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The Daily Brief for Thursday, 23 February 2017

Alarm for ASEAN: US-China rivalry in the South China Sea is increasing conflict fears in the region, writes Richard Javad Heydariann. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations again expressed ‘grave concern’ over militarization of the maritime area but members are split over the line to take. The Philippines and Vietnam have quietly welcomed Trump’s more robust approach while smaller states remain more concerned.

MMA’s Asian return: The Ultimate Fighting Championship, after a yearlong absence, is back in the region, writes Pedro Chan. The popular Mixed Martial Arts fight format is returning to Asia with an event in Singapore in June but with its ambitions firmly set on China, as UFC eyes venues in Shanghai and Beijing and develops its stable of top level Chinese fighters.

Scandal rocks Abe: After looking unassailable a couple of weeks ago, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has become embroiled in a scandal over an infant school that neatly combines the two perennial bugbears of Tokyo politicians: Comments about China and Korea, and possible shady money deals. Peter Langan reports that Abe has, in a highly unusual move for a Japanese politician, promised to quit as prime minister if his involvement in the scandal is proved.

Hanoi breaks taboo: Several of Vietnam’s state-controlled news outlets have recently started to write about the country’s 1979 border war with China, a subject that has, up to now, been strictly off limits. Xuan Loc Doan writes that the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam seems to have finally eased censorship of the short-lived but bloody military conflict, probably in a bid to counter Beijing’s rising assertiveness in the South China Sea amid growing pressure from the Vietnamese public to assert its maritime sovereignty.

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China Digest for Thursday, 23 February 2017

China insurance watchdog vows to combat speculation

Chairman Xiang Junbo said the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, will never let insurance become a “rich man’s club,” Sina Finance reported on Wednesday. He also said the watchdog will curb “aggressive pricing” and “unreasonably high returns,” and vowed to “severely punish” short-term speculation by insurers. It is the clearest indication of a clampdown on insurance companies speculating on management of listed companies, such as Baoneng Group’s attempted takeover of China Vanke.

Financial industry watchdogs to unify rules on asset management products

A unified framework is being designed to regulate asset management products, The Paper reported, citing the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC). The People’s Bank of China and three national watchdogs on banking, securities and insurance are working on the framework.

Commercial banks’ bad loans at US$220 billion in fourth quarter

The outstanding balance of commercial banks’ non-performing Loans (NPLs) stood at 1.51 trillion yuan (US$220 billion) in the fourth quarter of 2016, the Securities Daily said on Thursday. The China Banking Regulatory Commission said the bad loan rate was 1.74%, a slip of 0.02% from the previous quarter.

Urban housing prices almost plateau compared with last month

New residential property prices in first and second-tier cities have flattened in January compared to last month, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Wednesday. But prices in third-tier cities saw an uptick of 0.6% month on month, it said. Guangzhou is the only one among the major cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, which has seen a 0.6% rise from a month earlier. Home prices in Shenzhen dropped 0.5% in the same period.

China Net Center acquires South Korea’s CDNetworks for US$190 million

One of the country’s leading ISP providers, China Net Center, has acquired a South Korean content delivery company for 1.275 billion yuan (US$190 million) from Japan’s telecommunications operator KDDI, Caixin reported on Wednesday evening. The acquisition, to be completed on March 24, will give China Net Center a controlling 84.96% share in CDNetworks, helping it to expand overseas.

Leadership reshuffles ahead of 19th National Congress

Six provinces have seen leadership reshuffles in 2017 ahead of the 19th National Congress, Caixin reported on Wednesday evening. Hainan, Guangdong, Gansu, Ningxia, Henan and Zhejiang have seen leadership movements within the provincial party standing committee. Some promotions like former scholar Liang Yanshun are significantly “fast-tracked,” according to the report. Liang, who was parachuted from the party school into the post of Gansu propaganda chief in February last year, is now a minister in the provincial committee. Others include Cheng Ronghua, a Hunan bureaucrat who was elected into the Hunan party standing committee in November and promoted to minister in the Ningxia party standing committee in just three months, the report said.

Vice Governor of Yunnan holds four positions

Zhang Taiyuan, the vice governor of Yunnan province, is also the secretary of the Communist Party of China’s Politics and Law Provincial Committee and holds two other official positions, reported Caixin on Wednesday evening. Lingcan News discovered Zhang had four positions when he used his official title as a secretary for the first time at a provincial party inspection on Tuesday, it said.