Asian Insider Sept 4: Hong Kong extradition Bill withdrawn, 1MDB, Brexit

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

In today’s bulletin: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam formally withdraws extradition Bill; UK heads for a likely election after another tumultuous Parliament sitting; Sri Lanka seeks extradition of a former central banker; more revelations from the 1MDB trial; and more.

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KILL BILL

The start of the school term in Hong Kong has clearly failed to dampen protests but the bulk of the attention today is on embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s latest crisis. An audio recording taken of her speaking at a private lunch was leaked and it includes an excerpt where she says she would quit if she had a choice - an apparent admission she is being forced by Beijing to stay on in the job. Mrs Lam denied the remarks, saying they were taken out of context. She stressed that she had never resigned and had never even contemplated discussing her resignation with Beijing.

Read excerpts from the leaked remarks

Listen to all 4.48 seconds of the recording

BREXIT: UK GEARS UP FOR 3RD ELECTION IN 4 YEARS

After another tumultuous day in British Parliament, the government appears to have settled on a general election as the means of resolving how or if the UK actually leaves the EU. In the span of a few hours, Mr Boris Johnson lost his first vote as prime minister and lost his majority in Parliament, prompting him to file a motion (to be voted on today) on whether to hold a snap election. If it passes, the UK is likely to go to the polls in mid-October. The outcome - just two weeks before the Brexit deadline - will very likely determine whether the UK leaves or a second referendum is called. Meanwhile, the uncertainty continues to take a toll on business, with a sale of pharmacy chain Watson’s derailed by pressures faced by its business in Hong Kong and the UK.

Understanding what happened in the UK yesterday:

Analysis: Britain heading for early election amid political turmoil as Boris Johnson is defeated over Brexit strategy

What just happened during Boris Johnson’s face-off with lawmakers on Brexit

An aside: how not to sit in Parliament

SRI LANKA SEEKS TO EXTRADITE EX-CENTRAL BANK CHIEF

Sri Lanka will request the extradition from Singapore of Arjuna Mahendran, a former central bank chief, in relation to a multi-million dollar insider trading scam in 2015. Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said it would consider the extradition request once the necessary supporting information has been received. The case has political implications and is said to have deepened the acrimony between Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Mr Wickremesinghe had handpicked Mahendran to head the central bank.

The story: Sri Lanka seeks to extradite ex-chief of its central bank

1MDB TRIAL UPDATE

The 1MDB trial is set to last for months and the newsletter will dip in every once in a while to take stock of how the arguments are shaping up. Today was the second day of the prosecution’s star witness, Najib Razak’s former aide Datuk Amhari Efendi Nazaruddin. The main revelation from his testimony was that he, along with another former Najib aide, opened bank accounts after being told to do so by Jho Low. The slowly emerging picture from the prosecution is the centrality of Najib and Jho Low to all the dodgy dealings. They appear to be trying to counter any defence that Najib was an innocent bystander, and took active part in the alleged corruption.

Follow all the latest on the trial at our special 1MDB website here.

SINGAPORE TAKES A STEP TOWARDS ELECTIONS

The Singapore Government has taken, in effect, one of the first steps towards calling a general election - setting up the committee that reviews electoral boundaries. Speculation about polls has been growing as the country approaches the four-year mark since the last elections. The next polls are due by April 2021. Since 2006, elections have been held no later than 2½ months after the release of the boundaries report. 

The story: Electoral boundaries committee convened in first formal step towards next Singapore GE

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Coal: Asia's heavy and expanding reliance on coal power risks cancelling out global progress towards preventing catastrophic climate change, a top United Nations official warned on Wednesday (Sept 4).

Plastic: Amazon.com Inc's India unit plans to replace single-use plastic in its packaging by June 2020, the company said on Wednesday (Sept 4), the latest move by an e-commerce giant to weed out plastic use from the country's cities and towns that frequently rank among the world's most polluted.

Putin-Modi: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday (Sept 4) will host Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for talks on boosting investment and trade, with a special emphasis on energy and arms deals.

Can unhealthy food make you blind? An extreme case of "fussy eating" caused blindness in a teenager from the United Kingdom, according to a new report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow.

- Jeremy