Shifting US policy leaves Asian allies at sea – Nikkei Asian Review

SINGAPORE — China has long bristled at the U.S. Navy’s “freedom of navigation operations” in the South China Sea, which challenge Beijing’s territorial claims in the disputed waters. So when Zhao Xiaozhuo, a senior colonel in the Chinese army, found himself with a chance to complain about them directly to U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis recently, he took it. The U.S. operations are a “violation of the law of the People’s Republic of China, of territorial waters,” Zhao told Mattis during a conference in Singapore on June 2. Mattis defended the naval operations by citing a 2016 international tribunal decision that dismissed China’s expansive “nine-dash line” claim to much of the sea.

US and China trade barbs, again, over the South China Sea – Nikkei Asian Review

SINGAPORE– After U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis accused China of “intimidation” and “coercion” in the disputed South China Sea on Saturday, a Chinese general responded by saying that “countries accusing China” are the ones causing tension in the region. In an early morning speech in Singapore, Mattis said that “China’s policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness our strategy promises, it calls into question China’s broader goals.” Mattis was speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual military conference staged by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a British research organization. Responding later the same day, Lt. Gen. He Lei, head of the Chinese delegation attending the conference, said “China has resolve and capability to defend its sovereignty.”

Asia’s universities rise in global reputation rankings – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — Asia’s universities are continuing to rise in prominence relative to established Western counterparts, according to a global survey of over 10,000 academics. Twenty-one Asian universities made it into a list of the world’s top 100 universities by reputation. Of those, six are in mainland China, with five in Japan, three in both Hong Kong and South Korea, two in Singapore, and one each in India and Taiwan.  The list was compiled by Times Higher Education, the U.K.-based publishers of the World University Rankings, an annual benchmark of tertiary institutions. Singapore’s representatives — the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University — both made notable gains, with NUS rising three places to 24th overall and NTU leaping from the 81-90 grouping to the 51-60 decile.  

Two-thirds of all air pollution deaths in Asia – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — The sight of commuters, their faces hidden behind masks, zipping around on the back of motorcycle taxis is common across Asia. The bikes weave through gridlock in cities like Jakarta and Bangkok, getting the passengers to work on time. The masks, sometimes worn by both driver and passenger, hint that the air they breathe might not be the cleanest.  Judging from World Health Organization figures released on Wednesday, covering 4,300 cities across 108 countries, the commuters have the right idea. Of an estimated 7 million deaths worldwide per year from air pollution, just over two-thirds take place in Asia, which is home to slightly less than 60% of the global population. Breaking the numbers down further, the 10 countries in the WHO’s “South-east Asia” region account for about a quarter of the world’s population but suffer around 2.4 million, or 34%, of all air pollution deaths. 

Jolted by protectionist rhetoric, ASEAN focuses on trade – The Interpreter

SINGAPORE — With the US and China squaring up over trade, getting the 16-country Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) signed by the end of the year seems increasingly important for the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). That urgency has been sharpened by US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), now an 11-country deal rebranded as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) after being signed in Chile in March. Singapore’s prime minister clearly wanted to get a message across when hosting the ASEAN summit at the weekend. “The fact is that we do not have a TPP,” Lee Hsien Loong told journalists after the meeting. “We have a Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has made it more urgent that we proceed with this [RCEP].”

Students in east China and Vietnam top rich-world peers – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — Long before emerging as one of the leading proponents of Brexit, Michael Gove’s role as British education minister took him to Asia, where he declared in 2010 that “places like Shanghai and Singapore put us to shame,” when it comes to quality of schooling. Perhaps Gove should not have been surprised, given that the previous year Shanghai topped the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s PISA science rankings. The Program for International Student Assessment scores are published every three years and rank students in mathematics, science and reading. Eight years on, it is not only well-funded Asian schools such as those in Singapore, which topped PISA’s 2015 rankings, that are outpacing the West, according to a new World Bank report on education in the Asia-Pacific region. “Average performance in Vietnam and in B-S-J-G [Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Guangdong] regions in China surpassed OECD member countries,” said the report.

Tough times for Southeast Asia’s migrant workers – Nikkei Asian Review/FT

JAKARTA/SINGAPORE — A year ago two young female migrant workers in Indonesia, including 26 year old Indonesian Siti Nurbaya, were cast at the center of an international murder mystery when they were arrested by police for their alleged role in the audacious, Le Carré-esque assassination by poisoning of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which was carried out despite the usual bustling morning crowd at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport. Preying on the women’s perceived vulnerability as relatively-poor migrant workers at the margins of society, defense lawyers contend that North Korean agents duped their clients into unwittingly carrying out the murder by bluffing they were being recruited for a series of made for TV pranks. As the trial of Nurbaya and her alleged accomplice from Vietnam rolled on last month in Shah Alam near Kuala Lumpur, another case was emerging that highlighted the perils facing migrants in Malaysia. Adelina Sao died in a Penang hospital on February 11 after she was found with head injuries and infected wounds on her limbs, succumbing after two years in Malaysia as one of around 400,000 foreign maids working in the country.

Trump messages Asia in first union speech, demands “reciprocal” trade – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — A week after announcing tariffs on washing machine and solar panel imports, U.S. President Donald Trump claimed that “the era of [U.S.] economic surrender is totally over” during his maiden state of the union address. But the speech did not go into detail on trade with Asia or about the Trans Pacific Partnership, an American-led Asia-Pacific free trade deal that Trump withdrew from one year ago. During his hour and half address, which came Wednesday in Asia, Trump briefly recycled some of his previous trade rhetoric, saying he expects it to be “fair” and “reciprocal.” Pledging to “fix bad trade deals,” Trump promised to “protect American workers and American intellectual property, through strong enforcement of our trade rules.” Trump lauded Japanese carmakers Toyota and Mazda for announcing new production plants in the U.S. He also suggested that his recently announced tax cuts could spur inward investment

Despite growing economies, nearly one billion Asians in vulnerable jobs – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — Despite decades of world-beating economic growth that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and into middle class life, around 900 million more Asian workers remain in what the International Labour Organization deems “vulnerable” employment. Vulnerable employment refers to people who lack formal work arrangements or contracts, are often nonsalaried and working part-time in sectors such as agriculture or retail, and are sometimes self-employed. Such workers often can be fired without much notice and subsequently have no access to unemployment benefit.

Asia’s Muslim countries want East Jerusalem seen as Palestinian capital – Nikkei Asian Review

SINGAPORE — Reacting to the U.S. move last week to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Muslim-majority countries in Asia have joined fresh calls for wider recognition of an independent Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. Speaking in Istanbul on Wednesday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo told the 56 other members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation that the group “can serve as a motor” to persuade countries that have not recognized Palestine “to do so immediately.” The Palestinian mission to the United Nations lists 137 countries as recognizing Palestine. The level of recognition varies among those countries, as Palestine has not been granted full U.N. membership. Though some OIC members recognize Israel — including summit host Turkey — Asian countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Malaysia do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.