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    Asian Insider 6 November: Beijing tells Carrie Lam to be bolder, why Modi nixed RCEP and how to train the dragon tourist

    Published On: 6 November 2019

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


    6 November 2019

    In today’s bulletin: Beijing tells Hong Kong’s leader to be bolder in tackling unrest, why Modi refused to let India join the world’s largest trade pact and would you pay US$1,000 to see a Komodo dragon in its lair?



    Beijing supports more bold measures to tackle the roots of unrest that has roiled Hong Kong for months, a senior Chinese official said on Wednesday (Nov 6). China’s Vice-Premier Han Zheng, at a meeting in Beijing with Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam, said that anti-government protests were damaging the “one country, two systems” framework under which the city has been governed since its handover from Britain to Beijing in 1997.

    “We firmly support the Special Administrative Region government to adopt more pro-active and more effective measures to solve the social problems,” he said. He referenced unaffordable housing in the city, which is classified as a special region of China, but did not elaborate on what the bolder measures might be.

    Mr Han was speaking just hours after a knife-wielding man attacked a pro-Beijing lawmaker in Hong Kong. Legislator Junius Ho, his assistant and the alleged attacker were taken to hospital with injuries following the assault. The attacker’s motive is not clear but the anti-government protesters know Mr Ho as the man who was filmed in July laughing and shaking hands with suspected triad gang members who assaulted peaceful demonstrators.

    Explore why it’s tricky to solve the Hong Kong crisis:

    For one, the Hong Kong government missed a golden opportunity to affirm its commitment to the “one country, two systems’ principle by disqualifying political activist Joshua Wong from the Nov 24 district council elections,  says ST’s Hong Kong Correspondent Claire Huang.

    Two, Mrs Carrie Lam is proving herself to be a workhorse but what the city seeks is a leader.

    And three, by pushing for changes to laws on patriotic education and national security in Hong Kong, China is treading a risky path that may drive a deeper wedge in the city, writes ST’s Regional Correspondent Elizabeth Law.



    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the leaders gathered for talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in Bangkok this week that his conscience would not permit him to join the partnershipA groundswell of criticism in India played into his decision, reports ST’s India Correspondent Debarshi Dasgupta. The concerns are not unfounded. India recorded a trade deficit of more than US$105 billion (S$142 billion) with the countries in the proposed pact in the 2018-19 financial year – a key fact that influenced opinion.

    China’s vice-commerce minister said on Wednesday (Nov 6) he understands India’s concerns that the deal could hurt its industries. But, he said, it could also open doors for India’s exports.

    The dawn of a new trade pact in the world’s most dynamic region reflects the triumph of leadership over drift, and is something to celebrate at a time when tit-for-tat tariffs have thrown sand in the gears of commerce, says The Straits Times.

    Get the background:

    India’s Berlin Wall moment in trade: The kind of issues that were the likely deal-breakers for India.

    It’s great that RCEP is in the bag but it also makes sense to perfect the AEC, writes ST’s Associate Editor Ravi Velloor.



    Philippine security forces have arrested dozens of activists in what leftist groups say is a state-led effort to silence President Rodrigo Duterte’s loudest critics. The arrested were accused of undergoing firearms and explosives training to sow discord and destabilise the government.

    The leftist groups had given Mr Duterte their support in the 2016 national election but have since withdrawn their support, reports ST’s Philippines Correspondent Raul Dancel. They accuse Mr Duterte of reneging on his promises such as ending the widespread practice among the country’s biggest retailers of hiring workers on short-term contracts. He now says that “labour-only contracting” is needed in some situations.

    In another controversial move, Mr Duterte has put Vice-President Leni Robredo, his main political rival, in charge of a  body tasked to oversee his controversial drug war.

    In a memorandum made public on Tuesday (Nov 5), Mr Duterte designated Ms Robredo as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs. His spokesman Salvador Panelo said in appointing Ms Robredo as “drugs czar” till 2022, Mr Duterte is making good on a pledge to let a critic who thinks she can do a better job steer his drug war.


    More than 5,000 have died in President Duterte’s brutal war on the narcotics trade yet illegal drugs continue to flood the Philippines. A frustrated Mr Duterte said in April that the nation’s drug problem had “worsened”.  The country could end up as the next Mexico, a playground for drug cartels, he warned. And days later, he conceded that the campaign had been a failure.



