Sunday, 29 Nov 2020

Asian Insider, Oct 22: Muhyiddin’s woes aren’t over, Cathay’s worse off than SIA

Hi all,

In today’s bulletin: Malaysia PM still faces stern test after Anwar’s coup undone; Thailand lifts emergency measures but protesters press on with demands; Hong Kong’s Cathay Airways is in a tighter spot than SIA, and more.

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A month after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim first claimed to have a “formidable majority” in Malaysia’s Parliament, the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president’s unlikely plan to unseat Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has finally unravelled, Malaysia Bureau Chief Shannon Teoh writes. 

Umno president Zahid Hamidi has retreated from his threats to quit Tan Sri Muhyiddin’s government, calling instead for a political ceasefire among parties that form the ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) pact. It meant a surrender by default for Datuk Seri Anwar. Yet, the huge blow to the credibility of Mr Anwar – who has failed on at least four coup attempts now in the past 12 years – does not mean the Prime Minister is in the clear. Several challenges still await him in the coming weeks. 

Meanwhile, Mr Yassin is expected to chair a special meeting of his Cabinet at his office in Putrajaya on Friday morning (Oct 23), sources say. The meeting will take place at 9.30am. Sources attached with several ministries also confirmed the meeting, but were tight-lipped on its agenda.


Thailand’s government has ordered the removal of emergency measures imposed last week to try to end months of protests against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the monarchy. But protestors said withdrawing the measures was not enough, giving Mr Prayut three days to resign and meet other key demands that include reforming the monarchy. 

The demonstrators say the former junta leader rigged an election last year to keep hold of power he seized in a 2014 coup. They also accuse the monarchy of enabling years of military domination and want to curb the king’s powers. 

As the Thai unrest continues, a spotlight has been shone on the country’s ubiquitous street food sellers, who have earned the nickname “CIA” for the intelligence that helps them reach protests not only before police, but before many protesters too. By the time most protesters show up at demonstrations, the first hawkers are there with their mobile food carts. 

In case you missed it: A royal avenue at the centre of thailand’s brewing political conflict


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced that the State Department is designating the US operations of six China-based media companies as foreign missions, a move he said was aimed at pushing back against communist propaganda. The announcement is the latest step to curb Chinese activity in the United States in the run-up to the Nov 3 presidential election, in which US President Donald Trump has made a tough approach to China a key foreign policy theme. 

The move amounts to “political oppression” and comes from a Cold War mentality, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, vowing that China would make the necessary response and urging the US to change its decision. “The US approach to the Chinese media … exposes the hypocrisy of its self-proclaimed so-called freedom of the press,” he said. 

Read also: China is the threat of the century, Trump’s security adviser says


The Thai government’s crackdown on protests has only emboldened the movement, with demonstrators adapting quickly, playing a cat and mouse game with the police. A special session of parliament next week offers some space to lower the temperature and potential paths to compromise. But how far will the Thai government go to try to meet the protesters’ demands? 

Associate Professor Viengrat Netipho from Chulalongkorn University discussed what may come to pass, with US Bureau Chief Nirmal Ghosh on Asian Insider’s latest video this week. Catch the premiere at 8pm on ST’s YouTube channel.


Cathay Pacific Airways and Singapore Airlines (SIA) have stood out for over half a century as aviation powerhouses, prestigious brands atop a lucrative market fuelled by Asia’s economic boom. The pandemic has severely hurt the pair, but Hong Kong-based Cathay is likely in a tougher spot, analysts say. 

Cathay’s cull of about 24 per cent of its total workforce and shuttering of its regional airline Cathay Dragon this week follows SIA’s announcement last month that it would cut 20 per cent of its workforce. But SIA is in a better position because its staff costs are about 20 per cent lower than Cathay’s. And while the Singapore government guarantees that its flagship carrier will not collapse, Cathay has to deal with extra geopolitical challenges as China dictates rules on land, sea and air. 


India has started planning to distribute the Covid-19 vaccine whenever it is ready, India Bureau Chief Nirmala Ganapathy writes. Health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said the first phase of the plan from January to July next year will involve vaccinating people, including healthcare workers on the front line. States have been asked to draw up their priority lists. 

India will undoubtedly be at the forefront of ensuring a global supply of the vaccine, as the country is a key supplier of medicines for a variety of diseases across the world. It supplies 50 to 60 per cent of global demand for many vaccines, affordable anti-retroviral drugs and 40 per cent of generics consumed in the US. 

Meanwhile in Japan, researchers showed that masks can offer protection from airborne coronavirus particles, but even professional-grade coverings cannot entirely eliminate contagion risk. There has been a growing consensus among health experts that the Covid-19 virus can be spread through the air. 

Also, on travelling during the pandemic: 

India to restore visas in bid to open economy 

Japan to ease entry rules for business trips of up to 3 days 

Get the latest coronavirus updates at our dedicated website.


HSBC’S ICONIC HK LIONS MAKE RETURN IN SUBDUED CITY: Damaged and defaced during tumultuous protests at the start of this year, the two bronze lion statues standing guard outside HSBC’s office in Hong Kong have made their return to the public in a city subdued by a Chinese crackdown on dissent. The lions, nicknamed “Stephen” and “Stitt”, were unveiled following an almost 10-month restoration project after they were splashed with spray paint and partly set ablaze during a mass march at the start of this year. 

S.KOREAN DEATHS SPARK FLU VACCINE SAFETY FEARS: South Korean officials have refused to suspend the country’s seasonal flu inoculation programme despite growing calls to do so following the deaths of at least 13 people vaccinated in recent days. Health authorities said they have found no direct links between the deaths, which include a 17-year-old boy. 

IMF CUTS ASIA’S GROWTH FORECAST: The International Monetary Fund slashed this year’s economic forecast for Asia, reflecting a sharper-than-expected contraction in countries like India, a sign the coronavirus pandemic continues to take a heavy toll on the region. While the IMF upgraded next year’s growth forecast, it warned the recovery will be sluggish and patchy with countries dependent on tourism seen taking a particularly hard hit. 

TAIWAN ‘NOT SEEKING ARMS RACE WITH CHINA’: Taiwan is not seeking to get involved in an arms race with China but does need a credible combat capability, its Defence Minister Yen De-fa said after the US approved a potential US$1.8 billion (S$2.4 billion) arms sale to the island. The latest US arms package includes sensors, missiles and artillery. 

S.KOREAN MINISTER SET TO LOSE HOME AMID POLICY IRONY: South Korea’s finance minister, the architect of rules aimed at protecting tenants and slowing deposit increases, has himself been forced to look for a new home as landlords react to the rules by quickly replacing tenants so they can bump up deposits. The average deposit for homes in the area where Mr Hong Nam-ki lives has also soared by a third since his housing rules took effect in July, with the irony of his predicament setting the Internet alight. 

That’s it for today. Hope you enjoyed today’s stories, and check back for more tomorrow. 


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