Friday, 23 Aug 2019

Asian Insider June 12: Protests rage in Hong Kong

EXTRADITION CRISIS

Hong Kong lawmakers were forced to delay a planned debate of the controversial extradition Bill on Wednesday morning after thousands of protesters parked themselves outside the government headquarters in Admiralty and blocked key downtown routes to show their opposition.

Shortly after 9am, protesters started clapping and chanting “go Hong Kong, go”,  “cancel the meeting” and “(we) oppose the Bill”. In scenes resembling the 2014 pro-democracy “umbrella” protests, young protesters, many dressed in black, wearing masks and carrying umbrellas, dragged metal barricades to the roads leading to the government complex, with the aim of cutting off access to the building. Local reports said police in riot gear used pepper spray on the crowds. By about 9.45am, the police started dispersing the crowd. Police issued a red notice to warn protesters not to misbehave or they will use force.

A government notice issued at 11am said the meeting to debate the Bill has been rescheduled “to a later time”. But the protest organisers said there could still be a meeting, and asked protesters to protect themselves. In an advisory, the Hong Kong authorities asked civil servants not to head for the government headquarters, as its entrances were blocked. The story is developing.

Hong Kong Correspondent Claire Huang says business confidence in Hong Kong is under more pressure as the government moves to secure a quick passage of the extradition Bill that has stoked fear in parts of the community, although some observers believe this unease will dissipate.

PLASTIC WAIST

Fancy a pinch of plastic with that shellfish dish?

Science Editor Chang Ai-Lien says new research combining the results of more than 50 studies globally has found that on average, people could be ingesting about 5g of plastic every week – equivalent to a credit card – in the air they breathe, the food they eat and, especially, the water they drink.

This amounts to about 100,000 tiny pieces of plastic – or 250g – every year, said the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the University of Newcastle on Wednesday. The study was commissioned by WWF and done by the Australian university.

The largest source of plastic ingestion was drinking water, with plastic found in water including groundwater, surface water, tap water and bottled water all over the world.

Another key source was shellfish, accounting for as much as 0.5g a week. Shellfish are eaten whole, including their digestive system, after a life in plastic-polluted seas.

“These findings must serve as a wake-up call to governments. If we don’t want plastic in our bodies, we need to stop the millions of tonnes of plastic that continue leaking into nature every year,” said WWF International director general Marco Lambertini.

KOREA STALEMATE

A year after US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un first inked a deal in Singapore to establish new ties and work towards complete denuclearisation of the North, both sides have yet to take any big steps towards the stated end goals.

The agreement signed on Sentosa Island exactly one year ago remains the first and only one struck between the two Cold War foes, as talks have stalled since Mr Trump walked away from their second summit held in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February.

The path ahead is unclear, says South Korea Correspondent Chang May Choon, as both sides hold firm to their different demands while urging the other to give in. The United States is pressing for one big deal, while the North prefers a phased approach with early rewards, such as dismantling its main Yongbyon nuclear facility for the easing of some sanctions.

Experts say the two sides find it hard to bridge the gap due to a lack of trust, and that the nuclear stalemate could last a long time despite the two leaders’ firm commitment to dialogue.

GAY MATTER

More than two decades since Malaysia’s then-deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim was forced  out of government with a sodomy allegation, accusations of gay sex are still a key political weapon in the arsenal of warlords in the Muslim majority nation, says Malaysia Bureau Chief Shannon Teoh.

In the latest round of blood-letting, videos of a man resembling a senior Cabinet minister and an aide to a deputy minister engaged in sexual acts surfaced on Tuesday in a targeted leak to journalists. The mainstream media began publishing stories immediately after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad denied knowledge of the videos that afternoon, sparking what may be the start of open warfare within the 13-month-old Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration.

In the wee hours of Wednesday, Mr Haziq Aziz, principal private secretary to the Deputy Primary Industries Minister Shamsul Iskandar, confessed in a video posted on his Facebook that he was the man in the video with the minister. Although the minister in question has not responded – his press aide said they “will get back to you as soon as we can” – those aligned to him have not just defended the leader, but pointed to sabotage by a rival camp. Some of these counterattacks are apparently based on Mr Haziq’s background as a staffer with the ousted Barisan Nasional’s (BN) law minister just before last year’s election, as well as his support for a rival candidate in internal party polls. But also, they are questioning his claim that the tryst was secretly filmed on May 11, the night the PH won a key by-election, given the minister was attending a breaking of fast event with the King.

ALCOHOL, ABUSE

Everyone knows that South Koreans — male and female — are pretty strong drinkers. However, images of a South Korean teenage mother who drank for days while her baby daughter was allegedly left to die at home have sparked a firestorm of criticism on the Internet and shocked millions.

The mother and her 21-year-old husband, who was out playing computer games with friends, were arrested last Friday night on charges of child abuse resulting in death. The couple are also accused of abandoning the child’s body.

Pictures and postings on social media showed the 18-year-old mother out drinking with friends while her seven-month-old daughter was believed to be starving to death.

The mother posted images of herself drinking every day between May 25 and 28, while her baby was allegedly home alone in Incheon.

Her social media posts drew thousands of comments, most of which slammed her for neglecting her duties as a mother and bragging about it online.

The child’s father initially confirmed her death at around 4pm on May 31. Both parents are accused of hiding the body in a box until the child’s maternal grandfather discovered it two days later.

The police are still investigating and the cause of death has not yet been determined.

IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Grab, South-east Asia’s most valuable start-up, is exploring a move into Singapore banking as regulators in the South-east Asian city-state consider allowing online-only banks, four people with knowledge of the process told Reuters. Grab is close to hiring a consultancy to advise it on its banking potential, and is gearing up to apply for a digital-only bank licence in Singapore if the banking regulator decides to open up the sector, said the people, who declined to be identified.

Retired Indonesian army general Kivlan Zen was behind the plot to assassinate four senior state officials, as well as a high-profile pollster, during the riots in Jakarta last month, according to police in Jakarta. Indonesia Bureau Chief Francis Chan says Adjunct Chief Police Commissioner Ade Ary Syam Indradi disclosed that a local politician with the initials HM was also involved in the procurement of firearms for the alleged hit. Indonesian police typically do not name suspects in ongoing investigations, but several local media reports identified the politician as United Development Party (PPP) cadre member Habil Marati.

Trade-focused Singapore is not the first place you’d expect to be mentioned when it comes to frontline defence technology. So, the Singapore Army’s launch of its indigenously developed armoured fighting vehicle may come as a surprise to many.

The Hunter is armed with a 30mm cannon, a 7.62mm machine gun, eight 76mm smoke grenade launchers and two anti-tank guided missiles – the first time the missiles have been integrated into an armoured fighting vehicle, says our Defence writer Lim Min Zhang. Chief Armour Officer Yew Chee Leung, 42, said the Hunter is the army’s first fully digitalised vehicle, incorporating smart digital technologies that cater to modern-day soldiers. 

That’s it for today. Keep checking www.straitstimes.com for the latest updates on Asia.

Insider will be back tomorrow.

Meanwhile, seize the day!

Ravi

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