Friday, 10 Apr 2020

Asian Insider Nov 7: Scent of a trade deal, Delhi gasps for clean air and China’s rules for young gamers


In today’s bulletin: Are US and China ready to roll back tariffs, can Delhi tame pollution and can China teach its young gamers good habits?

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China and the United States have reportedly agreed to roll back tariffs on each other’s goods in phases as they work towards a deal between the two sides. 

A spokesman from China’s Ministry of Commerce on Thursday (Nov 7) set hopes soaring when he said: “In the past two weeks, top negotiators had serious, constructive discussions and agreed to remove the additional tariffs in phases as progress is made on the agreement.

“If China, US reach a phase-one deal, both sides should roll back existing additional tariffs in the same proportion simultaneously based on the content of the agreement, which is an important condition for reaching the agreement,” spokesman Gao Feng said .

Will they, won’t they? The optimists took note of reports on Thursday that said China had sentenced three nationals to maximum punishments for smuggling fentanyl to the US. This is one of China’s highest-profile moves against the illicit flow of opioids that has been raised by President Donald Trump time and again in trade talks between Washington and Beijing.

So are they poised for a deal after nearly 20 months of a tit-for-tat trade war? In anticipation, stocks rallied. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index climbing 0.6 per cent. US and European stock futures jumped. The yuan strengthened.

But the path ahead looks rocky:

The way out of the trade war is obvious but not simple, veteran trade observer Merle Hinrich told The Straits Times in an interview.

Mr Steven Okun, senior adviser at international strategic advisory firm McLarty Associates, said the phase one deal needs to construct a foundation for a phase two pact.


– No playing video games after 10pm 

– No more than 90 minutes of gaming on weekdays and 180 minutes on weekends

– Keep in-app purchases to US$57 (S$77) a month

Those are the new rules the Chinese government  announced on Tuesday (Nov 5) to curb video game addiction among young people  Top officials believe overindulgence in games is to blame for a rise in nearsightedness and poor academic performance. It is not China’s first attempt to discipline the online gaming industry which generates more than US$33 billion in annual revenue and draws hundreds of millions of users. The state-run media has likened some online games to “poison” and the government has blocked sales of some titles on the grounds that they are too violent. 

But, the march of technology is on. China has officially started researching sixth-generation (6G) telecoms technology. State media reported on Thursday (Nov 7) that government ministries and research institutes met this week in a “kick-off” meeting to establish a national 6G technology research and development group. The move comes days after the country’s top three telcos rolled out 5G mobile phone services nationwide. China had originally said it would launch the ultra-fast mobile Internet service early next year but accelerated its plans as tensions with the United States heated up. President Donald Trump in February tweeted that he wanted 6G technology in the US as soon as possible, urging US firms to step up their efforts or get left behind.

Twists in the tech war:

Huawei prefers to work with US firms. It will “drill its own well” and survive the US ban, though this is the preferred path, says founder Ren Zhengfei.

Huawei forecasts robust smartphone growth despite Trump ban

Huawei says it has begun producing 5G base stations without US parts


Beijing could resort to military conflict with self-ruled Taiwan to divert domestic pressure if a slowdown threatens the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party, according to Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu. 

Sketching out the scenario of a slowing Chinese economy, in an interview with Reuters on Wednesday (Nov 6), Mr Wu said: “If the internal stability is a very serious issue, or economic slowdown has become a very serious issue for the top leaders to deal with, that is the occasion that we need to be very careful. We need to prepare ourselves for the worst situation to come…military conflict.”

As Taiwan’s presidential elections approach in January, China has stepped up a campaign to “reunify” with what it considers a wayward province, wooing away the island’s few diplomatic allies and flying regular bomber patrols around it.

China’s economy is expected to slow to a near 30-year low this year, making it harder for Beijing to keep up growth that has been fundamental to the Communist Party’s political legitimacy.

How cross-strait tensions have spiked:

China says it will ‘fully respect’ Taiwan’s way of life

Taiwan says China is an ‘authoritarian’ threat in the Pacific

China’s diplomatic squeeze on Taiwan risks backfiring on Xi Jinping

Rising tensions over Taiwan mark start of major crisis: Academic


Conversations in Delhi these days are punctuated with coughs and questions. 