    After going nowhere for the better part of the past six years, the price of gold is surging. Since November last year, it has gone from around US$1,200 an ounce to US$1,514 at the end of last week, a rise of more than 26 per cent. This year alone, it has risen 18 per cent. Gold bugs are bullish, with some even predicting that the price of gold could double from here. Why is this happening? ST’s Associate Editor Vikram Khanna answers what might have triggered a change in the mindset of the market that has led investors to suddenly pour money into an asset with a zero yield.

    Dig for more:

    Gold gets driven toward US$1,600 as oldest safe haven shows its mettle

    Jewellers find new ways to woo buyers as price rises

    ETF investors in gold rush despite drawbacks

    China’s gold-buying spree tops 100 tonnes during trade war



    Indonesia’s Komodo dragons are a victim of their own fearsome reputation. The world’s largest lizards are aggressive, their saliva is venomous and they have fatally attacked humans. The four-legged reptiles can grow to 3m in length and weigh more than 100kg.

    With just 2,800 roaming wild, primarily on the islands of Komodo and Rinca, in the Komodo National Park, they are an endangered species.

    Tourists love them. Some 44,000 tourists went to the East Nusa Tenggara province, where these creatures live, in 2008. The figure zoomed to 176,000 visitors last year. There is deep concern over their future partly because the numbers of animals they prey on, such as deer, buffalo and wild boar, have dwindled due to illegal hunting. To protect them, officials have suggested that each visitor might soon have to pay US$1,000 (S$1,357) each to view the dragons in their lairs. Once they pay this annual fee, they can visit the huge national park of 173,300ha – 76.5 per cent of which is water – multiple times a year. And that has triggered a big debate, reports ST’s Indonesia Correspondent Linda Yusliman.

    Enjoy a choice selection of our animal stories:

    Freedom in sight for Delhi’s elephants

    Young South Koreans love saying hello to kitty

    Dramatic tiger capture in India highlights growing human-wildlife conflicts

    Doddery dog? Take them to a pet nursing home in Japan

    India wants to turn cattle into tourism cash cow



    IT’S AN EMERGENCY: In a move that backs a term used mainly by climate activists and left-leaning politicians, a study by 11,258 scientists in 153 countries warns that the planet “clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency,” and provides six broad policy goals that must be met to address it.

    VIETNAM COULD SUE OVER DISPUTE: Vietnam could explore legal action in its territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea, a senior government official said on Wednesday (Nov 6). Frictions have grown since Beijing in July sent a ship for a months-long seismic survey to an area internationally designated as Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone but also claimed by China. Deputy Foreign Minister Le Hoai Trung said Vietnam preferred negotiations but did have other options.

    INDIA BRACES FOR TEMPLE VERDICT: India has deployed thousands of additional security forces and roped in about 16,000 “digital volunteers” to sanitise social media of inflammatory posts ahead of a crucial Supreme Court verdict on a disputed religious site. Hindus and Muslims have for decades been bitterly divided over the 16th-century Babri mosque in Ayodhya, a city in the northern Uttar Pradesh state that Hindus believe is the birthplace of their god Ram.

    CAMPAIGNS LAUNCHED: Britain’s major parties have launched their electoral campaigns in the run-up to the general election scheduled for Dec 12 by vying with one another in promises to resolve the dispute over Brexit. But although both the ruling Conservatives and their chief opponent Labour vowed to make quick progress on Brexit, their first skirmishes in what promises to be a gruelling and ill-tempered electoral campaign offered no fresh ideas.

    SEARCH FOR DIVERS: The search operation for three missing divers – one of whom is Singaporean – entered its fourth day on Wednesday (Nov 6) in the waters off Indonesia’s Sangiang island in the Sunda Strait. At least 12 vessels, including navy ships and police patrol boats, and two helicopters were deployed on Wednesday.

    DYING FOR A BETTER LIFE: A South Korean service is offering free funerals – but only to the living. More than 25,000 people have participated in mass “living funeral” services at Hyowon Healing Centre since it opened in 2012, hoping to improve their lives by simulating their deaths.


    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.

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