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The Daily Brief for Thursday, 2 November 2017

Malaysian general election: Premier Najib Razak recently unveiled an expansionary national budget for 2018, a politically strategic spending plan to lower taxes for middle-income earners and increase welfare benefits broadly ahead of a poll that must be held by next August, Nile Bowie writes. Najib has promised to maintain fiscal prudence despite a 7.5% year-on-year budgetary rise during a parliamentary address that emphasized bread and butter issues linked to rising living costs. The national leader referred to the plan in a three-hour speech as “the mother of all budgets.” “The [people] must benefit from our economic policies,” he said. “We must make sure that levels of income and the quality of life for Malaysians is improving.” The ramped-up spending is consistent with Najib’s ruling United Malays National Organization’s (UMNO) past electoral tactics, where hand-outs and cash transfers are dished out to win over voters in the run-up to polls.

French foreign policy: It seems Paris is set to join the ranks of India’s “anti-China front” in the Indian Ocean, Emanuele Scimia writes. Last week, Paris and New Delhi announced their decision to increase military cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. The statement came during a two-day visit to the Asian country by French Defense Minister Florence Parly, and amid attempts by the Indian government to try to contain Beijing’s growing assertiveness from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal. Parly and her Indian counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman said last Friday that the naval collaboration between their countries in the Indian Ocean was part of a broader plan to expand bilateral defense ties. In particular, France and India aim to improve military-to-military relations, counter-terror cooperation and their ability to develop arms systems jointly under the “Make in India” initiative. While India considers China’s military presence in the Indian Ocean a strategic challenge to its regional role, it shares with France the goal of keeping international waters free and secure.

India’s prime minister: After just three and a half years in office, Narendra Modi is quickly losing support because of his failures on several fronts, Sachi Satapathy writes. Many now think Manmohan Singh, Modi’s predecessor, was a better prime minister. Singh was a proponent of inclusive growth, whose economic ideology of combining development with social equity was key to his achievements as prime minister. Singh’s achievements included bringing about a sharp reduction in poverty and a rapid increase in rural consumption, enhancing citizens’ rights and improving transparency. Whether it is the “Make in India” campaign, demonetization or the implementation of a new tax system, there is a feeling among Indians that the Modi government is good at speaking, advertising, and winning elections, but when it comes to actual governance, there is hardly anything to report.

Southeast Asia mining: Locked in protracted negotiations with the Indonesian government over the future of its hugely profitable Grasberg site, Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold now faces an unsteady share price and deteriorating security around its Papua-based operations to add to its troubles, John McBeth writes. Despite the release of better-than-expected third quarter revenues of US$3.41 billion, Freeport’s shares slipped by as much as 4.9% in heavy trading on October 25 as investors sent a sharp reminder that the outcome of the talks with Jakarta is what matters most. The Phoenix-based company is worth US$20.4 billion on the New York Stock Exchange, with the Grasberg operation responsible for more than a quarter of its overall copper production in 2017, estimated at 1.68 billion kilograms (3.7 billion pounds), and almost all this year’s expected haul of 1.6 million ounces of gold.

Southeast Asia trade: There should be a mutual effort by China and Indonesia to intensify the use of yuan (renminbi) in bilateral trade and investment, Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati told a media briefing in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Lin Wanxia writes. China, as the second-largest economy in the world, has been pushing the yuan’s international use, as it looks to lower the costs of trade transactions, which are mostly settled in US dollars at present. For Indonesia, for which China is its largest trade partner and a major contributor of foreign investment, Indrawati thinks encouraging Indonesian businesspeople to use yuan for trade settlements will require a mutual effort by the two governments. “If Indonesia is borrowing from China for infrastructures, which I think is going to be in renminbi, [the currency conversion] will then create a revenue stream for rupiah,” she said.

Asia Times app: Asia Times has launched an app for both iOS- and Android-based devices that delivers the publication’s regular daily news, commentary, blogs and live coverage while also bringing readers added functionality. As we report here, the app, launched on July 25, includes content notification, share and save functions and is free to download from both the Apple Store and Google Play

Posted inBeijingChinaTianjin

China Digest for Thursday, 2 November 2017

National coordination of China’s pension fund to start next year

The national coordination of China’s pension fund will commence next year in an attempt to solve the ongoing problem of uneven distribution, reported, citing Lu Aigong, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.

Consumer finance firms garner stake in Double 11 sales

Consumer finance firms, including third-party online payment companies and 18 national commercial banks, have access to and, where the Double 11 online shopping festival will be held, reported.

Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei nets environmental protection agency

The Ministry of Environmental Protection has approved the setting up of a cross-regional environmental protection agency in Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei and surrounding areas, the 21st Century Business Herald reported, citing the Ministry in a press conference. The procedures have been actively promoted.

Pace of poverty alleviation is accelerating in China

A total of 28 poor counties in China have emerged from poverty during the past year, the 21st Century Business Herald reported on Wednesday, citing data released by the State Council Poverty Alleviation Office.