Asian Insider brings you insights into a fast-changing region from our network of correspondents.
25 October 2019
Indonesia’s ‘gado-gado’ Cabinet, Hong Kong, “ease of doing business” rankings
In today’s bulletin: China’s man to watch, Confident Jokowi, Pence attacks China, again.
Few journalists have such deep insights into the workings of China’s Communist Party as our Global Affairs Correspondent Benjamin Kang Lim, a Beijing veteran.
As the elite of China’s ruling Communist Party convenes next week for a long-awaited conclave that has been shrouded in secrecy, pundits are speculating about a possible political promotion within the ranks that may further cement President Xi Jinping’s grip on power, say Lim and China Bureau Chief Tan Dawn Wei.
There is much attention on one of the country’s rising stars, Chongqing party secretary Chen Min’er, who could be propelled into the apex Standing Committee, the nation’s top decision-making body.
Mr Chen, one of President Xi’s closest political allies, is widely seen as his protege and the front runner as heir apparent. The 59-year-old was passed over for promotion at the 19th Party Congress in 2017, and instead settled for a seat in the next most powerful body, the 25-member Politburo.
The party congress is held once every five years. Mr Xi, who doubles as party and military chief, will kick off the long-delayed plenum next Monday at the People’s Liberation Army-run Jingxi Hotel, which is off limits to ordinary people, The Straits Times has learnt.
Read more here: Will Chongqing party chief and Xi ally Chen Min’er be promoted at major Communist Party meeting?
JUST DON’T DO IT
Given his penchant for attacking China, US Vice-President Mike Pence’s speech at the Wilson Center was keenly watched for signals about the evolving US policy toward the mainland.
In the event, Mr Pence heavily criticised a wide range of Chinese policies, from intellectual property theft to expansionism in the South China Sea and repression of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, in a speech that lasted nearly 40 minutes.
Still, even as he accused China of behaviour that he said had become even more aggressive and destabilising in the past year, he stressed that the United States was still open to practical cooperation with its rival.
Mr Pence stressed that America does not seek confrontation with China, nor to contain its development or to decouple from it. “We seek a level playing field – open markets, fair trade, and a respect for our values. We’re not seeking to contain China’s development. We want a constructive relationship with China’s leaders like we have enjoyed for generations with China’s people,” he said.
Mr Pence also accused China of trying to export censorship by exploiting corporate greed, as he chided American sports corporations Nike and the National Basketball Association for recently yielding to Chinese pressure to toe the line on sensitive issues like the Hong Kong protests.
Read more here: China resolutely opposes US Vice-President Pence’s comments on Hong Kong
NO GEISHA THIS
Japan’s Empress Masako, having long struggled with what the imperial household terms an “adjustment disorder”, has blossomed in the spotlight since her husband Naruhito became Emperor in May, says Tokyo Correspondent Walter Sim.
Brimming with newfound confidence, she has wowed the public, breaking free of the constraints placed on her by the rigid strictures of the palace, restrictions then-Crown Prince Naruhito lashed out at and described as “moves to deny Masako’s career and personality”.
Images in the media of the Empress, looking resplendent at Tuesday’s enthronement and wearing a bright smile as she chatted with foreign heads of state and royalty, set many abuzz, says Walter.
The Harvard-educated Empress was a high-flying diplomat who grew up in Tokyo, Moscow and New York, and had also played a part in resolving trade disputes between the United States and Japan in the 1980s.
She is also a polyglot, being fluent in English, French and German. A senior official of the Imperial Household Agency told Kyodo News: “The recovery of the Empress’ health condition has supported the couple’s favourable performances.” But experts said this “recovery” largely stems from how Empress Masako, 55, is now back in her comfort zone.
Our editorial on the subject notes that Emperor Naruhito himself was brought up unconventionally by his mother instead of by nannies and is also the first Japanese emperor to be educated abroad, at Oxford University.
Read more here: An emperor for Japan in a new era
CAREFUL WHEN YOU CROSS
If you thought Singapore had been a bit of a slouch when it comes to emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles, get this: All of western Singapore will become a test bed for self-driving vehicles.
This sets the stage for companies to test their AVs in neighbourhoods such as Bukit Timah, Clementi and Jurong, with the expanded test bed covering more than 1,000km of public roads. Transport writer Toh Ting Wei says the expansion is expected to take place gradually over the next several years, and public safety will continue to be top priority.
