Singapore PM warns of impact on Asia of US-China power rivalry – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong fears rising tensions between the US and China could undermine security and economic growth across Asia and called on both sides to pull back from confrontation. Lee flagged his concerns in an article titled “The Endangered Asian Century” published  in the US journal Foreign Affairs, which has a history of running watershed essays by policymakers involved international relations.Fearing that smaller Asian countries could be forced to take sides if intransigence grows between the world’s two biggest economies, Lee called for cooperation between the US and China, even as tensions rise over the coronavirus pandemic, trade, the disputed South China Sea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. “The two powers must work out a modus vivendi that will be competitive in some areas without allowing rivalry to poison cooperation in others,” Lee implored.

Singapore and China to reopen some travel in June – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — A “fast lane” for business and “essential” travel between Singapore and China will open next week, allowing some flights to resume between the two countries after a four-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to officials. A Singapore Foreign Ministry statement released late Friday said that travel will initially be allowed between Singapore and six Chinese cities and regions, including Shanghai and Guangdong. Though the two countries have reported the most coronavirus cases in East Asia, Singapore believes “the prevention and control of Covid-19 and the economic and social recovery” in both to have “entered a new phase.” While the majority of China’s 84,160 reported coronavirus cases were diagnosed early in the year – after the virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan before spreading around the world – Singapore’s caseload has increased 33-fold since April 1, with thousands of foreign workers infected.

Citing Covid-19, Pacific trade chiefs seek freer flow of vital goods – dpa international

Hand sanitiser and face masks for sale in a Kuala Lumpur supermarket (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Trade ministers representing 21 Asia-Pacific countries said on Tuesday that they “will work to facilitate the flow of essential goods and services” needed to fight the new coronavirus pandemic. The statement, released by the Singapore-based secretariat of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) body, listed “medicines, medical supplies and equipment, agriculture and food products” among those essential goods. APEC includes China, Japan and the US, the world’s three biggest economies. Other APEC members include Australia, Canada, Indonesia and South Korea, all of which have gross domestic products exceeding 1 trillion dollars. Tuesday’s statement marks a rare apparent consensus between China and the US, which have been embroiled in a trade war since shortly after Donald Trump became president in early 2017.

Singapore to spend over 4bn dollars to dampen coronavirus impact – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore announced its 2020 budget on Tuesday, pledging 5.6 billion Singapore dollars (4.02 billion US dollars) to assist businesses and households affected financially by the coronavirus outbreak. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced the measures in Singapore’s parliament, where he said another 800 million Singapore dollars will be allocated to support “frontline agencies” that are fighting coronavirus in the city-state, where 77 cases have been confirmed.  Heng warned that “the outbreak will certainly impact our economy” and said that inbound tourism and air traffic had already dropped as Chinese outbound tourism plummets. Singapore Airlines announced on Tuesday that it was temporarily reducing flights “due to weak demand as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.”

Malaysia’s durian farmers fret over virus fallout – dpa international

Durian-flavoured ice-cream is becoming more popular in parts of Asia (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s hopes of exporting 500 million ringgit (120 million dollars) worth of durian a year to China could be stalled by the deadly coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than a thousand people. With much of central China under lockdown and commerce slow to revive after the Chinese New Year, Malaysian growers are noticing falling demand and prices. “People are not working in parts of China, people are not going out, not spending – demand is down,” said Jimmy Loke, owner of Jimmy’s Durian Orchard in the region of Pahang, east of Kuala Lumpur. Prices in the region have dropped by “around a quarter” since the outbreak, Loke said.

Singapore minister slams Muslim teacher over anti-Chinese comments – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s minister of law and home affairs on Friday accused a Muslim religious teacher of making “racist” and “xenophobic” anti-Chinese comments about the deadly coronavirus outbreak that has killed 636 people and infected over 30,000. In a Facebook post, K Shanmugan said his ministry will investigate Abdul Halim Abdul Karim over comments suggesting that coronavirus is divine retribution for China’s policies in its western Xinjiang region, where human rights groups allege that around 1 million Muslim Uighurs have been detained in camps. The minister described as “thoroughly racist” Karim’s suggestion that coronavirus has spread because of Chinese personal hygiene habits, adding that “society has to take a clear stand against such comments.”

Malaysia’s trade with US up due to Chinese-American tensions – dpa international

Malaysia's Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Ong Kian Ming speaking a Feb. 4 2020 press conference to announce his country's 2019 trade statistics (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s trade with the US grew by 5.6 per cent to 164.45 billion ringgit (40 billion dollars) in 2019, government statistics released Tuesday show. The surge came despite an overall trade decline of 2.5 per cent during what Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Ong Kian Ming described as “a very challenging 2019”. Malaysia’s increased trade with the US was “to a large extent” a result of commerce being diverted from China because of trade tensions between Washington and Beijing, Ong told dpa during a press conference announcing the 2019 trade data. “E and E exports to the US increased significantly,” Ong added, referring to electrical and electronic goods, of which Malaysia is the world’s seventh-largest manufacturer.

Indonesia sends warships to drive off Chinese boats – The Times

Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian island of Bali in October 2018. Photo: Simon Roughneen

KUALA LUMPUR — Indonesia has sent an armada of warships and fishermen to waters around its northern Natuna Islands in response to recent incursions by dozens of Chinese fishing boats and coastguard ships. China’s sweeping claim to most of the South China Sea overlaps with Indonesian waters around the Natunas, with the latest flare-up prompting the usually soft-spoken Indonesian President Joko Widodo to bluntly assert that “Natuna is Indonesia” during a visit to the contested region last week. Beijing’s claim to the South China Sea, through which between US$3-5 billion worth of trade passes most years, extends 2000 kilometers from the Chinese mainland and has angered neighbouring countries, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines, whose own smaller claims around the sea overlap with Beijing’s. 

East versus West battle looms over 5G rollout – Asia Times

PHNOM PENH – Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei predicted in late December that the number of 5G connections worldwide would jump from around 20 million in 2019 to over 200 million by the end of 2020. Nowhere will the corporate and geopolitical contest to lead that rollout be more hotly contested than in Southeast Asia. Since a successful launch of commercial 5G services last April in South Korea, where around 3.5 million people have signed up for more expensive high-speed 5G and are using three times the data of 4G subscribers, mobile network providers across Asia could be set to cash in if the technology is made widespread soon. If those millions can soon become tens or even hundreds of millions, 5G, which promises download speeds between 20 to 100 times faster than the current leading 4G system, could revolutionize fields from public transport to healthcare to manufacturing, a potential that Dutch bank ING suggests could be “an economic light-bulb moment.”

Pentagon in the driving seat with Trump’s Southeast Asia diplomacy – Asia Times

PHNOM PENH – Perhaps trying to pick up the pieces after President Donald Trump skipped an October 31-November 4 series of summit meetings organised by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a ten country regional organisation, the United States Secretary of Defense Mark Esper spent the last week exchanging bromides and handshakes in South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam. The trip’s purpose, Esper said on the flight to Asia on November 13, is “to reinforce the importance of allies and partners, discuss key issues to make sure that they understand clearly that the INDOPACOM [Indo-Pacific] theater is DOD’s [Department of Defense] number one priority.”