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Business

Impact of the Coronavirus Ripples Across Asia: ‘It Has Been Quiet, Like a Cemetery’


Jewel, a nature-themed complex at the Changi Airport, reflected the malaise. At the Rain Vortex indoor waterfall, usually crowded with people jostling to take selfies, there was plenty of space to take a photo alone. Apple Store employees in their dark blue T-shirts outnumbered shoppers two to one.

Jeanne Liu, the owner of Rich & Good Cake Shop, which has an outpost at Jewel, said that business was down by half. “The general mood in the country is depressed, and people aren’t going to places they perceive as crowded,” she said.

Robert and Jane Murray, 73 and 70, who live in Australia, were sitting in a mostly empty Terminal 3, waiting for their flight to Jaipur, India, to attend a wedding after spending three days in Singapore.

“We booked the trip before all the hype, and it made us want to cancel,” Mr. Murray said. “But we contacted our doctor, who said ‘It’s just like the flu,’ so we just take precautions, wash hands and we’re fine.”

In Cambodia’s usual tourist hot spot, Siem Reap, the airport was hauntingly empty and check-in and security lines were minimal.

Arne Lugeon, 56, the French-born owner and general manager of the Sala Lodges, said that as of mid-Feburary, its 11 traditional wooden houses had not had a new booking in three weeks, even though February is high season for tourism. “I can only hope this virus is contained and then ends soon,” he said.

Fabien Martial, 46, co-owner of the 35-room Viroth’s Hotel, said: “During the Chinese New Year, 70 percent of our clients are from China, but this year they all canceled. The hotel was nearly completely empty for a few days.”



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Politics

Brexit: Ministers refuse to release secret studies believed to show little gain from trade deals with US and Asia



Studies expected to show the UK will gain little from post-Brexit trade deals with the US and the big Asian economies are being suppressed by the government, The Independent can reveal.

Analyses were completed as long ago as 2017 into the probable impact on growth from agreements long hailed as the prize for leaving the EU, but ministers are refusing to release them.

One trade expert said he had little doubt they were being concealed because they would – like independent studies – reveal that significant damage from new trade barriers with the continent will far outweigh the gain from other deals.


Alan Winters, professor of economics at the University of Sussex, joined with Labour in calling on ministers to reveal what they had been told, saying: “The entire Brexit debate has been conducted in a great fog of obfuscation.”

Paul Blomfield, Labour’s Brexit spokesperson, said: “These reports must be released immediately. If Boris Johnson wants to risk European trade to secure a deal with Donald Trump, we need to know the cost.”

The controversy comes after the Treasury refused to even carry out an evaluation of the prime minister’s plans for a “Canada-style” deal with the EU, cutting ties with the single market and customs union.

Economists have estimated that will deliver a hit to the UK economy of anything between £70bn and £130bn in the long run, leaving people thousands of pounds worse off.

Now, in response to a freedom of information request submitted by The Independent, the Department for International Trade (DIT) has said internal analysis into other trade deals is “a work in progress”.

But it also revealed academics at the Centre for Economic Policy Research had evaluated the benefits from a US deal, an agreement with Japan and from membership of the CPTPP, a trade partnership of 11 Pacific nations.

The last two were completed in August 2019 – while the study into an agreement with Washington has been gathering dust since July 2017.

Brexiteers have called for the UK to join Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Chile and others in the CPTPP, despite the UK being thousands of miles from the Pacific.

And Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, recently spent several days in the region, saying: “Now is the time to put global Britain into action. The Asia-Pacific region is full of opportunities.”

However, DIT has refused to release any of the three studies, citing an exemption “if information clearly relates to the development of government policy”.

“Premature release of this analysis would be detrimental to the progress of future trade discussions once the UK has left the EU,” the department said.

Professor Winters, of the UK Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex, said: “If the government thought it had a very strong case that these deals would be big and strong then they would publish these studies.

“It’s an indication that there’s nothing there. To the extent that we have any analysis, it suggests that the benefits of these deals are very small.

“And, with any modelling, what we gain from an agreement with the US and Japan is a lot smaller than what we lose from the EU.”

And Mr Blomfield added: “The government is embarking on the most important negotiations in our postwar history. The British people deserve to know the impact of the decisions being made on their behalf.”

However, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “New FTAs represent a significant economic opportunity. With new freedoms to strike these ourselves, independently, we can open up our markets, increase wages and improve living standards across the UK.”

In the last parliament, Labour was able to secure the release of similar studies by laying a “humble address”, but this route has been shut off by the 80-strong Conservative majority.