With pollution readings touching record highs, the city’s 20 million residents wonder when they will be able to breathe freely again. ST’s India Correspondent Rohini Mohan asks what it is going to take to tackle the problem.

The question many ask is can Delhi take a leaf from Beijing’s book? For, Delhi may be the globe’s most polluted capital today but that toxic trophy was once held by Beijing.

The Chinese capital deemed “almost uninhabitable” for humans in 2014 turned things around  through an unprecedented nationwide clean-up. But there are differences between China’s and India’s approaches. 

More questions:

The question ST’s India Correspondent Debarshi Dasgupta asks is: Why do I live in one of the world’s most polluted cities? 

While political parties ask who is to blame, reports ST’s India Bureau Chief Nirmala Ganapathy. 


A sophisticated cyber attack on an Indian nuclear power plant could have originated in North Korea.  One of the hackers involved used a particular computer that is produced and used only in North Korea, a Seoul-based cyber-intelligence organisation has claimed.

Aimed at ferreting out sensitive research and technical data, the focus of the attack was the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu. Reportedly, the hackers were after data on thorium-based nuclear power. India, which has the world’s largest deposit of thorium, is a leader in this field.

Indian cyber-security expert Pukhraj Singh told The Straits Times he had alerted the office of India’s National Cyber Security Coordinator after ascertaining the facts of the attack.

The Indian Space Research Organisation, then in the thick of its lunar mission, was also targeted around the same time by the same malware campaign.

There isn’t conclusive proof but North Korea’s hackers made a lot of headlines:

North Korea took $2 billion in cyber attacks to fund weapons programme

UN probing 35 North Korean cyberattacks in 17 countries

As Trump and Kim met, North Korean hackers hit over 100 targets in US and ally nations


US TO HOST APEC?:  The United States is considering hosting an Apec summit in the country in January after Chile pulled out, Malaysia’s foreign minister said on Thursday (Nov 7), citing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Chile cancelled the Nov 16-17 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit because of violent protests. Malaysia is the host of the next Apec summit scheduled for end-2020. “Secretary Pompeo made a call to me while we were in Bangkok asking for Malaysia’s position, because Chile is not able to host Apec this November and that the US is thinking of hosting Apec some time in January in the US,” Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah told reporters. “But I have informed the American officials who were in Bangkok that we don’t think it’s a good idea,” he added.

MANILA WILL STAMP: The Philippines has resumed stamping Chinese passports with pages that bore a faint map showing Beijing’s expansive claim over the disputed South China Sea. Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said this arose from “security concerns” and was not a diplomatic retreat. The Philippines stopped stamping Chinese passports in 2012 after it was caught in a months-long stand-off with China over a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.

MAHATHIR IN NO HURRY: Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad says he will not step down as Malaysia’s prime minister until he has resolved the problems facing the country. The problems, he said, included recovering the billions lost through 1Malaysia Development Berhad, finding and trying fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low, and stamping out corruption in the public service. In an interview published on Wednesday (Nov 6), Dr Mahathir said there was no actual date or time mentioned for him to step down.

ISIS CHIEF A ‘NOBODY’: The new leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group is “a nobody” with little apparent reputation but the United States hopes he will be killed soon, a US official said. The group last week announced Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi as its new leader after a US commando raid killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the chief of the ultra-violent movement.A senior US official said that monitoring of ISIS social media indicates that even followers did not know much about Hashimi.

HOW MUCH FOR THAT CRAB: A snow crab fetched a record 5 million yen (S$62,500) on Thursday (Nov 7) in the season’s first crab auction in western Japan. With a shell of 14.6cm and a weight of 1.24kg, the crab was caught off the coast of Tottori prefecture, an area known for pricey snow crabs. It was bought by Kanemasa-Hamashita, a shop in the city of Tottori. They plan to sell it to a restaurant in Tokyo’s Ginza district.

That’s it for today, thanks for reading.


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