Asian Insider, Sept 24: Implications of the China-US TikTok saga, Anwar’s key obstacles to taking power, and Jack Ma’s no longer China’s richest

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

Hi all,

In today’s bulletin: Implications of the China-US TikTok saga, Anwar’s key obstacles to taking power, Jack Ma’s no longer China’s richest, Indian airlines face bans over Covid-19, and more.

Reading this on the web or know someone who might enjoy receiving Asian Insider? Our sign-up page is here.

WHAT THE TIKTOK SAGA MEANS FOR BOTH CHINA AND THE US

Just days ago, the TikTok deal looked like a win for China. Now its state-run media are denouncing it as "an American trap" and a "dirty and underhanded trick". The quick shift in sentiment shows the complications of concluding an agreement that has big ramifications for how the world's biggest economies handle security threats related to new technologies that will drive growth over the next few decades. For Beijing, any deal that makes it look like the United States forced China's hand could hurt President Xi Jinping.

TikTok owner ByteDance has applied for a licence in China in line with the country’s tech export requirements, as it strives to seal its deal with Oracle and Walmart for its US operations to stave off President Donald Trump’s ban on its app. TikTok is also urging a US federal court to block the ban, with lawyers to argue that the move is based on election politics rather than legitimate national security concerns.

Mr Trump’s war on Chinese technology firms has changed the ground rules for global businesses, underscoring a new political reality that could have negative repercussions for American companies. Analysts say Mr Trump's actions could backfire on the US tech sector and other US businesses by encouraging China and other countries to respond in kind.

Keep up on the latest developments in the China-US TikTok saga here.

ANWAR FACES KEY OBSTACLES TO BECOMING MALAYSIA’S NEXT PM

Malaysia is poised for more political turmoil after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim claimed to have enough lawmaker support to form a government. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has denounced the move and challenged Datuk Seri Anwar to prove his assertion, while saying his administration remains firmly in control.

Mr Anwar faces several key challenges to become the country’s next prime minister, Malaysia correspondent Hazlin Hassan writes. There is scepticism over whether he has indeed secured enough support, after he declined to say how many MPs are behind him. But even if he does have the numbers, Tan Sri Muhyiddin may still hold the trump card as he has the right to advise the Malaysian King to dissolve Parliament and call for a fresh election.

With the King set to play a key role in what happens next, the monarch plans to hold an audience with Mr Anwar soon to give him the opportunity to prove his assertion. Some of the ways the King could decide to resolve the impasse include calling an election, seeking a confidence vote, and appointing a prime minister.

Delve deeper:

How did it get to this, and what next in political manoeuvring in Malaysia?

IMPORTED COVID-19 CASES FROM INDIA LEADS TO BAN ON AIRLINES

The arrival of coronavirus-infected passengers on flights from India has surfaced as a concern for countries as its government tries to set up bilateral travel lanes, India correspondent Debarshi Dasgupta reports. Saudi Arabia, a key destination for Indian migrant workers, this week suspended air travel to and from India amid concerns of imported cases. This comes after Air India and Air India Express were last week temporarily banned by Hong Kong and Dubai for flying in infected passengers.

In China, authorities have eased restrictions on some foreigners' entry into the country, almost six months after it nearly sealed its borders to limit the spread of the virus. Foreigners holding residence permits for work, personal matters and reunions will be allowed to enter China starting Sept 28. Those whose permits have expired can apply for relevant new visas.

In Singapore, a new business travel pass is being piloted for senior executives with regional or international responsibilities who need to travel overseas regularly for official and business purposes. Travellers on this pass, which is not country-specific, will be required to abide by a strict controlled itinerary, and upon return, can choose to do a Covid-19 test in lieu of a stay-home notice and self-isolate until the results are out.

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

ST ASIAN INSIDER VIDEO: THAILAND ON EDGE

Thailand's anti-government protests have been growing in recent months. What's different about the demands for reforms this time around? Political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak tells ST's Nirmal Ghosh on Asian Insider. Catch the premiere of the video at 8pm on our YouTube channel here.

JACK MA DETHRONED AS CHINA’S RICHEST BY VACCINE TYCOON

A bottled-water and vaccine tycoon has dethroned Alibaba’s Jack Ma as China’s richest person. Mr Zhong Shanshan’s net worth hit US$58.7 billion (S$80.7 billion) on Wednesday (Sept 23), US$2 billion more than Mr Ma’s, making him Asia’s second-wealthiest after India’s Mr Mukesh Ambani. He is now the world’s 17th richest person, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The initial public offering of Mr Zhong’s bottled-water firm Nongfu Spring in Hong Kong propelled him to the ranks of China's top three wealthiest earlier this month. That came after the April listing of his vaccine-maker Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise pushed his net worth to US$20 billion last month. His fortune has jumped US$52 billion this year, more than everyone else except Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Tesla's Elon Musk.

CHINA’S CARBON PLEDGE MAY CURB GLOBAL WARMING BY 0.3 DEG C

President Xi Jinping's pledge that China will achieve carbon neutrality before 2060 is the most significant climate policy move for years and, if achieved, could curb likely global warming by 0.2 to 0.3 deg C this century, researchers say. Xi's surprise announcement this week is the first time the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide has committed to ending its net contribution to climate change.

Mr Xi has given the world a glimmer of hope right when it needs it, even as record wildfires in the US, rapidly melting Arctic ice and intense Atlantic storms trigger alarm bells globally about the growing threat from climate change, climate change editor David Fogarty writes. But China needs to spell out the details and aim for emissions peaking as soon as possible.

Read more stories about climate change here.

IN OTHER NEWS

RARE CHINESE SCROLL GOES UNDER THE HAMMER IN HONG KONG: A 700-year-old Yuan dynasty scroll once owned by Chinese emperors is expected to sell for US$10 million to US$15.5 million at a Sotheby's auction in Hong Kong on Oct 8. The 2-metre-long painting, titled Five Drunken Princes Returning On Horseback, is the work of Yuan dynasty master Ren Renfa (1255-1327) and bears the seals of Emperor Qianlong and other Qing dynasty emperors.

THAILAND TAKES FIRST LEGAL ACTION AGAINST FACEBOOK, TWITTER: Thailand has begun legal action against Facebook and Twitter for ignoring its requests to take down content, in its first such move against major Internet firms. The Digital Ministry filed legal complaints with cybercrime police after the two social media firms missed 15-day deadlines to comply fully with court-issued takedown orders from Aug 27.

AUSTRALIA DITCHES ‘UNREALISTIC’ BUDGET SURPLUS GOAL: Australia's conservative government will abandon its long-held aspiration to return the budget to surplus as the country grapples with its worst downturn in about a century. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg had last year promised budget surpluses in the coming years, but now says that will no longer be the "prudent" or "appropriate" course of action.

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

Magdalene

Want more insights into fast-changing Asia from our network of correspondents? Get this article in your inbox by signing up here.

LISTEN TO ASIAN INSIDER PODCAST