The secrecy leaves a November 2018 Treasury document as the only official forecast – putting the GDP gain from deals with the US, Australia and New Zealand at a puny 0.2 per cent.

It has frequently been dismissed by Brexit-backing Tories because Philip Hammond, the then-chancellor, opposed a hard Brexit – but has not been updated. 

The hoped-for US deal is already in trouble over Washington demanding access for lower-quality agricultural goods and to the NHS drugs market, and because of the bust-up over the UK’s planned tech tax.

The UK enjoyed a deal with Japan as an EU member and is in a race against time to secure hoped-for improvements before the Brexit transition period ends in December. 



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Europe World

U.S. Faces Tough ‘Great Game’ Against China in Central Asia and Beyond


KHIVA, Uzbekistan — Inside the ancient walls of the Silk Road oasis town of Khiva, China has put down a marker of its geopolitical ambitions. A sign promotes a Chinese aid project to renovate a once-crumbling mosque and a faded madrasa.

Outside the town’s northern gate, a billboard-size video screen shows clips of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan meeting with world leaders. President Xi Jinping of China features prominently, but there are no shots of President Trump.

That China is advertising its aid efforts so boldly in this remote outpost linking Asia and Europe — where camel caravans once arrived after crossing the Kyzylkum and Karakum Deserts — is the kind of action these days that sets off alarm bells among American officials. The Trump administration is trying with greater force to insert itself into the political and economic life of Central Asia to counter China’s presence. American officials see the countries in the heart of the continent’s vast, arid steppe as critical battlegrounds in the struggle with China over global influence.

“Whenever we speak to countries around the world, we want to make sure that we’re doing what the people of those countries want,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week at a news conference in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.

The Uzbeks want a “good, balanced relationship,” he said.

“They have long borders,” he added. “They sit in a region where China and Russia are both present.”

Leaders of the five Central Asian nations that became independent republics after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 — Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan — are used to walking a regional tightrope. The area was contested during the so-called Great Game of the 19th century, when the British and Russian empires competed to establish influence and control.

Now a new game is underway. And officials in Central Asia, like many of their counterparts around the world, are hedging their bets when it comes to aligning with Washington or Beijing.

“I’d like to once again note that we want to see Central Asia as a region of stable development, prosperity and cooperation,” said Abdulaziz Kamilov, the foreign minister of Uzbekistan. “And we would really not like to feel on ourselves unfavorable political consequences in relation to some competition in our region between large powers.”

The State Department released a Central Asia strategy document on Feb. 5 that said the top priority was to “support and strengthen the sovereignty and independence of the Central Asian states” — a reference to warding off the influence of China and Russia.

It is a tough mission for the United States. The nations are in China’s and Russia’s backyards, and there have been decades of close interactions among them. Mr. Xi has made multiple state visits to the countries since he took power in 2012, most recently last year.

The Trump administration has hit major setbacks in its attempts to build a global coalition against projects by the Chinese government and by Chinese companies. In fact, Britain said on Jan. 28 that it would not ban technology made by Huawei, a Chinese telecom giant, from its high-speed 5G wireless network, despite intense pressure from American officials.

Mr. Pompeo made London his first stop on a recent six-day trip to Europe and Central Asia, and he said there on Jan. 30 that the Chinese Communist Party was “the central threat of our times.” The next day, he spoke about China with leaders in Ukraine.

But words go only so far. The Americans fail to present an economical alternative to Huawei. And the Trump administration is discovering that its belligerent approach toward allies has a cost when it comes to China strategy. Withdrawing from the global Paris climate agreement and the landmark Iran nuclear deal, starting trade conflicts with friendly governments and berating members of NATO make those nations less likely to listen to Washington’s entreaties on China.

A recent policy report on China by the Center for a New American Security said “critical areas of U.S. policy remain inconsistent, uncoordinated, underresourced and — to be blunt — uncompetitive and counterproductive to advancing U.S. values and interests.”

Some analysts say the constant hawkish talk on China by Mr. Pompeo and other American officials paradoxically makes the United States look weak.

“And that last point is just the core of it for me. A central problem of US foreign policy today, not just in Central Asia, is that it feels increasingly reactive to me — back footed and on defense, not least in the face of Chinese initiatives,” Evan A. Feigenbaum, a deputy assistant secretary of state on Central Asia and South Asia in the George W. Bush administration who is now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote on Twitter.

