1. Malaysia, Singapore seek to ease tensions over disputes
  2. Government will look into WSJ’s China claims
  3. Malaysia to send protest letters to France, Norway on palm oil ban
  4. Ipoh-Guangzhou flights to commence first quarter of 2019
  5. Indonesia expects 2018 export growth to be 7.5 percent
  6. Japanese passport- the strongest in the world

Malaysia, Singapore work out arrangements for talks to settle disputes
Malaysia and Singapore have agreed for both sides to immediately and simultaneously suspend Malaysia’s permanent restricted area over Pasir Gudang and Singapore’s implementation of the Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedure for Seletar Airport. Both the suspensions are for a period of one month in the first instance, according to a joint statement issued after the bilateral meeting between Malaysian Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah and his Singapore counterpart Dr Vivian Balakrishnan in Singapore today. The statement said the transport ministers of the two countries should meet soon for discussions on the restricted area and the ILS procedure to ensure the safety and efficiency of civil aviation. On maritime issues surrounding the Johor Bahru and Singapore port limits, the two ministers agreed to establish a working group headed by the permanent secretary of the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the secretary-general of the Malaysian Foreign Ministry. The working group will study and discuss the legal and operational matters in order to de-escalate the situation on the ground, and provide a basis for further discussions and negotiations, said the statement. The working group is to report to the foreign ministers within two months, it said. A four-eyed meeting between the two foreign ministers was held for about an hour this morning followed by a delegation meeting.

Government will look into WSJ’s China claims
The Pakatan Harapan government will look into all China-linked projects following a report alleging that China were used to help the previous administration bail out 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). Economic Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali said although he is not privy to the details of the report, the government is firm in looking into all aspects of the process to ensure transparency and accountability. “The whole process will be transparent. If anyone is responsible for any wrongdoing, action will be taken,” he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur. It was reported that in 2016, senior Chinese leaders offered to help bail out a Malaysian government fund at the centre of a multibillion-dollar graft scandal, according to minutes from a series of previously undisclosed meetings reviewed by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The minutes allegedly show that Chinese officials told visiting Malaysians that China would use its influence to try to get the U.S. and other countries to drop their probes into allegations that allies of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak Tun Razak and others plundered 1MDB. The report also noted that the Chinese also offered to bug the homes and offices of WSJ reporters in Hong Kong, who were investigating the fund to find out who was leaking information to them, according to the minutes. Malaysia is alleged to have offered lucrative stakes in railway and pipeline projects for China’s One Belt, One Road programme and other deals with Chinese state companies to be funded by Chinese banks and built by Chinese workers.

Malaysia to send protest letters to France, Norway on palm oil ban
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad will be writing letters to the French president and the Norwegian prime minister to protest the European Union (EU) parliament’s decision to ban palm oil. Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok said as a palm oil producing country, Malaysia would not tolerate the decision made by these countries and action must be taken or it would affect the bilateral trade relations between Malaysia and the EU. It was earlier reported the Norwegian government had become the third EU country to pass a resolution to ban palm oil, after Switzerland and France.

Ipoh-Guangzhou flights to commence first quarter of 2019
Direct flights from Ipoh to Guangzhou in China are expected to operate latest by March this year. State Tourism, Arts and Culture Committee chairman Tan Kar Hing said the technical part of the initiative was all ready. “We are in our final lap, and I can confidently say that the flights will be able to operate in the first quarter of this year. Tan said the state government was very serious about the Guangzhou market, and have immediate plans to come up with some 40 short videos on the state, the culture as well as the people. He said the videos would be produced alongside with the private sector to help promote Perak for tourists in China.

Indonesia expects 2018 export growth to be 7.5 percent
Indonesian Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita has estimated that export growth in 2018 would reach only 7.5 percent, far below the targeted 11 percent, although the official result has not been released. Last year’s 11 percent target was already lower than the 16 percent export growth achieved in 2017. Enggartiasto has attributed the lower export growth to global economic turbulence that led to a decline in local market demand. “I just want to be realistic, as I see that non-oil and gas exports only [grew] 7.47 percent in November,” Enggartiasto told reporters in Jakarta. The trade minister’s projection reflects Indonesia’s trade balance predicament, which recorded a US$7.52 billion deficit in November. The government, he said, would keep expanding bilateral and multilateral trade agreements in order to secure access to foreign markets and drive exports.

Japanese passport- the strongest in the world
According to the 2019 Henley Passport Index, Japanese citizens hold the strongest passport in the world and its citizens can travel visa-free or obtain a visa on arrival in 190 countries. Asian countries dominated the world rankings and Japan was followed by Singapore and South Korea in second place. Their citizens can visit 189 destinations without getting a visa before travel. Based on the data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) South Korea could reach the highest position in the passport index. Asian countries have the extraordinary effect on international mobility and migration with continued dominance. With access to 188 destinations without a visa Germany and France are ranked in the third place. The US and UK came down in the ranking at a joint sixth position having access to 185 destinations. There has been a significant fall from 2015 when the American and British passport had a strong ranking. Denmark, Finland, Italy, and Sweden were in then fourth place and Spain and Luxembourg took the fifth spot.