Asian Insider, Sept 10: US seeks to rally Asean against China, SIA cuts 2,400 staff, judge says Najib ‘unremorseful’, Jakarta returns to lockdown

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In today’s bulletin: US seeks to rally Asean against Beijing over South China Sea, SIA cuts jobs for pilots, cabin crew and others, Malaysian judge says Najib showed no remorse, Jakarta returns to lockdown, and more.

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The United States’ top diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on Thursday (Sept 10) urged South-east Asia to cut ties with Chinese firms helping to build islands in the South China Sea as he raised concerns at an Asean meeting about Beijing’s “aggressive actions” in the disputed waters. 

The comments from Mr Pompeo, who was speaking during a series of regional meetings among Asean nations, came a day after China’s State Councillor Wang Yi accused the US of being the biggest driver of militarisation in the resource-rich waterway with its direct interventions in disputes among South China Sea claimants. 

Vietnam, which is head of Asean’s rotating chairmanship and among claimants in the region, said South-east Asian nations wanted the US to play a role in maintaining peace in the disputed waters and that they were open to opportunities for practical cooperation. 

Tensions have been simmering over the South China Sea, with the US last month sanctioning 24 Chinese state-owned firms it said had helped Beijing's military build-up in the region. The Asean meetings have been overshadowed by US-China rivalry over a range of issues from trade to the coronavirus. 

Delve deeper: 

Indonesia correspondent Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja: Indonesia, China leaders agree to resolve South China Sea issues through dialogue


Jakarta will reimpose strict coronavirus restrictions in the Indonesian capital as its Covid-19 cases continue to surge, Indonesia correspondents Linda Yulisman and Wahyudi Soeriaatmafja report. Employees in non-essential sectors will return to working from home from Sept 15. Entertainment centres will be shut and dining at restaurants and cafes banned. Travellers entering and leaving the city will also be restricted. 

Indonesia's national Covid-19 task force revealed that Java and Bali islands now have the country’s highest number of active cases. Jakarta, which is on the northwestern coast of Java, has postponed its plan to build its new capital city in East Kalimantan, after the pandemic forced the government to shift its policy priorities. Jakarta doctors have warned that the capital’s healthcare system is at risk of buckling

Coronavirus infections are also continuing to surge in India, pushing the global death toll from the disease past 900,000. India has so far seen 75,000 fatalities, after Brazil’s 128,000 and the US’ more than 195,000. From next week, Singapore will impose stricter border measures on travellers from India who are not Singaporeans and permanent residents, requiring them to take a Covid-19 test before departing for the city state. 

Also read: 

India correspondent Debarshi Dasgupta: Tiny Indian state sets inspiring example in fight against Covid-19

Get the latest Covid-19 updates at our dedicated website.


China has accused the US of political persecution and racial discrimination, after Washington revoked visas of more than 1,000 Chinese students and researchers under an order by President Donald Trump that said some of them were guilty of espionage. 

Mr Trump had in May declared that some Chinese nationals officially in the US for study had stolen intellectual property and helped modernise China's military, and the State Department started revoking the visas in June following his proclamation. Beijing said it reserves the right for action. 

Meanwhile, the European Chamber of Commerce in China said European firms in China are increasingly afraid of “arbitrary punishment” amid a more politicised business environment. Its annual report highlighted concerns about travel restrictions imposed on foreign workers due to the coronavirus pandemic and the exclusion of foreign businesses from key sectors of the economy.


A worse clash between India and China in the coming weeks cannot be ruled out, as tensions rise between the two powers over their disputed Himalayan border. 

In our latest edition of the ST Asian Insider video, South Asia expert Dr Aparna Pande, Research Fellow & Director of the Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia at the Hudson Institute, and Straits Times’ Beijing-based global affairs correspondent Benjamin Kang Lim give US bureau chief Nirmal Ghosh the lowdown on the perspectives from each side. Catch the premiere of the video at 8pm on ST’s YouTube channel here.


The Singapore Airlines (SIA) group has announced job cuts amid the coronavirus fallout, affecting about 2,400 staff in Singapore and its overseas stations and eliminating around 4,300 positions across its airlines. 

The widely anticipated layoffs come international travel remains paralysed amid the pandemic. While there has been some re-opening in recent weeks, the passenger and flight numbers are only a tiny fraction of pre-pandemic days. The International Air Transport Association has said that passenger demand for air travel is unlikely to return to pre-crisis levels until 2024.


Parties from both sides of Malaysia's political divide are at loggerheads over who to field for the Sabah state polls, dogged by internal rivalries days ahead of nominations on Saturday, Malaysia bureau chief Shannon Teoh reports

Parties allied to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's Perikatan Nasional (PN) camp ditched a candidate announcement event amid a clash of potential chief ministers should they win at the Sept 26 election. PN’s largest party Umno handed out a list of 31 names, which left out influential former Sabah chief Musa Aman and fielded another former chief minister, Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak instead. 

Discussions are equally fraught at the rival camp, with the so-called Warisan Plus pact under outgoing Chief Minister Shafie Apdal announcing 66 candidates, but minus those that Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) are supposed to field. 

Read also: 

Sabah’s ex-chief minister Musa wants his appeal to be declared state chief heard earlier


JUDGE SAYS NAJIB DIDN’T EXPRESS REMORSE OVER 1MDB-LINKED CASE: The trial involving former Malaysian premier Najib Razak has been regarded as "the worst kind" of abuse of position, criminal breach of trust and money laundering by the High Court judge who convicted the former prime minister. Justice Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali said Najib did not express any remorse after he was found guilty on July 28 of seven counts of corruption in the case involving RM42 million (S$13.8 million). 

US SELLS HK CONSULATE STAFF COMPOUND FOR S$452M: The US has sold its consulate staff compound in one of Hong Kong's most exclusive neighbourhoods for HK$2.57 billion (S$452 million) to local developer Hang Lung Properties, amid escalating Sino-US tensions. The price was lower than its HK$3.1 billion to HK$3.5 billion valuation. Hang Lung will develop luxury detached houses on the site. 

JAPAN MINISTER KONO EXPECTS OCTOBER ELECTION: Japanese Defence Minister Taro Kono said he expects a general election in October, contradicting comments from the man expected to become the next prime minister, who indicated the poll would come later. Speculation over early polls was fuelled by a leap in support for ailing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet, just as Mr Yoshihide Suga emerged as the favourite to succeed him. 

MULAN TO OPEN IN CHINA AMID CALLS FOR BOYCOTT, BAD REVIEWS: Even before hitting mainland China’s big screens, Disney's US$200 million (S$274 million) live-action remake of Mulan has been hit with controversy. In China, early viewers have accused producers of Orientalism and misinterpreting Chinese culture. Fresh calls to shun the movie also erupted on Twitter after it was revealed that filmmakers had shot scenes in the western region of Xinjiang, where the government has been accused of human rights abuses.

That’s it for today. Hope you enjoyed today’s stories and video, and do check back tomorrow for more insightful reads.