“To wit, the secretary of state just made the first visit by America’s top diplomat to Central Asia in five years — five! — but spent a hefty chunk of it talking about China,” he wrote. “The challenge for the US is to get off its reactive back foot and be proactive and on offense.”

The United States did not pursue serious partnerships in Central Asia until after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the Pentagon needed regional bases for the war in Afghanistan.

China has taken a different approach. Beijing says it will help build up the region under what it calls the Silk Road Economic Belt, which is part of the larger Belt and Road Initiative, a blanket term for global infrastructure projects that, according to Beijing, amount to $1 trillion of investment. The Trump administration says the projects are potential debt traps, but many countries have embraced them.

The economic liberalization of Uzbekistan under Mr. Mirziyoyev, who took power in 2016 after the death of a longtime dictator, has resulted in greater trade with China.

China is Uzbekistan’s largest trading partner, and trade totaled almost $6.3 billion in 2018, a nearly 50 percent increase from 2017, according to Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency. Chinese goods, including Huawei devices, are everywhere in Samarkand, Bukhara, Tashkent and other Uzbek cities.

Uzbekistan is also committing to being part of rail and road networks that China is building across Central Asia.

Since 2001, China has worked with Central and South Asian nations as well as Russia in a multilateral group, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, to address security issues.

China’s People’s Liberation Army has gained a new foothold in the region, in the form of a base in Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains. For at least three years, Chinese troops have quietly kept watch from two dozen buildings and lookout towers near the Tajik-Chinese border and the remote Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan. The Afghan corridor is a strategic strip of land whose borders were drawn by Britain and Russia during the original Great Game as a buffer zone.

The United States had hundreds of troops at an air base in Uzbekistan that it operated with the Uzbeks. But it wants to move the relationship well beyond the military.

“We want private investment, American private investment sector, to flow between our two nations,” Mr. Pompeo said.

He added that the United States had committed $100 million to programs in Uzbekistan last year, and that it would give $1 million to help develop financial markets and another $1 million to increase trade and “connectivity” between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

On his trip, Mr. Pompeo also made a demand regarding human rights in China as he met with officials in Tashkent and Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan. He raised the issue of China’s internment camps that hold one million or more Muslims and urged the Central Asian nations, which are predominantly Muslim, to speak out against the camps. In Nur-Sultan, he met with Kazakhs who have had family members detained in the camps.

Yet, as in other predominantly Muslim nations, Central Asian leaders have remained silent on this. (Mr. Trump himself has said nothing, and Mr. Pompeo has been accused of hypocrisy by excluding Taiwan, the democratic island that China threatens, from a religious freedom alliance.)

In December, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, denounced Washington’s prodding of Central Asian nations on the Muslim issue: “If the United States once again tries to get up to its old tricks, it will certainly still be futile for them.”

Trump administration policies perceived as anti-Muslim undermine trust in Washington. On Jan. 31, Mr. Trump added Kyrgyzstan and five other nations, all with substantial Muslim populations, to a list of countries whose citizens are restricted in traveling to the United States. In an interview in Nur-Sultan, a Kazakh television journalist, Lyazzat Shatayeva, asked Mr. Pompeo, “What do you think that signals to the other countries and other governments in Central Asia on why it happened?”

Mr. Pompeo said Kyrgyzstan must “fix” certain things: “passport issues, visa issues, visa overstays.”

“When the country fixes those things,” he said, “we’ll get them right back in where they can come travel to America.”



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Music

Stormzy tour: Rapper cancels Asia shows due to coronavirus fears



Stormzy has cancelled tour dates in Asia due to “health and travel concerns surrounding the coronavirus”.

The artistGrime ar announced the news on Twitter, where he told his followers: ”I was seriously looking forward to bringing the #HITH World tour to Asia and playing some epic sold out shows but due to the ongoing health and travel concerns surrounding the Coronavirus, I’m regrettably having to reschedule this leg of the Tour.

He added that ”information regarding the rescheduled dates will follow in due course”, stating: “Please contact your local ticket vendor for any further queries. I promise I’ll be back.”


Stormzy was due to play in Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, China and South Korea in March.

The news comes after a ninth case of coronavirus was confirmed in the UK as warnings the disease is likely to spread further in the country.

Officials confirmed the victim contracted the pneumonia-like illness in China. Officials are now working to identify those the patient had contact with.

Stormzy, who headlined Glastonbury in 2019, released his second studio album Heavy is the Head in December.

The Independent’s Roisin O’Connor called it “a drastic step up from his impressive debut​” that has “all of [his] best traits… present and correc​t.”



