Asian Insider April 26: China’s full-throated defence of the BRI

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

IN DEFENCE OF THE BRI

There should now be no further doubt what the primary message of the ongoing 3-day Belt and Road summit in China is. Over the first two days, multiple high-ranking Chinese officials, including President Xi Jinping himself, have come out to address criticisms of the ambitious infrastructural development plan.

What are the criticisms? Perhaps the biggest criticism about China’s signature foreign policy instrument is that it risks plunging poor countries into debt. This complaint became especially salient after Sri Lanka handed over its Hambantota port to China for 99 years because it could not repay its loans. Other countries like Malaysia have reviewed and renegotiated mega BRI projects over concerns about the level of debt required to finance them. President Xi pledged today that China will ensure the fiscal and commercial sustainability of all projects, adding that it will also end anti-competitive subsidies to Chinese companies.

But is there value in the BRI?  Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong - one of 37 world leaders in Beijing at the forum - focused on the bigger picture of the initiative rather than any single project. He noted that at a time when there seems to be a pushback against globalism, the BRI can strengthen multilateral cooperation and be a platform for countries to work together. It does, however, speak volumes that the multilateral post-WWII world order, established by the West, is now being defended mainly from Asia.

We have a team of reporters dipping into the various sessions at the BRI summit. Follow all their reporting here.

SRI LANKA UPDATE: DEATH TOLL REVISED

What’s new: Sri Lanka officials today revised the death toll down by more than 100, from 359 dead to 253. The error was attributed to inaccurate data from the morgue and double counting due to the difficulty of identifying victims. We are now also starting to get a clearer picture of the impact  the horrible attacks are having on Sri Lanka’s social cohesion. Muslims have started fleeing the west coast port city of Negombo, fearign threats of revenge.

Lessons from Sri Lanka:  The attacks in Colombo have provided a vivid example of the havoc a terror strike can inflict, even after the victims have been buried. Without trust in the security forces, the country has been on edge over fears that there may be more bombers out there and without a robust relationship between the races,  the risk of a spike in communal tensions is very real.

Latest reports:

Sri Lanka lowers attacks death toll from 359 to 253, blames difficulty in identifying body parts

Sri Lankans urged to avoid mosques, churches amid fears of more attacks

Wanted Sri Lanka radical Zahran Hashim died in hotel attack: President Sirisena

MILLIONS ARE MISSING MEASLES VACCINE

In the seven years between 2010 and 2017, more than 20m children a year missed out on the measles vaccine around the world. A recent Unicef report found that, as a result, global coverage of the first dose of the measles vaccine has stayed stagnant at 85 per cent in the decade up to 2017. Global coverage for the second dose in 2017 was worse at 67 per cent. Coverage of at least 95 per cent is required for herd immunity.

The upshot:  The takeaway is that the current re-emergence of measles - infections quadrupled in the first quarter of this year compared to last year - has been years in the making.  It is driven largely by poor access to health systems in needy countries but also a scepticism of vaccinations in richer ones like the US, France and Britain. Some 110,000 died from measles in 2017.

The full story: Over 20m kids a year missed out on measles vaccine from 2010 to 2017

BILLION DOLLAR WEEKEND

All that pre-opening buzz for the Marvel epic Avengers: Endgame is translating into records now that the movie has hit the screens. The movie raked in US$169 million on its first day of release in 25 markets, US$107.5 million of that in China alone. It set single-day box office records in countries like Netherlands, Greece and Egypt and it hasn't even been widely released in the US yet.

The big record: All that is setting up Endgame to bust a mega movie record. It could be the first movie to have a 1 billion dollar opening weekend in history.

All the numbers:  Endgame smashes records in global launch

AND FINALLY, A CHICKEN WING SURPRISE

I bring you the latest instalment in the ongoing series on strange things you find in fast food meals. A woman in China recently found feathers still attached to a chicken wing she had bought from McDonald’s. There are some doubts about the veracity of the claims - some noted the feathers do not look deep fried - but if true, there is still a bright side. At least we will then know they use real chickens for the wings, am I right?

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

At the first major news conference of his presidency, Emmanuel Macron pledged to cut taxes and said the French would have to work longer as he outlined his response to months of anti-government protests that have shaken his authority.

Former US vice-president Joe Biden, a moderate who has made his appeal to working-class voters who deserted the Democrats in 2016 a key part of his political identity, launched a bid for the White House as the party's instant front runner.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has accused the United States of acting in "bad faith" during his Hanoi summit with President Donald Trump, and says peace on the peninsula depends on Washington, state media said.

That’s it for today, thanks and see you on Monday..

-Jeremy