Vietnam puts rocket launchers on disputed land

Vietnam has discreetly armed several of its islands in the disputed South China Sea with new mobile rocket launchers capable of striking China’s runways and military installations across the vital trade route, according to Western officials. Diplomats and military officers said intelligence showed Hanoi had shipped the launchers from the Vietnamese mainland into position on five bases on the Spratly Islands in recent months. The launchers are hidden from aerial surveillance and are yet to be armed, but could be made operational with rocket artillery rounds in a matter of days, sources said.

What’s next? Vietnam’s foreign ministry denied the reports, describing them as “inaccurate”. If true, the move is a dramatic step by Beijing’s former close ally which in recent years has been seen to have closer ties with the United States. Vietnamese forces may not be formidable but US backing is, and regional tensions are likely to increase.

Australia to block Chinese bidders from leasing grid, citing security

Australia said on Thursday it planned to block Chinese bidders from leasing a major Sydney electricity grid, on national security grounds. Treasurer Scott Morrison said China’s State Grid Corporation and Hong Kong-registered Cheung Kong Infrastructure Group had until next Thursday to respond to his preliminary view that their leasing a 50.4 per cent stake in Ausgrid for 99 years would not be in the national interest. Morrison declined to detail the security issues raised by the deal. Chinese state media reacted angrily, with Xinhua news agency slamming the decision as “absurd and almost comical”.

What’s next? Chinese investment, particularly from state-owned firms, has become more contentious in Australia as Beijing gets more assertive in the South China Sea. The US$7.7m billion the deal would have made Australia was meant for infrastructure. That money will now have to come from elsewhere.

Chinese woman scolds disrespect of fellow tourist in Thailand

Candidate Clinton says she will stand up to China on trade deals

In America, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told her supporters on Thursday she will defend US interests against China and reject the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), matching a key policy platform of her Republican opponent Donald Trump. “My message to every worker in Michigan and across America is this: I will stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Clinton said. “I will stand up to China and anyone else who tries to take advantage of American workers and companies,” she insisted.

What’s next? Clinton is seen as having a bad track record for approving of trade deals, mainly due to her husband, former president Bill Clinton, signing into law the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993. It became very unpopular as companies moved to Mexico to take advantage of cheaper labour. Trump’s campaign blasted Clinton before she had even finished speaking. “Make no mistake: she will approve TPP, just like she pushed through [other] deals,” said Trump’s national policy director Stephen Miller.

Philippines President Duterte ‘gay’ tirade against ambassador shocks US

“Gay ambassador, the son of a whore” is not how a president usually refers to a foreign dignitary. But then, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, with extrajudicial killings and detention of suspected drug peddlers, has already proved sticking to the script is not his style. But he surpassed himself last week when he said on television, “As you know, I’m fighting with his [US Secretary of State John Kerry’s] ambassador. His gay ambassador, the son of a whore. He pissed me off,” about US Ambassador Philip Goldberg. The US retaliated by summoning Manila’s charge d’affaires in Washington to complain.

Indonesia has these bigger fish to fry than South China Sea

What’s next? Duterte’s outburst comes at a sensitive time, as the US looks for clues on the president’s stance towards China amid the South China Sea controversy. He has in the past indicated he would not be averse to work with China and last week sent former president Fidel Ramos on an ice-breaking trip to Hong Kong to open a negotiation channel with Beijing. His tirade will give little comfort to those in the US who fear Manila’s traditional foreign policy tilt towards the US may shift.

China talks of trust being tested over UK government’s nuclear stall

The Chinese envoy to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, called the British government putting off approving the £18 billion Hinkley Point nuclear plant “a test of mutual trust”. The state-owned China General Nuclear Power (CGN) has been accused of conspiracy to steal US industrial secrets to help develop Chinese technology. Szuhsiung Ho, a senior adviser to CGN, will appear in court next week over spying accusations, which Ho denies. In July, Prime Minister Theresa May halted the plant on concerns over a Chinese state firm investing in critical UK infrastructure. “Hinkley Point is not the result of some whimsical idea or rushed decision; it is the considered outcome of a mutually beneficial tripartite partnership between Britain, France and China,” Liu wrote in the Financial Times on Tuesday.

Thailand mulls tracking tourists through mobile phone SIM cards

What’s next? The Chinese are anxiously watching May’s stance on Hinkley Point as a test of her commitment to ties with China, which hit a high under her predecessor, David Cameron.

Widodo calls for probe into police and military links with drug trade

Indonesia has ordered an official investigation into allegations police and military officers were involved in drug trafficking.

President Joko Widodo made the order after four drug convicts were executed by firing squad. One of them allegedly told rights activists in 2014 he had top police and military figures on his payroll. Government figures show there are nearly six million drug users in the country of 250 million people. Widodo maintains drugs pose a bigger threat than Islamist militancy.

What’s next? Police have sued for defamation Haris Azhar, the rights activist who first alleged military and police were involved with drug smugglers. The probe order will make it difficult for police to make the case stick.

Compiled by Ben O’Rourke