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Asia Pacific World

‘Ring of Fire’ Eclipse Dazzles Asia and Middle East


The final solar eclipse of the decade, which produced a stunning and photogenic “ring of fire” around the moon, occurred on Thursday, bringing out droves of onlookers across Asia and the Middle East, where it was most visible.

The eclipse — officially called an annular solar eclipse, in which the new moon passes in front of and partly obscures the sun, leaving a ring of light around its edges — began to appear on Thursday afternoon. It was visible from parts of Saudi Arabia and several cities in southern India, as well as in Singapore, Indonesia and Guam, according to timeanddate.com, a website that tracks eclipses around the world.

The eclipse reached its maximum phase at approximately 5:17 a.m. Coordinated Universal Time on Thursday, or just after midnight Wednesday Eastern Standard Time. Several websites live-streamed the event.

A partial eclipse, in which the moon covers only a small part of the sun’s disk, was visible in several cities including New Delhi and Doha, Qatar, the site said.

To see an annular eclipse, one must be in the right place at the right time, Rick Fienberg, an astronomer with the American Astronomical Society, said on Thursday. “In the case of an annular eclipse, it’s an unusual thing to see the sun turn from bright disk to a ring, and to know that the moon is going across it,” he said. “You can actually see the solar system in motion.”

According to timeanddate.com, an annular solar eclipse begins with a partial eclipse as the moon makes its way across the sun’s disk. Once it’s centered, a glowing ring appears. The moon continues to glide over the sun until it no longer overlaps at all.

The entire eclipse lasts two to three hours, Dr. Fienberg said, noting that the moon is fully within the disk of the sun for about 15 minutes. Solar filters are required to view it, he added.

“Because the sun is never completely blotted out, it doesn’t get particularly dark,” he said. “It would be possible for somebody who wasn’t paying close attention to miss the fact that an annular eclipse just happened. They might not even notice.”

The next annular solar eclipse will occur on June 21, 2020, and it should be visible from parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Pakistan, India and China, timeanddate.com said.

After that, annular eclipses are predicted to occur in 2021, 2023 and 2024.

Asked why eclipses draw so much attention, Dr. Fienberg said people look to the sky when there is an unusual event happening. “Although eclipses aren’t rare, in the sense of, like, you have to live a whole lifetime for a chance to see it,” he said, “to see an annular or total solar eclipse, you do have to be in the right place at the right time.”



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Asia Pacific World

U.S.-India Defense Ties Grow Closer as Shared Concerns in Asia Loom


WASHINGTON — As Indian helicopters touched down on the deck of an American warship, the Germantown, in the Bay of Bengal this week, what was billed as a modest military simulation became the latest sign of progress in a growing great power partnership in Asia.

The United States and India on Thursday will conclude the first land, sea and air exercise in their history of military exchanges, a step forward in White House efforts to deepen defense cooperation between the two countries.

The exercise, Tiger Triumph, brought together 500 American Marines and sailors, and around 1,200 Indian soldiers, sailors and air force personnel to train side-by-side for nine days. While the official focus was to prepare for rescue operations and disaster response, it also included search-and-seizure training and live-fire drills.

The staging of the joint training completes one of the goals of a defense pact the two countries signed last year. In addition to the exercise, the agreement allows for the transfer of advanced weaponry and communications systems to India.

The only other country with which India has held similar exercises involving three branches of its armed forces is Russia. During the Cold War, India was closer to the Soviet Union than to the United States, and much of the Indian arsenal still harkens back to that era.

“You hear officials say now that the U.S. exercises more with India than any other non-NATO partner,” said Alyssa Ayres, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “You would never have imagined that 20 years ago.”

The drills ending this week followed the 15th cycle of a separate training mission, the Yudh Abhyas exercise, an annual peacekeeping practice between the two countries’ armies that was held in September at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State this year, and involved close to 700 troops.

As the White House grapples with security challenges in Asia, including nuclear talks with North Korea and fears of growing Chinese technological prowess, meetings with leaders from the Asia-Pacific region have been a common sight on President Trump’s calendar. State visits with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia have both ranked among Mr. Trump’s most visible diplomatic events over the past year.

But increasingly in recent years, the Trump administration has placed its bets that India, which has historically represented a regional challenge in its own right, is quickly becoming a key player in the larger American strategy in Asia. That does not mean significant issues do not bedevil the United States-India relationship, in particular the tense standoff over Kashmir with Pakistan. Both nations have nuclear arms.

The White House has not been quiet about its view that American allies around the world have been remiss in contributing fairly to global security efforts. In India, though, it has found a partner that many officials believe is both willing and able to play a larger role.

