Asian Insider June 14: Oil tanker attacks raise alarm in Asia over oil flows; France’s interest in Indo-Pacific

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

Tanker attacks in Gulf of Oman stoke fears over oil flows

The attacks on two oil tankers - the Norwegian-owned Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous - in the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz, that sent oil prices soaring on Thursday, has Asians worried over the security of oil flows.

Almost a fifth of the world's oil passes through the Strait, including a substantial amount to meet energy needs of industries in the East.

The attacks also coincide with heightened tensions in the Middle-East, between the US and Iran, Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as hardliners waging wars, on their own or on behalf of others, in Yemen and other countries.  

One of the two attacked vessels, the Marshall Islands-flagged tanker Front Altair was carrying a cargo of ethanol from Qatar to Taiwan, while the Panama-flagged Kokuka Courageous was headed to Singapore from Saudi Arabia, with a cargo of methanol.  

Oil prices jumped as much as 4 per cent on Thursday (June 13) after the attack, with brent crude futures up US$2.19, or 3.65 per cent, at US$62.16 a barrel by 1341 GMT (9.41pm Singapore time).   

Tensions in the Middle East have escalated since US President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 multinational nuclear pact with Iran and reimposed sanctions.

The attacks came even as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Teheran meeting officials, in an attempt to ease tensions between the US and Iran.

Washington has blamed Teheran for the oil tanker attacks.

China, which has close ties with Iran and is trying to resolve its trade war with America, has urged all to exercise restraint.

Read more online:

America's gunboat diplomacy may overreach, risk war, experts warn

Strait of Hormuz: The world's most important oil artery

Hong Kong's image as a financial hub takes a knock as protesters threaten Sunday rally

Calls for a fresh protest on Sunday in the city has raised further alarm among inhabitants and businesses about the city's appeal as an international financial hub, with growth already at its weakest since the 2009 financial crisis.

Meanwhile, in the US, despite China’s protests, some senators have introduced legislation that would require the US Secretary of State to issue an annual certification of Hong Kong’s autonomy, to justify special treatment under the US Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992.

No date has been set for the vote and for now, US President Donald Trump has shared his optimism that China and Hong Kong will work things out.

Also, reports are emerging of support wavering for the bill that would allow extraditions to China. But much will depend on Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam's decision on taking up the bill for debate.

Call on Mahathir to set leadership transition date

A seniors group, loyal to Parti Keadilan Rakyat President Anwar Ibrahim, has called on Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to set a timetable to hand over premiership to Anwar, who is widely expected to be PM, by May next year. The ambiguity on this matter is leading to distrust, they've cautioned.

Meanwhile, the man who accused Malaysia’s Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali of being the other man in the explosive sex videos has been arrested at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, reports said. Alongside, tensions continue to deepen between different political factions of the ruling coalition.

French interest in Indo-Pacific

French Defence Minister Florence Parly's address at the Shangri-La Dialogue earlier this month added more details to President Emmanuel Macron's call for an Indo-Pacific axis with France, India and Australia as its backbone, and also including other regional powers.

Associate Editor Ravi Velloor has more on this as he notes that the French are pointedly sailing in at a time when some Asian regional powers are shuffling their feet and wondering how to get out of the way, amid escalating tensions between the US and China.

Go deeper:  

The economics-security disconnect in America’s Indo-Pacific strategy

Blind spots in America's Indo-Pacific strategy

Don't drink and drone

Japan has passed a new law to discourage people from flying drones while under the influence of alcohol. This follows a string of accidents. Those caught doing so could be fined up to 300,000 yen (S$3,780), if their devices weigh more than 200g. And making the drones do dangerous plunges could mean heavier fines.

Other developments:

Survivors and relatives of those killed in the March 15 Christchurch mosque attacks by Australian Brenton Tarrant gasped and shed tears as his lawyers entered not guilty pleas to multiple murder and terrorism charges for the shooting that left 51 dead.

Indian cities are being urged to implement heat action plans that include text-message alerts and cooling stations, to minimise deaths and illnesses related to rising temperatures. At least 36 people have died from a heatwave this year, with the nation's capital Delhi recording its highest-ever temperature of 48 deg C, and temperatures in Churu in Rajasthan state hitting 51 deg C.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will be looking to win more friends at this weekend's Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meet. He told India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi that China is not a threat, at a meeting ahead of the SCO meet, and highlighted shared interests as he met Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

To catch the latest on happenings in Asia, sign on to The Straits Times.

Thanks for reading and we'll be back on Monday. Have a good weekend.

- Shefali