Tuesday, 22 Sep 2020

Asian Insider, Aug 17: A deadly new strain of coronavirus?; Alex Azar’s visit to Taiwan; Japan’s record economic slump


In today’s bulletin: Scientists dispute findings of more deadly coronavirus strains; experts weigh in on a flare-up of the US-China rift; US health secretary Alex Azar’s visit to Taiwan raises concern; Japan’s record economic slump; Facebook caught in a political controversy in India; Singapore-Malaysia begin cross-border travel, and more.

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Experts in Singapore have disputed claims by Malaysian officials that they had found a deadlier strain of coronavirus that can cause Covid-19 and is 10 times more infectious in an announcement on Sunday, that stoked fresh fears over the pandemic in the region.    

Scientists here said the strain – D614G – has already been found in Singapore and would have no impact on vaccine development, writes Senior Health Correspondent Salma Khalik. 

Meanwhile, the Philippines too reported the discovery of a more infectious strain of the coronavirus – the G614 – in Quezon city that is home to 2.9 million people. Philippine Correspondent Raul Dancel writes that the G614 strain emerged out of the D614G mutation of the original D614 strain that was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, meanwhile, called for a delay in the holding of the general election by four weeks until Oct 17 as the country’s latest outbreak worsened. And neighbouring Australia reported its biggest one-day rise in Covid-19 deaths today, though the state at the epicentre of the country’s outbreak – Victoria – said the number of new infections held steady.

Get the latest on coronavirus in the region on our microsite here. 

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A potential flare-up of the US-China dispute, which has rapidly progressed from a trade dispute to a technology battle and an ideological conflict, has caused much anguish in the region.

In Chinese political circles there’s even talk of an armed conflict but for now observers believe that possibility remains highly improbable, although they acknowledge that the risks have increased. China Bureau Chief Tan Dawn Wei speaks to several experts on this issue (premium content). Subscribe to The Straits Times to read her story.

Meanwhile, the rift between two giants continued to widen with US President Donald Trump hinting over the weekend that Washington might consider putting more pressure on other Chinese tech companies after the move to ban TikTok. 

And in a related development, Hong Kong Commerce Secretary Edward Yau told the media today that he will be taking up the issue of labelling of Hong Kong goods for export with the US government. This is to resolve the issue of these goods being labelled as made in China, from Sept 25.


Billed as one of the highest level visits by an official of the United States in recent years, US Health Secretary Alex Azar’s trip continues to stoke concern over its likely consequences at a time of widening rift between the US and China. 

It was a poke in the eye for Beijing, writes Global Affairs Correspondent Goh Sui Noi in her article Taiwan’s tightrope walk between the US and China (premium content). China’s made its displeasure known and is also concerned over strengthening ties between Taiwan and the US. What next for Taiwan? Read her article to find out. 

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s main opposition party Kuomintang (KMT) was routed in a key mayoral by-election on Sunday, in a vote overshadowed by turmoil in Hong Kong and cross-strait tensions. 

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Taiwan inks deal to buy 66 F-16 jets from US

Taiwan to raise defence spending by $1.98 billion


The world’s third largest economy reported a record economic slump in a stark reminder of the damages being inflicted by the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Japan’s gross domestic product (GDP) shrank an annualised 27.8 per cent in April-June, government data showed on Monday (Aug 17). This is the biggest decline since comparable data became available in 1980.

Decrease in consumption, due to lockdown measures, as well as a drop in exports, with global demand hitting a low, were key contributing factors. With the economy being reopened, some observers are optimistic of better growth in the July-September quarter.


China’s domestic spending remains sluggish as economy recovers from coronavirus

Thailand’s recession deepens with biggest GDP fall since 1998 Asian financial crisis


Indian lawmakers are calling for a probe into reports that employees of social media giant Facebook could be favouring Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party, following media reports on the issue. India’s largest opposition party – the Congress party – wants a  parliamentary probe on the matter. Meanwhile, members of the BJP too have accused Facebook of censoring nationalist voices.

Also read:   

Temasek calls out racist Facebook posts

Facebook removes 7 million posts for sharing false information on coronavirus


SINGAPORE-MALAYSIA CROSS-BORDER TRAVEL COMMENCES: Dozens of Malaysians made their way across the Causeway to Singapore today, as the two countries’ cross-border travel arrangements kicked in. Alongside, dozens from Singapore lined up to meet their families again in Malaysia. The limited resumption of cross-border travel is expected to aid business operations.  

CHINA’S HONG KONG GARRISON JOINS SOUTH CHINA SEA DRILL: The Chinese army released footage of its Hong Kong garrison firing cannons and torpedoes in a drill in the South China Sea. This follows rising tensions between Beijing and Washington Hong Kong and the deployment by the US Navy of a carrier strike group to the area to conduct maritime air-defence operations.

INDIA RESTORES 4G INTERNET SERVICES IN PARTS OF KASHMIR: India on Sunday restored high speed 4G internet services in two districts of Kashmir after the Supreme Court last month said an indefinite shutdown of the internet there was illegal. The communication lockdown had been imposed last year after authorities said the security situation was not conducive for mobile Internet access.

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading. We’ll be back with you tomorrow. 


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