Appearing beside Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September at a rally in Houston, Mr. Trump heralded the exercise this month as a demonstration of the “dramatic progress of our defense relationship.” Joint appearances with Mr. Modi have been a mainstay of high-level diplomacy in Mr. Trump’s first term, and the president has pursued a stronger military relationship with India even as he has disparaged or cut back on defense ties with traditional allies in Asia.

Before the Group of 20 summit over the summer, Mr. Trump questioned the value of the United States’ mutual defense treaty with Japan, a cornerstone of American defense policy in Asia put in place in 1951 after World War II. And in the months before, the Pentagon repeatedly suspended or scaled back military exercises with South Korea as Mr. Trump pursued a nuclear agreement with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

The United States and India have long shared common strategic goals and concerns about growing Chinese influence in Asia. But meaningful cooperation has often been sidetracked by points of contention, such as India’s decision to move ahead with a deal to purchase a Russian missile system known as the S-400 in violation of American sanctions. The specter of Russian weapons sales to an ally also has roiled Washington’s relationship with Turkey.

Facing what it sees as threats to the established international order from China, however, the Pentagon has become increasingly concerned about regional stability and more eager to aid in strengthening ties in the region.

After a meeting last week with Japanese leaders in Tokyo, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described security efforts in the Indo-Pacific region as a top concern. “It is the No. 1 regional priority for the United States military,” he said.

The Trump administration’s efforts to woo India are in many ways a continuation of a foreign policy pursued by former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama aspired to move closer to India strategically, and succeeded measurably in areas like arms sales.

According to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, exports of American weapons to India between 2013 and 2017 increased 557 percent over the previous five-year period. American arms sales to India now stand at about $18 billion.

“India is now at that level where it’s basically like a NATO partner even if there’s no alliance,” said Siemon T. Wezeman, a senior researcher at the institute.

The United States and India share concerns about China potentially using ports across the Indian and Pacific Oceans to expand its economic and political influence, as well as to add to the reach of the Chinese navy. Some analysts describe these potential dual-use ports across the Indian Ocean as Beijing’s “string of pearls.”

But while past administrations also made efforts to align more closely with India, they were typically part of a larger strategy of building out a regional defense network in Asia — one that often included India’s rivals, in particular Pakistan.

“One of the reasons why the Trump administration has been able to move forward with India relatively quickly is that it’s less concerned about alienating Pakistan,” said Daniel Kliman, the director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

To many analysts, the Trump administration’s intensive push to expand defense relations India presents an opportunity to advance operations in Asia far beyond what has been possible with the help of traditional allies alone.

“There’s recognition that what India might contribute to a broader regional balance is enormous,” Mr. Kliman said.

Edward Wong contributed reporting from Washington, and Maria Abi-Habib from Delhi.



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Television

London East Asia Film Festival 2019: 10 unmissable movies from this year’s programme


Focusing on crisis, chaos and survival, this year’s London East Asia Film Festival is showcasing disaster comedies, psychological #MeToo thrillers and some of the most over-the-top exciting action the world loves from East Asian cinema. This year also welcomes back a special collection focusing on women’s stories, showcasing many faceted tales across Taiwan, Hong Kong and China.

With such a huge programme to choose from, here is a highlight of 10 films from this year’s festival that you might want to go and see. 

Exit – Lee Sang Geun


Yong-Nam is having a terrible time in life. He’s not managed to get any jobs after graduation, he’s reliant on his parents to get by, and he’s exceedingly unlucky in love. Then, to top it all off, a mysterious white gas starts killing people all over Seoul while he’s trying to impress his crush at his Grandmother’s birthday party. If you’re scared of heights this movie might be more horror than comedy, as Yong-Nam and Eui-Ju leap, climb and plummet from buildings in spectacular and hilarious style. 

Why you should watch it: A comedy movie based around an unlucky-in-love rock climber who has to escape killer gas with his crush, what’s not to love?

I’m Livin’ It – Hing Fan Wong 

A movie about diverging paths, the human condition and the disparity between the rich and poor; our lead Bowen (played by Aaron Kwok) spends his nights in a 24-hour fast-food restaurant with nowhere else to go. There he meets fellow impoverished “roommates” who find themselves in similar predicaments when it comes to finding a home and securing their futures. Only together can they lift themselves up from rock bottom and figure out how to survive in a society seemingly against them. 

Why you should watch it: This is Hong Kong superstar Aaron Kwok’s latest major title and it will be the first chance to catch it in the UK.

