Tuesday, 3 December 2019

HK Act could impact US-China trade deal

Trump says ‘first phase’ trade deal could wait until late 2020 while Xi has increasingly little domestic room to compromise


When US President Donald Trump signed a new law last week authorizing Washington to level sanctions against Chinese officials over human rights abuses in Hong Kong, he did so knowing the move would likely hinder his administration’s stated goal of sealing a “phase one” trade agreement with China that has thus far proved elusive.

The leaders of the world’s two largest economies say they want to end a 17-month tariff war that has stunted global growth, rattled supply chains and left investors hedging their bets. Trump’s remark on Tuesday that a trade deal may have to wait until late 2020, after US presidential elections, has sent markets swooning, ending a spell of market optimism that a deal would be reached within this month.

“I don’t have a deadline…In some ways, I like the idea of waiting until after the election for the China deal,” Trump was quoted saying while in London ahead of a NATO summit. No high-level meetings with Chinese officials are scheduled, the president claimed.

Adding to the pressure is separate new legislation to sanction Chinese officials involved in the internment of Uighur minorities in the country’s Xinjiang autonomous region. Lawmakers in the House of Representatives nearly unanimously passed the Uighur Intervention and Global Humanitarian Unified Response Act of 2019 on December 4.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Succession struggle tears at Malaysia’s stability

PM Mahathir Mohamad’s promised handover to one-time nemesis Anwar Ibrahim is increasingly in doubt


Malaysia’s ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition is edging toward a breaking point as a widening schism over a planned prime ministerial succession threatens political stability at a delicate economic juncture.

A sharp factional divide is roiling the largest party in the coalition, pitting veteran political heavyweight and former political prisoner Anwar Ibrahim against Minister of Economic Affairs Mohamed Azmin Ali in a tussle over who will next assume the nation’s premiership.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, 94, has frequently reiterated his intention to step down after serving two to three years and accept Anwar, his one-time nemesis, as his successor. Mahathir was swept into power for the second time in May 2018 in a surprise election win against the long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

Azmin and his supporters, however, have called for Mahathir to continue as prime minister for a full five-year term rather than making way for Anwar. According to Azmin, 55, the nonagenarian’s leadership is key to ensuring “stability, continuity and consistency” of government policies.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

All eyes on Trump’s HK democracy bill decision

Trump’s approval of Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act could scupper delicate trade talks


Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam faces renewed calls to accede to the demands of anti-government protesters after district council elections in the Chinese city delivered a landslide majority to pan-democratic candidates, in what was widely seen as a referendum on her polarizing handling of the city’s political crisis.

Sunday’s dramatic democratic rout arguably piles new pressure on US President Donald Trump, who has yet to signal whether he will sign punitive legislation backing Hong Kong’s protesters that passed Congress nearly unanimously.

With Beijing condemning the pending Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act as tantamount to foreign meddling, analysts say its passage could complicate, if not scupper, ongoing and delicate US-China talks towards a “phase one” trade agreement.

On Monday (November 25), Beijing summoned US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad to lodge its “strong protest” over the bill, the foreign ministry said in a statement that sternly asserted that the US would “bear all the consequences” if it did not scrap the legislation.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Mahathir’s reform dream fading away in Malaysia

Resounding by-election defeat and rising internal dissent signal ruling Harapan coalition is losing steam


Malaysia’s ruling coalition is reeling from a by-election loss that saw voters opt for an opposition candiate associated with ex-premier Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which was toppled at May 2018 polls after decades of consecutive rule.

Mired by factional infighting and uncertainty over a leadership succession plan, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s government is increasingly perceived to be backsliding on promised reforms to advance inclusiveness and democracy. Critics had even cast the weekend’s poll, staged in the southern state of Johor, as a referendum on the 94-year-old’s premiership.

While political watchers did not expect his governing Pakatan Harapan (PH) to retain the parliamentary seat for Tanjung Piai, the stunning majority obtained by the opposition BN coalition – reportedly the largest seen in any by-election in Malaysia’s history – far exceeded expectations.

Wee Jeck Seng, a former two-term parliamentarian with the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), a BN component party, won with 65.6% of the vote. Mahathir had personally campaigned for Harapan’s candidate, Karmaine Sardini, who took just 26.7% of the ballot.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 15 November 2019

Singapore imagines a brave new fintech future

Forward-looking city-state is fast emerging as Southeast Asia’s financial technology hub


With investment booming and regulation loosening, Singapore is rapidly emerging as a Southeast Asian hub for financial technology, or fintech. The wealthy city-state this month played host to the world’s largest fintech festival, underscoring its ambitions as a regional springboard for financial sector innovation.

Around 60,000 participants from 130 countries took part in the three-day Singapore FinTech Festival (SFF) x Singapore Week of Innovation and TeCHnology (SWITCH) event, according to organizers from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the nation’s central bank which has played a key role in promoting domestic fintechs.

Ravi Menon, managing director of MAS, recently described the sector’s innovations as “the way of the future” in media interviews. “At a time when traditional trade relationships are under strain, I think the opportunity ahead is to look at new ways of connectivity through digital means…that is where the next stage of liberalization needs to take place,” he said.

