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    Asian Insider 17 January: China’s growth rate at its lowest, Singapore’s new digital district and Japan’s casino bribery scandal

    Published On: 17 January 2020

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


    17 January 2020

    In today’s bulletin: We look at how the US-China trade war has put a strain on China’s economy and stopped it from growing more; Singapore will have a new digital district in Punggol that will promote smart working and living in 2023 and Japan’s plan to build integrated resorts is muddled by bribery scandals.



    China Correspondent Elizabeth Law reports that China’s economic growth in 2019 had dropped to its slowest rate in decades amid a bruising trade war with the United States and weakening domestic demand. Gross domestic product grew by 6.1 per cent last year, its worst performance since 1990, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). While this is in line with the 6.0 to 6.5 per cent forecast by analysts, growth was down from 6.6 per cent in 2018. Total GDP last year was 99.08 trillion yuan (US$14.4 trillion).

    Don’t miss: Baby blues in China as birth rate drops to its lowest on record



    After almost two years of trade war uncertainties that have left the world economy in limbo, a phase one agreement between China and the United States is set to bring a truce, with commitments by China to buy significantly more US produce and products. The Straits Times US Bureau Chief Nirmal Ghosh explores the implications for the regionwith Vikram Khanna, Associate Editor with the Straits Times and Curtis Chin, fellow at the Milken Institute Asia and former US Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank.

    Also read: Phase one trade deal at best an interim agreement with China, but a win for Trump



    Technology Journalist Lester Wong reports that when it is ready in 2023, Singapore’s Punggol Digital District will provide residents there with more jobs that will be close to greener and smarter homes, while also offering greater convenience. Speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony on Friday (Jan 17), Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean noted that the 50ha district will house a business park that is being developed by national industrial estate developer JTC. About 28,000 digital economy jobs are expected to be created, including positions for artificial intelligence and cyber security.

    “The entire Punggol Town with its housing precincts and the Digital District will serve as a living lab, for public agencies and companies to test out new ways of living, working and delivering services. Fundamentally, that is what a Smart Nation will be judged by – the improvements to the living experience of our people,” Mr Teo said.

    Read more:

    The smart grid at Punggol can reduce carbon emission by 1,700 tonnes annually, or similar to reducing 270 cars from the road.  

    Not exactly breakfast in bed but workers in the digital district can have their meals delivered to them by drones



    Japan Correspondent Walter Sim reports that a bribery scandal has muddied Japan’s bid to launch integrated resorts (IRs) in the decade, with the indictment of the ruling party lawmaker who was once in charge of steering IR policy. Tsukasa Akimoto, 48, was charged this week with taking 3.7 million yen (S$45,173) in bribes from New York-listed, Shenzhen-based gambling operator The sum included a trip to Hokkaido, where the company was keen to develop an IR. Police are looking into another 3.5 million in kickbacks, for which Akimoto’s aides allegedly drew up bogus receipts to hide the payments. Akimoto, who is now under detention, maintains his innocence.

    Experts say that his arrest proves Japan’s zero tolerance for any black sheep in its IR development plans, although the latest scandal has also given fresh impetus to opponents.

    Also read: Japan ex-defence minister denies receiving China money in casino case



    Indochina Bureau Chief Tan Hui Yee reports that the Sino-Myanmar relations had turned frosty almost a decade ago when Napyidaw, eager to engage the West, alienated its long standing patron.But Chinese president Xi Jinping’s rare, single-country visit to Myanmar starting Friday (Jan 17) is a declaration that those days are long gone and Beijing is getting down to business again. The rapprochement has been accelerated by the fact that the impoverished South-east Asian nation is regaining some pariah status, albeit for different reasons than when it was under military rule.

    Myanmar’s civilian government has been accused of shielding a military that committed atrocities against the country’s Rohingya Muslims. On Jan 23, the International Court of Justice, the United Nations’ highest court, may even issue an order compelling Myanmar to take provisional measures to protect this minority. Beijing’s clout will ensure that international efforts to muster stronger sanctions against Myanmar will not go far.

    Don’t miss: Visit by China’s Xi to Myanmar consolidates bilateral ties



    WUHAN: Chinese authorities have reported a second death from a mystery virus that has left dozens of people ill in the city of Wuhan. The Wuhan health authorities reported that a 69-year-old man died on Wednesday at the Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital in Hubei province after his symptoms became more severe, with pulmonary tuberculosis and multiple organ functions damaged.

    KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s biggest highway operator PLUS Expressways will lower tolls by 18 per cent at its highways from as early as Feb 1, including at the Tuas-Johor Second Link. These highways also won’t be hiking their tolls for the next 38 years as part of a deal with the government to extend the concession period for the operating companies. Malaysia Bureau Chief Shannon Teoh gave the insight to this decision earlier this week.

    SYDNEY: Australia will lose billions of dollars in tourism revenue as international visitors cancel trips in droves due to its bushfire crisis. The number of travellers booking visits to Australia has fallen 10 to 20 per cent since the fires began in September and the slump will cost the economy an estimated A$4.5 billion (S$4 billion) this year.


    We will end the week by looking at the lighter side of a serious matter.  As tensions between the United States and Iran persist after the American killing of a top Iranian general this month, the two countries are waging a heated battle in an unlikely forum: the Chinese Internet.They accuse each other of inciting violence. They denounce one another as corrupt. They call each other terrorists. The embassies of the United States and Iran in Beijing have published a series of barbed posts in recent days on Weibo, a popular Chinese social media site, attacking each other in Chinese and in plain view of the country’s hundreds of millions of Internet users.


    These insights are produced by The Straits Times, the official media partner for the Asia House Global Trade Dialogue, which took place in Singapore on 7 November 2019.

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