The Pool – Ping Lumphapleng 

Everyone loves a monster movie, right? From Bong Joon-ho’s The Host to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws we’re drawn to the terrifying storylines where humans are no longer the planet’s apex predator. The Pool is no exception, when an art director falls asleep relaxing in an exceptionally deep pool and he wakes up to find the water draining away. When it quickly becomes clear he can’t climb out he starts shouting for help. Then, a crocodile shows up. 

Why you should watch it: The tag line alone is reason enough to give this claustrophobic monster movie a try: “6 metres deep. 2 humans. 1 beast. 0 ways out”.

Europe Raiders – Jingle Ma 

Tony Chiu-Wai Leung Yan Tang’s bounty hunters go head-to-head trying to track down a shadowy surveillance programme known as the “Hand of God” created by the world’s top hacker. 

Why you should watch it: Over the top, bombastic, pick your jaw up off the floor action and set pieces that would make the Fast and the Furious movies say “tone it down a little bit”. A roller coaster of fun that should be experienced on a big screen.

Rainbow’s Sunset – Joel Lamangan 

Ramon, a retired politician with a big, loving family, comes out as gay in his senior years to take care of the love of his life Fredo. As his family come to terms with this entirely new dynamic, Ramon must learn how to deal with losing Fredo to cancer, his new relationships with his family and how to live as an openly gay man. 

Why should you watch it: An eye-opening window into topics LGBT+ films often struggle to cover and a much praised performance by the late Eddie Garcia. 

Money – Park Noo-ri

A high-octane tale of stocks, betrayal and crime, Money follows rookie stockbroker Il-Hyun as he bites off more than he can chew to follow his dream of becoming filthy rich. After being approached by a mysterious equity genius named Ticket, Il-Hyun goes from nobody, to millionaire, to person of interest in no time at all. 

Why you should watch it: One part crime drama, one part action, one part Wolf of Wall Street-esque thriller – Money looks like it will pin audiences to their seats. 

Nina Wu – Midi Z

Taiwanese psychological drama Nina Wu revolves around a bit-part actor’s rise to stardom and the trauma she experiences along the way. Shot with eye-watering, over saturated and stunningly framed shots, Nina Wu looks captivating, disorientating and uncomfortable to watch all at the same time. 

Why you should watch it: The star of the movie, Wu Ke-Xi, is also the screenwriter – her #MeToo tale shines a spotlight on the industry and the damage it does to women with stark honesty.

The Crossing – Bai Xue

A coming of age drama wrapped around a crime thriller, Peipei has dreams of seeing snow in Japan with her best friend. Turning to crime to raise the money she needs to travel, Peipei uses her student identity to start smuggling iPhones between Hong Kong and Shenzhen. As her relationships start to fall apart she must figure out whether it’s all worth it.

Why you should watch it: Stunningly shot and fast paced, The Crossing offers not just a window into Hong Kong and mainland China, but also into life as a teenager growing up in both worlds.

Long Live The King – Kang Yun-sung

Jang Se-chool is the boss of one of the biggest gangs in Mokpo, South Korea. After falling for Kang So-Hyun, a people’s lawyer at a protest against his mob, Se-Chool turns his life around by doing good deeds and trying to be a better person. With his new mindset, and a little luck, he ends up running for office in the National Assembly, but his political rival ends up joining forces with the leader of his former rival gang to try and take Se-chool down.

Why you should watch it: It features a tagline: “Elections. More powerful than fists”.

Samurai Season 

For the first time LEAFF is screening a collection of samurai classics. This, you could argue, would take this list of 10 films to 14… But, when are you going to get another chance to see Toshiro Mifune’s legendary fight in The Sword of Doom or Tatsuya Nakadai in Harakiri on the big screen?

Why you should see them: They really don’t make samurai movies like this anymore – step back in time and marvel at the Lone Wolf and Cub movies and see a more modern take on the tale of the 13 Assassins.

 

London East Asia Film Festival 2019 runs from 24 October to 3 November. You can find the full programme of films, documentaries and shorts and purchase tickets and passes here.



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Asia Pacific World

Rebecca Wei, Head of Christie’s Asia, Is Departing


Rebecca Wei, the head of Christie’s Asia, has announced that she will leave the auction house just eight months after being appointed its chairwoman.

Ms. Wei began working with the auction house in 2012, when she was hired as the general manager of Christie’s Asia. She was named president in 2016, and appointed chairwoman in December 2018.

