAPORE HIV DATA SAGA ROLLS ON

A Singaporean doctor at the centre of the leak of HIV-positive individuals' confidential information is also facing three drug-related charges, including methamphetamine trafficking.

If convicted of trafficking, Ler Teck Siang, 37, can be jailed for up to 20 years with 15 strokes of the cane.

Meanwhile, our veteran Health writer Salma Khalik has a word of advice for Singapore’s Ministry of Health, even as she says the rationale for a centralised health record remains valid. The leak, coming in the wake of last year’s data breach at Singapore General Hospital that saw the theft of 1.5 million records, including that of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong could have been even worse if the incursion did not stop at just theft of data, she says.

Imagine the consequences if the hackers had been able to go in and alter the information in patients' records!

And finally, here are two ways you can greet Chinese people during the Lunar New Year period.

Gōng xǐfā cái (Congratulations and Prosperity)

You could also try

Gōng hè xīn xǐ(Good luck in the year ahead!)

- Ravi Velloor
 

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

- Japan’s economic partnership agreement with the European Union entered into force Friday, creating a free trade area that covers about a third of the world’s economy. Under the pact, which was signed in July after five years of negotiations, Japan will scrap tariffs on around 94 percent of agricultural and industrial products and the European Union will end duties on around 99 percent of imports.

-Acclaimed Taiwanese director Doze Niu has been charged with sexually assaulting a female crew member who was working on his latest film Pao Ma, prosecutors said Friday. In a statement announcing the charge, Taipei District Prosecutors Office accused Niu of trying to avoid responsibility "by downplaying his actions and insinuating that the woman is partially to blame". He faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.

- Oakland, California.-based e.l.f. Cosmetics Inc., agreed to pay about US$1 million to settle allegations it violated U.S. sanctions regulations by importing fake eyelash kits from China-based suppliers that had sourced materials from North Korea, the Wall Street Journal reported. The total value of the 156 shipments of the fake eyelash kits, imported from April 2012 to January 2017, was US$4.4 million, the Department of Treasury said. The sanctions infringements were reported to the government by the company.