Asian Insider, Sept 28: World News Day focus on Covid-19; Malaysian muddle

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


In today’s bulletin: World News Day focus on Covid-19, Malaysia’s Sabah picks a chief minister and China papers over a debt crisis in property - for now.

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Covid-19 fatalities just crossed a million worldwide, and the battle to contain the virus continues. In Asia, the big worry now is about the large population centres of India and Indonesia. Since it was first identified in Wuhan, China in December, The Straits Times has followed every turn in the story, including how Singapore, after initial stutters with its foreign workers in dormitories, turned the situation around. 

Since today, the island has eased some lockdown rules, allowing more to return to the workplace. Still, say our reporters Cheryl Tan and Cheow Sue-Ann, there appeared to be no big rush in the Central Business District on Monday morning.

In this piece, Senior Health Correspondent Salma Khalik argues that there is no reason why travel and tourism cannot resume in a limited way and with precautions: doing so will save jobs, help the economy and satisfy the travel urge. Take a read:

Coronavirus: Time to resume travel, with certain precautions in place

Also read: Back to office, but it's so hard: Why some in Singapore are reluctant to return to the workplace


The hunger for credible, current information is unabated, and no topic has been more in the news than the pandemic. As we commemorate World News Day we have curated a package of pandemic-themed articles from around the globe.

In this lead piece, ST Editor in Chief Warren Fernandez, who is President of the World Editors Forum, says that at a time when so much has been turned on its head, this much has become clear: “Real news matters. The truth matters. Objectivity matters. Balance and fairness matter. In short, quality journalism matters.”

Stories of other journalists from ST and from around the region who have put themselves on the front lines of the pandemic are showcased in a 30-minute show to be screened online today in celebration of World News Day, presented by the Canadian Journalism Foundation and the World Editors Forum, with support from the Google News Initiative.

Journalism Through A Pandemic will premiere tonight at 8pm. SGT (8am, ET in the US).

Readers can look out for it on ST's YouTube and Facebook pages, as well as the World News Day website and YouTube page.


Malaysia’s political life, always busy, has been nothing less than frenetic since 2018 when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad staged a dramatic comeback from retirement, ousting from power the UMNO-led coalition that he had himself once led. An election to fill the state assembly in Sabah, about 1,500 km offshore from the Malay peninsula, had taken on much interest in the wake of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s claim that the current coalition, which ousted Dr Mahathir earlier this year, had lost the numbers in parliament. 

In the event, oil-rich Sabah, which has deep strategic significance because of its location in the heart of the South China Sea, went with the coalition ruling in Kuala Lumpur, according to results released on Saturday. 

Malaysia Correspondent Ram Anand says Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's popularity and his administration's Covid-19 relief initiatives were key to his alliance winning 38 of the 73 state seats in Sabah.

Having won through, the PM's Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) coalition quickly resolved an impasse over picking a chief minister candidate, agreeing on  Sabah Perikatan Nasional (PN) chief Hajiji Mohd Noor.

Also read: Veteran regional affairs correspondent Leslie Lopez on Anwar’s gamble


China Evergrande Group, one China’s largest and most indebted developers with 2.3 trillion yuan (S$464 billion) in assets, faced a crisis of confidence late last week that saw a dramatic selloff in its stocks and bonds. This followed reports the company had sent a letter to the Guangdong government warning of a potential cash crunch, if it couldn't carry out a backdoor listing in Shenzhen by January. 

Hong Kong shares of China Evergrande rose more than 10 per cent on Monday after the property developer said all measures to reduce debt had achieved positive results.

However, we may not have heard the last of the issue.

Read more: Bloomberg’s Shuli Ren says the rumble is a wake up call


Japan-India ties are growing apace but even so, Mr Tamotsu Nomura and his colleagues at CoCo Ichibanya, a chain specialising in Japanese-style curry rice, are up against a stiff challenge, says India Correspondent Debarshi Dasgupta. 

Not only do they do have to get Indians hooked on Japanese curry, they also have to do so at a time when people fear eating out amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic. The food delivery industry has clawed back to around 85 per cent of the pre-Covid gross merchandise value, according to a Sept 23 blog post by Zomato, a popular food delivery platform in India.

Sushi and More, a Japanese chain dedicated to takeaways and delivery, launched its sixth outlet in India last month amid this rebound.

Read more:

Here are a couple of good weekend reads worth catching up on, in case you missed them:

Prema Somasundram writes on the humble comma

Thitinan Pongsudhirak on why young Thais are back on the streets


The Beijing Municipal Commerce Bureau on Monday called on importers to shun frozen food from countries suffering from severe novel coronavirus outbreaks, after several cases of imported seafood products testing positive for the virus. China this month suspended imports from seafood producers in Brazil, Indonesia and Russia for a week or more.

Indian expatriates from 50 countries are grappling with the complications of trying to save a Kerala nurse on death row in Yemen in the middle of a war that has killed tens of thousands. ST’s Rohini Mohan says Ms Nimisha Priya, 31, was sentenced to death on Aug 18 for murdering a Yemeni national who had claimed to be her husband.

Taiwan expressed satisfaction on Monday and said the European Union had stepped in to help after a global alliance of mayors stopped referring to Taiwanese cities as part of China, in a rare win for the island amid growing Chinese pressure. Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said after the protest, the group had reverted to its original designation of the cities as being part of Chinese Taipei, a name Taiwan uses in some international bodies like the Olympics to avoid Beijing's objections to their participation.

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Meanwhile, seize the day!