“I am immensely proud of the growth that has been achieved during my time with Christie’s, in regional sales as well as Asian contribution to Christie’s global revenue,” Ms. Wei said in a statement. “Our collaboration with collectors has helped to spearhead Asia to the forefront of the global art industry.”

The move comes at a challenging time for the Asian art market. According to Artnet, total auction sales across Asia dropped 11.7 percent in the first half of 2019 compared to January through June of last year. The United States-China trade war has also contributed to economic uncertainty in the art world, particularly when it comes to Chinese art.

In a statement, Christie’s said Ms. Wei’s departure was a career decision, and added that Ms. Wei was leaving to “take up a new professional challenge in 2020.”

Ms. Wei will remain in her role through the end of this month. A replacement has not yet been named.



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Asia Pacific World

Waning of American Power? Trump Struggles With an Asia in Crisis


WASHINGTON — For two and a half years, President Trump has said he is finally doing in Asia what he asserts his predecessor, Barack Obama, failed to achieve with a strategic pivot: strengthen American influence and rally partners to push back against China.

But as violence escalates and old animosities are rekindled across Asia, Washington has chosen inaction, and governments are ignoring the Trump administration’s mild admonitions and calls for calm. Whether it is the internal battles in India and Hong Kong or the rivalry between two American allies, Japan and South Korea, Mr. Trump and his advisers are staying on the sidelines.

The inability or unwillingness of Washington to help defuse the flash points is one of the clearest signs yet of the erosion of American power and global influence under Mr. Trump, who has stuck to his “America First” idea of disengagement, analysts say.

“Without the steady centripetal force of American diplomacy, disorder in Asia is spinning in all sorts of dangerous directions,” said William J. Burns, a deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration and the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The net result is not only increased risk of regional turbulence, but also long-term corrosion of American influence.”

All American administrations have limited ability to steer events abroad. Foreign governments often ignore requests from the United States. And the emergence of China as an economic powerhouse and Russia as an anti-Western force means factors outside the Trump administration are contributing to the weakening of American power.

But critics say Mr. Trump’s policies — more focused on cutting American expenses abroad than on building partnerships — have sped that erosion and emboldened governments to ignore entreaties from Washington.

Indian troops are suppressing protests in the contested region of Kashmir after New Delhi ended the territory’s autonomous status, despite Mr. Trump’s offer last month to India and Pakistan to mediate the decades-old dispute.

South Korea announced on Monday that it was dropping Japan from a list of preferred trading partners, ramping up a conflict that jeopardizes Washington’s most important alliances in Asia. Mr. Trump’s top foreign policy officials had advised both nations to settle their differences, to no avail.

And Chinese officials said this week that Hong Kong protesters were starting to show the first signs of “terrorism” — an indication that the Communist Party in Beijing could order tougher measures to end the unrest, even after the Hong Kong police fired tear gas at crowds during the 10th weekend of protests.

Official Chinese news organizations are linking the Trump administration to the protests and labeled an American diplomat, Julie Eadeh, who met with student leaders, a “black hand.”

Tweeting on Tuesday that the Chinese were moving troops to the border with Hong Kong, Mr. Trump issued no warnings other than: “Everyone should be calm and safe!”

“The inability to manage the issues shows some real weakness in the president’s actual commitment to the strategy or any forward diplomatic engagement in Asia,” said Michael J. Green, a senior Asia director for the National Security Council under President George W. Bush.

Mr. Green, now a professor at Georgetown University, added that while the Trump administration was carrying out some useful strategies or tactics in Asia, “it is striking how ineffective the administration is on this Japan-Korea issue and how quiet on Kashmir.”

Though Mr. Trump has embraced a hands-off approach since he took office, some officials, including Matthew Pottinger, the senior Asia director on the National Security Council, have worked to formulate a big-picture strategy on Asia, with the aim of bolstering competition with China.

They have pledged to spend money on regional programs as part of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” strategy, increased the rate of freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea and started a campaign to try to persuade nations to ban the use of communications technology from Huawei, the Chinese company.

But critics say Mr. Trump weakens the American position through continual acts of self-sabotage, including abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade agreement that Mr. Obama had forged to create a united front against China.

Mr. Trump also lavishes praise on East Asia’s authoritarian leaders — he said that he and Kim Jong-un of North Korea “fell in love,” and that he and Xi Jinping of China “will always be friends.”

So far, he and his top officials have failed to send any strong signals on the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests. On Aug. 1, Mr. Trump employed the language used by Communist Party officials when he said Hong Kong has had “riots for a long period of time.”

