Asian Insider, July 17: Sino-US tensions roll on, Singapore’s casinos feel the crunch and flood warnings in China

Hi all,

In today’s bulletin: Sino-US tensions roll on, Singapore’s casinos feel the crunch, flood warnings in China, ST checks out a coronavirus isolation room at the Singapore General Hospital, and more. 

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CHINA CONUNDRUM

As US-China tensions peak ahead of America’s Nov. 3 presidential election, our US Bureau Chief Nirmal Ghosh says China’s strategic overreach is responsible for most of the blowback being witnessed from Washington to New Delhi and Canberra. As US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Nirmal on Wednesday, ‘things have shifted dramatically in the region.

This week, Britain decided to weed out Huawei from its 5G network and Japan, in its annual defence white paper, blasted Chinese territorial claims and vowed to “strengthen its defence capability at speeds that are fundamentally different from the past”.

Meanwhile, Australian foreign policy scholar Hugh White weighs in on the China issue. Canberra, he says, is seriously worried about its defence but it is not clear what to do about it and its messaging on the issue isn’t all credible or consistent.

Also read: 

US weighs sweeping travel ban on Chinese Communist Party members

THAI ECONOMY ADRIFT

As South-east Asia’s No. 2 economy after Indonesia, Thailand is closely tracked by investors, analysts and political pundits. So, it was a bit of a disappointment when its much anticipated Cabinet reshuffle began in a messy fashion on Thursday, with the government’s economic team quitting while Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was away on a provincial trip. Indochina bureau chief Tan Hui Yee says those who resigned were Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana; Energy Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong; Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation Minister Suvit Maesincee; and Deputy Secretary-General to the Prime Minister for Political Affairs Kobsak Pootrakool. 

Dr Uttama confirmed reports that the group’s mentor, Deputy Prime Minister and economic czar Somkid Jatusripitak, had also resigned. Their departure leaves a big void. If projections here come true, Thailand’s economy, devastated by the pandemic, is expected to contract by 8 per cent for the year and lose some 10 million jobs.

Also read: 

Thai PM apologises for lapses that sparked panic in Bangkok, Rayong

CASINO CRUNCHTIME

This week brought sobering news that Resorts World Sentosa, one of two casino resort operators licensed in Singapore, was shedding hundreds of employees as tourism ground to a halt in the wake of the pandemic. 

Now, says Correspondent Toh Ting Wei, it is perhaps only a matter of time that Marina Bay Sands (MBS) also sheds some of its staff. This is because the domestic market alone is unsustainable, and there is no clear timeline as to when tourism can restart. MBS’ S$4.5 billion expansion project could also be delayed or scaled down, says Ting Wei. Resorts World is believed to have let go 2,000 employees, a little less than a third of the number on its rolls at end-2019. MBS has more than 10,000 employees.

Meanwhile, Cheryl Teh says those fired face an uncertain future given the dismal state of the economy and particularly in the tourism sector.

Also read: 

RWS layoffs bode ill for tourism sector

Japan’s Abe faces anger over backflip on coronavirus-spurred tourism subsidy

AFTER VIRUS, THE DELUGE

Large parts of central and eastern China were reeling on Friday from the worst floods in decades, as disruption mounted for key supply chains, including crucial personal protective equipment for fighting the coronavirus, and economic damage piled up. 

The central Chinese city of Wuhan and the provinces of Anhui, Jiangxi and Zhejiang declared red alerts as heavy rain swelled rivers and lakes. Wuhan, on the banks of the Yangtze River where the novel coronavirus emerged late last year, warned residents to take precautions as water levels fast approached their maximum guaranteed safety level.The giant Three Gorges reservoir, which has been holding back more water to try to ease downstream flood risks, is more than 10 metres higher than its warning level, with inflows now at more than 50,000 cubic metres a second. 

The Poyang lake in Jiangxi province, which is formed from the overspill of the Yangtze, is 2.5 metres higher than its warning level. It has expanded by more than 2,000 square kilometres during this flood season, and parts of the surrounding town have been inundated.

And it is not as though the virus threat has been fully contained either. Urumqi, the capital of China’s far western region of Xinjiang, cancelled hundreds of flights on Friday, after the report of its first coronavirus case in about five months fuelled concerns of a potential new outbreak. 

Also read: 

Yangtze floods force millions from their homes in central China

DESOLATION ROW

For most people, the Covid-19 coronavirus is something you read about, not experience. But for those unlucky to be stricken by the bug it is a traumatising experience, especially if you are ordered into an isolation ward. 

ST’s Shabana Begum, who was allowed to check out the metallic exterior, box-like isolation rooms  built in a car park at Singapore General Hospital’s newly built Ward @ Bowyer says they resemble futuristic capsules sheltering people from the hustle and bustle of space travel.Once past the door, she says, it was “as though time stood still”.  

And to think Covid-19 patients in isolation stay for about 14 days! Here’s her report:

Also read: 

Coronavirus cases in Singapore: What we know so far

IN OTHER NEWS

TAIWAN-CHINA: Taiwan on Friday said Mr Kao Ming-tsun, acting director of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office and effectively its top representative to Hong Kong, has returned home due to “unnecessary political obstacles”. Taiwan’s Up Media news said Mr Kao refused to sign a statement supporting Beijing’s view that Taiwan is part of “one China” when he was renewing his work visa. Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen rejects the idea of “one China” and views the democratic, self-ruled island as a de facto independent nation.

LA TOWER SALE : Singapore Property developer OUE Limited will sell US Bank Tower in Los Angeles – known for its cameos in Hollywood movies and a sky-high outdoor glass slide – for US$430 million. The sale price is about two-thirds of the property’s US$650 million fair value as at Dec 31, 2019, according to OUE’s latest annual report. The price was arrived at after taking into account, among other things, the property’s market value and the current US property market conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic, said OUE in a bourse filing shortly on Friday. 

EXPORTS REBOUND: A low year-ago base and strong performance of the electronics sector pushed up Singapore non-oil domestic exports  (Nodx) in June, putting them back on track of recession-defying growth, says Ovais Subhani. Nodx last month jumped 16 per cent from June 2019 when it had dropped by 17 per cent, Enterprise Singapore (ESG) said. Last month’s export performance beat the consensus forecast for an 8 per cent rise from analysts polled by Bloomberg and a 6.2 per cent increase in a Reuters poll.

WEEKEND STORIES: We have a feast of stories lined up for Saturday and Sunday, including features on capital flight from Hong Kong as China tightens its security grasp over the territory and innovative beauty products and devices from South Korea. Don’t miss them. 

Track us on www.straitstimes.com through the weekend for the latest from Asia and the world.

Meanwhile, seize the day!

Ravi

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