MATTIS TO CLARIFY ASIA APPROACH US DEFENCE SECRETARY SPEAKS AT SHANGRI-LA US Defence Chief James Mattis will address a room full of the Asia Pacific’s top security thinkers at Singapore’s Shangri-La Hotel on Saturday. The defence ministers of Australia, Canada, France, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand and the Philippines—all US partners—will be hoping for a
MATTIS TO CLARIFY ASIA APPROACH
US DEFENCE SECRETARY SPEAKS AT SHANGRI-LA
US Defence Chief James Mattis will address a room full of the Asia Pacific’s top security thinkers at Singapore’s Shangri-La Hotel on Saturday. The defence ministers of Australia, Canada, France, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand and the Philippines—all US partners—will be hoping for a clear message of commitment to the region.
The North Korean threat has overshadowed President Trump’s Asia policy over the past four months, with the White House devoting little time to the complex South China Sea dispute. An exception came last Wednesday when the US Navy sailed a destroyer within the 12-nautical mile territorial waters of Mischief Reef—a disputed rocky outcrop controlled by China but also claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Despite this, Mr Trump appears hesitant to criticise China’s continued fortification of disputed islands in the South China Sea. Instead, the administration has prioritised defanging North Korea, for which it’s relying on Beijing.
Expect Mr Mattis to reassure allies of Washington’s commitment to the region; but notably absent will be a reference to the ‘rules-based order’, which Trump appears to have shunned.
PANAMA PAPERS STRIKE AGAIN
MALTA VOTES AMID CORRUPTION SCANDAL
Malta, the smallest EU member, will today vote in a heated election overshadowed by corruption allegations. PM Joseph Muscat of the centre-left Labour Party called a snap election last month after submitting himself and his wife to a corruption investigation.
The accusations were initially brought by an anti-government blogger, who claims Mr Muscat’s wife is the beneficial owner of a Panamanian-registered shell company that received some $1 million from bank accounts in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan was awarded a lucrative 18-year contract to supply the island-state with natural gas in 2014.
In the wake of the revelations the opposition Nationalist Party, led by Simon Busuttil, has demanded the prime minister resign. Busuttil has also recently levelled accusations of bribery at PM Muscat’s chief of staff and former energy minister.
But while polling suggests the centre-right party will make electoral gains on Saturday, it’s likely to fall short of victory.
A victory for the Labour Party will see it secure another five years at the helm; even if Muscat is subsequently toppled by the scandal, the party will maintain control of the executive branch until 2022.
OF MICE AND FLIES
SPACEX LAUNCHES UNIQUE PAYLOAD
After lightning strike delayed a launch scheduled for Thursday, SpaceX will have another go at delivering some 3 tonnes of cargo to the International Space Station today.
Nestled among the standard rations are a number of unique items. One such payload contains hundreds of fruit flies, whose hearts have been found to be remarkably similar to that of humans. The bugs will be monitored aboard the space station to determine how low gravity affects their heart cells. It’s hoped experiments could provide important lessons about how to treat heart disease on earth.
A second creepy-crawly container will contain 40 live mice. The rodents will be administered with a new treatment for bone loss and their bone density measured to assess the method.
But more important is the spacecraft itself, which has been recovered and reused from a previous resupply mission to the ISS in late 2014. SpaceX’s business strategy is predicated on reducing the cost of space travel by landing and reusing its rockets, something experts have long questioned.
If all goes to plan, the vehicle is expected to dock with the space station on Monday.
Lesotho, a land-locked southern African country will hold general elections. Lesotho has been dogged by political crises in recent years, with parliament dissolved in March when PM Pakalitha Mosisili lost a no confidence vote. Former leader Tom Thabane has returned from self-imposed exile to contest Saturday’s poll and says he’s confident of victory. But analysts think a fractious coalition is more likely.
India’s GST Council will meet to agree on how to tax the textile sector. Meanwhile, industry leaders have urged the government to push back the July 1 rollout of the nationwide sales tax. Businesses are concerned that they won’t have enough time to prepare for the levy and politicians fear the economic chaos that could result. The state of West Bengal has already warned it is unlikely to stick to the July 1 deadline.