Teneo logo

June 18, 2020

ASIA: Weekly politics update

BY Tobias Harris, Bob Herrera-Lim, Gabriel Wildau

Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on reddit

Listen to our reports with a personalized podcasts through your Amazon Alexa or Apple devices audio translated into several languages

( 6 mins)

Below is the weekly update of political developments across East Asia. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you want to discuss any of the countries mentioned in more detail.

JAPAN: Arrest of protégé deals fresh blow to Abe

Tokyo prosecutors arrested former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his wife, Anri Kawai, a member of the upper house, on 18 June after they were indicted on bribery charges. The couple allegedly paid more than JPY 25mn (USD 234,034) to local politicians to help Anri’s campaign in the 2019 upper house elections. While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have tried to distance themselves from the couple – they formally resigned from the party on 17 June – Kawai was one of Abe’s protégés in the LDP, having served as a foreign policy adviser and personal envoy to the prime minister for relations with the US.

In an 18 June press conference marking the end of the ordinary Diet session, Abe apologized for appointing Kawai as justice minister – he resigned in October 2019 when the allegations first surfaced – but the prime minister will continue to face scrutiny for the scandal, since it emerged that the LDP gave JPY 150mn (USD ) to Anri’s campaign, ten times more than the typical amount distributed to candidates. The arrest, the first of a politician with cabinet-level experience in 18 years, will worsen the two challenges that Abe must meet if he is to survive through the end of his leadership term in September 2021: mounting public disapproval and increasing criticism from within the LDP.

SOUTH KOREA: New spike in cases highlights long-term difficulty of reopening

The Moon administration has continued to warn that it could reimpose strict social distancing measures nationwide as the greater Seoul region continues to suffer new Covid-19 clusters, and new cases are also discovered further afield. In response to the new clusters, the government has indefinitely extended stricter social distancing guidelines for Seoul and neighboring provinces that had been scheduled to expire on 12 June. South Korea has confirmed 30-60 daily new cases in June, mainly in greater Seoul, and medical authorities have indicated that guidelines will be in place until the number of new cases falls back to single digits. The government continues to innovate its test-trace-isolate program as new clusters emerge: high-risk facilities – fitness centers, night clubs, and “cram schools,” among others – will require guests to sign in using a QR code, aiding efforts to trace contacts with Covid-19 patients.

CHINA: US and China dig in heels; EU seeks a middle ground; Xinjiang sanctions pending

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chinese foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi met in Hawaii on 17 June. Yang is a member of the Communist Party’s 25-person Politburo and the top foreign policy official, outranking the foreign minister. Readouts from both sides were short and rehashed familiar talking points. The two sides discussed issues including the Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Covid-19, and commercial issues, but the meeting did not appear to yield any breakthroughs. Ahead of the meeting, both sides had claimed that the other side had requested it.

On 15 June, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell proposed an ongoing bilateral dialog with the US to discuss China’s “growing assertiveness,” noting that “there are issues that we face together in the relationship with China.” The proposal came two days after Borrell said that the EU would reject pressure to “choose sides” in the geopolitical battle between the US and China. The annual EU-China summit will begin on 21 June and focus on issues of market access for European companies.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump signed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act on 17 June. The law requires the White House to issue a report identifying Chinese officials implicated in the repression of Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang region. The president would then have the authority – but not the obligation – to impose sanctions. Congress approved the legislation in May, but Trump’s signing of the bill coincided with allegations in a new book by former National Security Advisor John Bolton that Trump praised China’s construction of internment camps in Xinjiang at a G20 dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Osaka in June 2019.

MALAYSIA: Opposition indecisiveness, possible infighting helps PM Muhyiddin Yassin

Two days after a self-imposed deadline, the opposition coalition Alliance of Hope (PH) has still not announced a candidate for prime minister (PM), while a seemingly recalcitrant Anwar Ibrahim appears unwilling to become deputy PM again. Surprisingly, the Democratic Alliance Party (DAP), which represents the ethnic Chinese and has been a longstanding ally of Anwar’s People’s Justice Party (PKR), supports former PM Mahathir bin Mohamad. This support suggests that many in the PH coalition believe that their return to power still requires Mahathir’s ability to pull support from Malay voters. Though unlikely, there is a possibility that either the infighting drags on or even that that PH collapses. Both outcomes would benefit the ruling National Alliance of PM Muhyiddin Yassin. There is speculation that Yassin could call snap elections, given his narrow majority in parliament, but the opposition faces more serious near-term problems.

INDONESIA: Despite rising cases, Indonesia puts a brave face on reopening

President Joko Widodo will resume his working trips to different parts of the country, and Jakarta will continue easing large-scale social distancing measures (PSBB), despite the recent trend of more than 1,000 new cases per day. The increase of 1,333 cases on 18 June was the largest single-day increase to date, and Indonesia now has the highest number of confirmed cases in the region. Widodo warned last week that restrictions could be reinstated if conditions worsen significantly.

However, the public’s relief in being allowed greater freedom of movement and business will likely cause the government to continue with reopening, even if the daily caseload is rising, so long as the death rate and the burden on hospitals remain manageable. Local governments are intensifying efforts at localized containment as an alternative to broad provincial or city-wide restrictions. Some local epidemiologists worry that the relaxation of the PSBB may lead to another wave of infections in early July.

CHINA: Power shortages lead to durable market reforms

( 5 mins) Severe power rationing has led to significant long-term reforms to China’s electricity pricing system that go beyond emergency stop-gap measures. Under the new system, coal-powered generators can pass on higher coal prices to electricity users;

Read More »

ASIA: What the Quad’s evolution means for Asia

( 6 mins) The evolution of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue into new areas of cooperation at this week’s summit has important implications for the delicate balance of political and economic relations across Asia. For Japan, the Quad represents

Read More »