Developers of autonomous vehicles have called the move to open up all of western Singapore for trials an unprecedented step – one that will greatly enhance the development of such vehicles here. National University of Singapore researcher Marcelo Ang said that countries such as the United States and South Korea also have designated areas to test AVs, but these areas typically have some form of separation from public roads.
“I haven’t heard of anything like this on this scale. Most countries are doing trials in places with limited access,” said Dr Ang, who has been collaborating with the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology Future Urban Mobility (Smart FM) group in research on AVs.
Read more here: Expanded test bed in Singapore for autonomous vehicles a big boost for research: Developers
Given that he is not allowed to seek a third term and can thus act without fear of hurting his chances of re-election, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, better known as Jokowi, is better positioned today to take hard decisions than he was in his first term.
In my weekly Speaking of Asia column I argue that a confident Jokowi has done well by bringing in Prabowo Subianto, the man he bested in two presidential polls, as defence minister and at the same time, appointing tech entrepreneur Nadiem Makarim as education minister.
Mr Nadiem’s appointment serves the dual purpose of bringing in not only a person who is entirely au fait with the digital economy, but also a personality that appeals to millennials who are at risk of souring on the President because of proposed laws that could outlaw as criminal offences homosexuality and sex out of wedlock.
The education ministry is a prized catch in any multi-religious society and some of the creeping Islamisation of Indonesia has been linked to curriculum changes in the vast hinterland as a loosening federal structure devolves more power to local governments.
Having Mr Nadiem in Cabinet and subject to its discipline also likely gives Mr Joko the leeway to instruct the new minister – one of the 2016 Straits Times Asians of the Year – to modernise and position the country’s education system to better cope with the unfolding disruptions of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Meanwhile, Indonesia Correspondent Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja says Mr Joko is considering appointing Sakti Wahyu Trenggono, a former treasurer in Mr Joko’s re-election campaign team and is close to the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) as deputy to Defence Minister Prabowo.
Read more here: Jokowi appoints election campaign treasurer as deputy defence minister; deputy foreign minister takes charge of trade pacts
IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Not funny: Tensions within Malaysia’s coalition government is rising with Home Ministry announcing that it will seize copies of a pro-China comic book authored and distributed by Mr Hew Kuan Yau, a former member of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), says Malaysia Correspondent Nadirah H. Rodzi. The Chinese-dominated DAP is one of the four parties within the ruling PH coalition. The comic book titled Belt And Road Initiative For Win-Winism was banned on Wednesday after a public outcry in Muslim-majority Malaysia over its contents, which describe Malays who support ethnic Uighurs in China as radicals. Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said his ministry found a “strong basis” to maintain that the comic book tried to promote communism and socialism.
Flight plan: Indonesia has recommended closer scrutiny of automated control systems, better design of flight deck alerts and accounting for a more diverse pilot population in the wake of a Boeing 737 Max crash, Reuters reported, quoting the Seattle Times which got an advance copy of the report. Indonesian investigators on Wednesday told families of the victims that a mix of factors contributed to the crash, including mechanical and design issues and a lack of documentation about how systems would behave..
Identity checks: British police have yet to confirm that the 39 people found dead in a truck near London were Chinese nationals, the Chinese embassy in London said on Friday, in a case that has triggered national outrage over the people trafficking business. Emergency workers discovered the bodies early Wednesday inside the refrigerated container of a truck parked in an industrial area east of London, shortly after it had arrived on a ferry from Belgium. “All are believed to be Chinese nationals,” Essex Police said in a statement on Thursday. Police are conducting the country’s largest murder probe in more than a decade.
Smoking ban: South Korea has advised people to stop using liquid e-cigarettes due to growing health concerns and vowed to speed up an investigation into whether to ban sales, a move likely to hit major producers such as Juul and local tobacco company KT&G. “The current situation is considered as a serious risk to public health,” AFP quoted South Korea’s health minister Park Neung-hoo as saying at a briefing.Since smoking was banned indoors at places like restaurants and cafés in 2015, South Korea has become less tolerant of smokers. But e-cigarettes have been gaining popularity in the country’s US$16 billion tobacco market.
These insights are produced by The Straits Times, the official media partner for the Asia House Global Trade Dialogue, taking place in Singapore on 7 November 2019.
Reading this on the web or know someone who might enjoy receiving Asian Insider? The sign-up page is here