“Somebody said that at some point they’re going to want to stop that,” he added. “But that’s between Hong Kong and that’s between China, because Hong Kong is a part of China.”

Analysts said those comments would be interpreted by Chinese officials as a green light to take whatever action necessary to quell the protests.

Mr. Trump said in June that the United States and China were “strategic partners,” and the administration has held back from taking certain actions that would upset Beijing — notably, imposing sanctions on Chinese officials for the mass detentions of Muslims and approving the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan.

Mr. Trump’s main goal with China has been to reach a trade deal to end the costly tariff war, though the two sides have escalated the dispute after failed talks, leading to stock market turmoil.

Mr. Trump has also stood back during the intensifying feud between South Korea and Japan. On Friday, Mr. Trump said, “South Korea and Japan have to sit down and get along with each other.”

Administration officials say they do not want to be a mediator in the dispute, even though American security interests in the region could suffer — especially if Seoul and Tokyo end an intelligence-sharing agreement supported by Washington that is intended to help with North Korea containment. In late July, John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, called both sides to ask them to freeze their hostilities, and Mr. Pompeo made the same request of their foreign ministers at a summit in Bangkok.

South Korean and Japanese officials are ignoring the Americans. On Monday, Seoul said that not only was it ending a preferential trading partnership with Tokyo, but it was also naming Japan as the first nation on a new list of countries deemed to have bad export practices. Earlier this month, Japan announced that South Korea was no longer a preferred trading partner.

“By failing to act and assume leadership in the region, Trump is allowing nations with long, complicated histories to fall back into traditional rivalries,” said Jean H. Lee, a Korea expert at the Wilson Center.

“The more these nations feel the United States is an unreliable partner,” she added, “the more they will feel compelled to defend themselves. I’m already starting to hear growing calls in South Korea for their own nuclear weapons.”

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pushed ahead with what appears to be a yearslong plan by Hindu nationalist politicians to control Kashmir, a majority-Muslim region.

Some Indian analysts say Mr. Modi might have accelerated the move because of remarks made by Mr. Trump after his meeting last month with Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan. Mr. Trump said that Mr. Modi had asked Mr. Trump earlier if he could mediate the Kashmir dispute. “If I can help, I would love to be a mediator,” Mr. Trump said.

That is a position welcomed by Pakistan, while India opposes outside involvement. India’s Ministry of External Affairs denied that Mr. Modi had any such conversation with Mr. Trump. Then on Aug. 5, the Indian government revoked Kashmir’s special status and began arresting top Kashmiri politicians — a complete rejection of Mr. Trump’s offer of mediation.

“There’s more the United States should do,” Asad Majeed Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, said in an interview on Monday. “The United States is perhaps the only country that can make a difference.”

John J. Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state, is traveling to India this week for meetings planned before the outbreak of the Kashmir crisis. It is unclear what he will say. Mr. Burns, his predecessor, said, “Modi’s India seems unfazed by any American concerns over the potential for escalation.”



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Oldest fossil forest in Asia discovered



The oldest fossil forest in Asia which existed between 359m and 419m years ago, has been discovered by scientists. 

Dating back to the Devonian period, a geological era known as the age of fishes, it was found in the walls of clay quarries in China, near the town of Xinhang, in the country’s Anhui province.

It is made up of 250,000 square metres of fossilised lycopsid trees, an area as big as 35 football pitches.


Researchers said it is the largest example of a Devonian forest to ever be discovered. Two others have been found, in the US and in Norway.

The latest discovery is the oldest example of a forest in Asia, according to a study published in the Current Biology journal. 

The trees which can be seen in the walls of the Jianchuan and Yongchuan clay quarries have branchless trunks and leafy crowns, similar to a modern day palm tree.

The study’s authors believe the trees grew in coastal environments prone to flooding.

“It might also be that the Xinhang lycopsid forest was much like the mangroves along the coast, since they occur in a similar environment and play comparable ecologic roles,” said Deming Wang, a professor in the School of Earth and Space Sciences at Peking University.

Scientists found the trees above and below a 4m thick sandstone bed, within the quarries.

A reconstruction of the forest landscape (PA)

Structures which were similar to pine cones were also discovered. 

“Jianchuan quarry has been mined for several years and there were always some excavators working at the section,” said Mr Wang. “The excavations in quarries benefit our finding and research. When the excavators stop or left, we come close to the high walls and look for exposed erect lycopsid trunks.”

The study’s authors acknowledged that it was difficult to mark and count all the trees without missing some details.

Additional reporting by agencies



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