Asian Insider Jan 24, 2019: The world's largest UBI experiment

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

Indonesia releases a controversial prisoner

While the Indonesian government seems to have at least temporarily put on hold a decision to release radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, Mr Basuki Tjahaja Purnama - known by his Chinese nickname  Ahok - walked out of prison today after serving his two-year sentence for blasphemy.

The re-emergence of Ahok presents something of a headache for President Joko Widodo, who has in recent years distanced himself from his once close associate. With religion expected to play an oversized part in the upcoming polls and Mr Widodo continuing to struggle to convince hardliners of his Muslim credentials, expect the president’s opponents to try and use the Chinese Christian former governor as a stick to beat his old boss with. 

-Ahok’s plans after prison: host a TV show

-Abu Bakar Bashir’s status, meanwhile, is still up in the air: Bashir must fulfil conditions to walk free

India and the world’s largest UBI experiment

Few people have heard of the scenic Indian Himalayan state of Sikkim but it could soon have the most extensive Universal Basic Income policy ever attempted. Others, even in India, have run similar trials but never at this scale.

The Sikkim Democratic Front party has said it will implement a universal, guaranteed, unconditional payment to each of the state’s 610,577 residents if re-elected in the coming state elections. The details are not entirely clear - they have not said how much the payment will be - but this will be closely watched by proponents and critics of the divisive idea. Depending on who you ask, UBI is either an idea that will solve some of the world's biggest problems or the worst idea anyone has ever come up with. Sikkim could provide the best indication yet of who is right.  

Read: India's Sikkim state proposes universal basic income for all residents

See also: Finland’s experience with Universal Basic Incom

Bing gets blocked in China

Chinese users of Microsoft search engine Bing began complaining today that was no longer available with the company subsequently confirming that the site had been blocked. It is not clear what Microsoft did to trigger the action and its short statement offered no clues.

Bing was one of very few tech services that had been allowed inside the great firewall of China. Google, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have all been banned for years with Google even aborting a plan to try and enter the Chinese market after widespread criticism, including from staff. Bing had made it through because Microsoft was willing to comply with Chinese rules. Today’s development raises questions about what exactly changed. Is China clamping down harder or did Bing step over the line?

Further reading: How China is blocking VPNs, a common workaround for the firewal

Davos round-up

The continuing push for states to gain regulatory oversight over tech giants that handle troves of personal data was a key theme on day 3 at Davos with leaders from Japan, South Africa, China and Germany all issuing calls for data governance. There has been pressure for states to step in and regulate tech after a series of high profile data breaches from companies like Facebook and Google and we should expect that to only increase this year.

Separately, Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan addressed the recent lacklustre GDP figures by stressing that China had not yet reached the end of its miraculous expansion - although it will now grow at a more sustainable rate.

Today, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is set to deliver a keynote address that will touch on various global conflicts and global migration.

The obvious question: Davos 2019 is all about Globalisation 4.0. So what is that?

Follow our coverage here.

And finally, for something completely different

Meet Winx, a champion Australian racehorse that just won another accolade: Australian of the Year. The horse beat out a host of human contenders for the title given out by The Daily Telegraph. And it stresses the award was not given out lightly, Winx really earned the honour. One wonders what it says about the sort of year two-legged Australians had.

That’s it for today’s Asian Insider. Thanks for reading and see you next time.

- J

What else you need to know today:

Malaysian rulers chose a new king with little fuss, avoiding much of the drama that had surrounded the process up till now

Brits aren’t too happy about Dyson moving to Singapore

Kim Jong Un expressed satisfaction with talks with the US ahead of a planned second summit with Donald Trump

South Australia heatwave smashes records with 49 deg C/120 deg F temperatures