Asian Insider, Sept 3: Indonesia says Worldometer data ‘biased’, US restricts Chinese diplomats, and S’pore is Asia-Pacific’s most innovative nation

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


In today’s bulletin: Indonesia says Worldometer Covid-19 test data is ‘skewed’, US restricts Chinese diplomats’ movements, Singapore is Asia-Pacific’s most innovative nation, Typhoon Maysak wreaks havoc in East Asia, and more.

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An Indonesian minister has disputed the validity of Covid-19 testing figures from widely-used data collection site Worldometer, arguing that its statistics for some countries are skewed. Mr Luhut Pandjaitan argued that the website’s indicator of a country’s testing rate - by comparing the number of tests performed against its population - is an inaccurate view for countries covering vast regions, Indonesian correspondent Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja writes

Indonesia, with territory spanning more than 17,000 islands and countless remote locations across its 34 provinces, has the lowest Covid-19 testing rate among countries with the highest number of infections. Between 11 and 25 per cent of the people it tested in August were found infected with the coronavirus. Six provinces account for almost 70 per cent of its total case count, while many of its islands have not recorded a single positive case. 

Elsewhere in coronavirus news, Australia’s daily infection count hit an eight-day high on Thursday (Sept 3), denting hopes that Melbourne’s stringent six-week lockdown can soon be lifted. India reported another record daily jump of more than 83,000 new cases, taking its tally to 3.85 million, just 100,000 behind that of Brazil, the world’s second worst-hit nation. 

In stark contrast, mainland China marked its 18th day without any new local Covid-19 cases, and people are even planning their holidays again, with October’s Golden Week National Day holiday just round the corner. High-speed train tickets to many mainland destinations were snapped up just a few hours after the pre-sale period started on Wednesday.

Get the latest updates at our dedicated website.


Chinese diplomats in the United States have been slapped with new restrictions on their movements and activities, as America demands reciprocity from China. Senior Chinese diplomats now require US State Department approval to visit American university campuses and to meet with local government officials, among other rules.US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the action was a direct response to long-standing restrictions on American diplomats in China, US bureau chief Nirmal Ghosh reports

Among measures to counter the US’ tightening restrictions on China in various aspects of trade and diplomacy, Beijing is planning a sweeping set of policies to develop its domestic semiconductor industry, conferring the same kind of priority on the effort it accorded to building its atomic capability. A suite of measures to boost research, education and financing for the sector has been added to a draft of China's 14th five-year plan that will be presented to its top leaders next month, sources said. 

Meanwhile, Beijing on Thursday stressed its right to approve or block the sale of technology abroad, confirming that it will play a critical role in the sale of short-video app TikTok’s US operations to suitors including Microsoft and Oracle. 


It was India that triggered the latest clash with China on their disputed Himalayan border this time, Indian officials said. In what they called India’s first offensive move since the conflict started in May, thousands of Indian soldiers this week stealthily scaled mountain peaks for six hours to claim strategic vantage points along the Pangong Tso glacial lake offering a clear view of troop movements in the territory below. 

The clash led to the death of a Tibetan member of the Indian special forces unit in a mine blast near the lake. Tenzin Nyima, 53, was killed and another commando critically wounded in the incident, which gave the world a rare glimpse into the Indian military’s little-known group of elite, high-altitude warriors. The Special Frontier Force, set up soon after a war between India and China in 1962, recruits mainly from Tibetan refugees. 

Delve deeper: 

Pangong Tso face-off offers chance to resolve border row 

India bans 118 Chinese apps in new backlash over border dispute 


What can we expect from a post-Abe Japan? The new Japanese prime minister succeeding Mr Shinzo Abe is likely to bring continuity and very little change, as Mr Abe has already set a solid stage for whoever will come after him. Before Mr Abe, the Pacific and Indian oceans were seen as separate entities, but the prime minister conflated the two in a strategy shift with an eye to countering China’s growing influence over the region. 

In our latest edition of the ST Asian Insider video, Dr Satoru Nagao, visiting fellow at Hudson Institute, and Ravi Velloor, associate editor with The Straits Times, speak with US Bureau Chief Nirmal Ghosh about the future of Japan’s role in balancing China’s growing military might. Catch the premiere of the video at 8pm on ST’s YouTube channel here.


Singapore is Asia-Pacific’s most innovative nation again - for the seventh straight year - in the annual Global Innovation Index. Switzerland topped the rankings, followed by Sweden and the US. Singapore came in eighth worldwide. 

The index ranks 131 economies according to their capacity for, and success in, innovation. The city state improved vastly for the indicator measuring the proportion of women employees with advanced degrees, rising 35 places to take the global top spot. But it performed less well in indicators such as national feature films (No. 61) and infocomm technology services exports (No. 50).


A ship carrying more than 40 crew members and some 6,000 cattle is feared lost off Japan after it capsized in stormy weather brought by the powerful Typhoon Maysak. Only one crew member has been rescued so far from the Gulf Livestock 1 that was sailing from New Zealand to China. The crew included 39 people from the Philippines, two from New Zealand, and two from Australia. 

In South Korea where the typhoon made landfall on Thursday, at least one person was killed and more than 2,000 people evacuated as strong winds felled traffic lights and heavy rains flooded streets. A woman died in the coastal city of Busan after a strong gust shattered her apartment window, while a man in his 60s was injured when the wind toppled an outdoor refrigerator, crushing him. 


MAHATHIR TARGETS 30 SEATS FOR HIS NEW PARTY: Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad says his new political party hopes to win at least 30 seats in the next general election to become a kingmaker. The 95-year-old statesman also said a planned youth "party" by his former protege MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman is unlikely to do well in the polls. 

TWITTER ACCOUNT OF INDIA PM MODI’S WEBSITE HACKED: Twitter has confirmed that an account of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal website was hacked with a series of tweets asking its followers to donate to a relief fund through cryptocurrency. The incident comes after several Twitter accounts of prominent personalities were hacked in July. 

IN FIRST FOR INDONESIA, ILLEGAL MINER FOUND GUILTY OF CRIMES: For the first time in Indonesia, a court has sentenced an illegal miner to multiple crimes in an attempt to create a deterrent effect to curb environmental and forestry crimes. A district court in Bangka Belitung Islands, a province off the east coast of Sumatra, found Azeman, 44, guilty of two crimes for mining illegally in the protected forest area of Lubuk Besar in the regency.