Fintech broadly seeks to improve and automate the delivery and use of financial services such as payments, transfers, lending and insurance. The term also encompasses the development and use of digital currencies as well as blockchain, a decentralized record-keeping technology with the potential to be utilized across multiple sectors.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Jho Low plays politics to dodge global arrest

Fugitive Malaysian financier recently allowed to land and stay in India despite an Interpol red notice for his capture


Fugitive Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, was sighted earlier this month in Ahmedabad, India, on a three-day visit to the country, according to law enforcement officials who spoke exclusively to Asia Times.

Local police monitored Low’s movements but did not move to apprehend the internationally wanted fugitive widely seen as the mastermind of the multi-billion dollar, globe-spanning 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) financial scandal, the same sources said.

On November 5, Low departed Ahmedabad’s Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport aboard a Gulfstream G200 private jet identified by the tail number HS-VNT, they added.

Chartered by Thailand-based charter airline MJets, the aircraft was bound for Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), they said. Low could not be reached for comment for this article.

MJets, in correspondence to Asia Times, maintained that Low was not a passenger on the flight in question and that suggestions to the contrary are “untrue, unfounded and unsubstantiated.”

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Jho Low deal could pit US against Malaysia

US DoJ’s $1 billion settlement with fugitive financier will provide little near-term joy to Malaysia’s 1MDB recovery efforts


A milestone deal reached between fugitive Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho and the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) to recoup US$1 billion allegedly pilfered from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state investment fund has been hailed as the largest civil forfeiture settlement in US history.

The 38-year old better known as Jho Low who purportedly pulled off one of the biggest ever financial heists said he was “very pleased” with the deal announced last week, which does not constitute an admission of guilt or liability.

But for Malaysia, which seeks to extradite Low on money laundering charges and restore the country’s financial standing through the recovery of billions of dollars of pilfered funds, neither progress nor justice will likely come any time soon.

Widely seen as the mastermind behind the scandal, Low staunchly denies responsibility and says charges against him are politicized. Yet as part of the US DoJ settlement, Low and his family members have agreed to forfeit over $700 million in assets tied to the globe-spanning, multi-billion dollar corruption scandal.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Mother of all scams coming to light in Malaysia

While court hearings expose the extent of 1MDB corruption, authorities move to prevent a repeat of the massive scandal


Since hearings in the main 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state development fund trial commenced in August, prosecutors have presented jaw-dropping accounts of alleged top-level corruption and abuse of power.

Ex-premier Najib Razak stands accused of looting hundreds of millions of dollars from 1MDB for self-enrichment and actively interfering with an anti-corruption probe launched after the first hints of the scandal broke in July 2015.

Prosecutors have leveled 42 charges against Najib, who faces the possibility of life in prison for graft, money laundering, abuse of power and criminal breach of trust.

The latest trial, one of a scheduled five, brings 21 charges of money laundering and four of abuse of power for receiving illegal transfers of about 2.3 billion ringgit (US$550.8 million) between 2011 and 2014.

While observers wait for justice to be served in what some have referred to as the biggest heist in financial history, Malaysia is slowly but surely putting in place new mechanisms to prevent a repeat of the massive scam.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

As protests boom, Hong Kong’s economy busts

Hong Kong headed for recession amid triple whammy of civil unrest, US-China trade war and falling global growth


Hong Kong’s economy faces an unprecedented triple threat as four months of increasingly violent protests, an escalating US-China trade war and a dip in global growth all take a downward-pulling toll.

With tourism and retail sectors tumbling, analysts believe the semi-autonomous Chinese city may have already tipped into its first recession in a decade. Hong Kong stocks, meanwhile, have reportedly suffered their worst quarter in four years as wary investors count their costs.

Financial analysts still doubt that the Asian financial hub’s fixed currency system pegged to the US dollar could falter, if hitherto modest capital outflows accelerate in coming weeks. But recent market activity suggests certain speculation is rising, despite stability in the overnight call rate, about a still unseen liquidity crunch.

Speaking at a news conference, Chief Executive Carrie Lam on October 8 lamented that, compared to last year, visitor numbers to Hong Kong plunged 53.6% in the first six days of October, when mainland tourists usually cross the border for shopping deals during China’s National Day holidays, otherwise known as “golden week” for merchants in the city.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Hong Kong protests rain on China’s big parade

Escalated violence on Hong Kong’s strife-torn streets stole the show from China’s highly anticipated 70th anniversary event


As China commemorated the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic in Beijing, replete with a made-for-television gala military parade, Hong Kong’s strife-torn streets arguably stole the show with some of the worst violence seen since protests first erupted 17 weeks ago.

Turmoil engulfed the Asian financial hub with intense clashes and bloodshed in various areas and districts of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories. Street fires burned as masked protesters hurled petrol bombs at riot officers, tore down national banners and defaced portraits of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Tens of thousands thronged the streets chanting slogans “Fight for Freedom” and “Stand with Hong Kong” at a peaceful march early in the day, which later descended into chaos after standoffs with police. Police pushed back against the crowds with volleys of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and water cannons laced with blue dye.

Marking a potentially pivotal escalation, an 18-year-old man wielding what appeared to be a metal rod was filmed being shot at point-blank range during a frantic altercation with police alongside other masked protesters.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.