🇻🇳 🇻🇳 🇻🇳
Vietnam commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Tet Offensive at the end of January. There’s been a lot of coverage on this so I’ll just include my faves and the pieces I found most illuminating. Firstly, the excellent (if painfully US-centric) NYT’s project Vietnam ‘67 has some interesting insight into how the offensive rolled out across the country. AP has compiled fifty-year-old dispatches, showing how it was reported at the time. This from DPA International is one of my favourite reads and includes chats with now-elderly former fighters.
I honestly can’t with the TPP, it’s been too much back and forth for eternity and I am TIRED. But, Vietnam is helping to resurrect the corpse and NAR has a good look if you’re keen. VietJet is in trouble again as is the group known as the Provisional Government of Vietnam, which has been formally listed as a terrorist organisation by the (actual) Vietnamese government. The US sent Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on a two-day trip that included some tough conversations about the war. Hanoi’s air is dirty.
🇰🇭 🇰🇭 🇰🇭
Across the border in Cambodia, it has been a funny old week with the introduction of lese-majeste laws. Previously, talking about the (largely symbolic) monarchy hasn’t led to much strife, but this change has watchers tipping it will be used by Hun Sen and his government to target dissenters and critics. Ten foreigners have been charged for ‘dancing pornographically’ presumably as part of a wider effort to turn Cambodia into the town from Footloose. Opposition icon Kem Sokha has been denied bail on charges of ‘seeking to overthrow the government’ while Australian filmmaker James Ricketson was also denied bail in his espionage case.
🇱🇦 🇱🇦 🇱🇦
Over in Laos, I loved this one on textiles in the New York Times. Beware the destruction of civil society in Laos. The Kings Romans Casino in the Golden Triangle has been smacked with US sanctions accused of just about every horrible crime you can think of.
🇲🇲 🇲🇲 🇲🇲
Okay, Myanmar. First of all, Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been denied bail in their case. Reuters, obviously, has been all covering this so of course, they are the best source on it. This piece includes a snap from the courtroom this week of Kyaw Soe Oo carrying his young daughter that just really underlines for me how great the Reuters coverage is – constant reminders that media repression isn’t just a sign of faltering freedoms, but destroys families too.
The big story this week is an AP investigation, reporting on at least five mass graves found in Rakhine state supporting claims of a widespread campaign of violence by the military. ‘The faces of the men half-buried in the mass graves had been burned away by acid or blasted by bullets. Noor Kadir finally recognized his friends only by the colours of their shorts.’ The UN and the US are, rightfully, furious but Myanmar has told the UN February isn’t a good time for a visit.
🇹🇭 🇹🇭 🇹🇭
The must-read from this week on Thailand is me, duh. The Neverending Story of Thailand’s Elusive Election. The canal is back on the agenda so best read up via Al Jazeera and Asia Times. Six people, aged between 18 and 20, face up to 15 years jail under the lese-majeste law after being found guilty of burning portraits of the current and the late kings last year.
🇲🇾 🇲🇾 🇲🇾
Down in Malaysia, the must-read is me, duh. After reading up more and chatting to a couple of smart activists about the #UndiRosak campaign ahead of the GE14 I’m totally convinced young Malaysians are going to be the most important thing to watch this year. Also at the Asia Times, David Hutt took a look at the importance of Sabah and Sarawak. Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan wants Christian leaders to stop talking shit on UMNO. When is the dang date anyway? Najib Razak is just waiting for inspiration to strike.
A federal court case has captivated Malaysia this week after it ruled ‘unilateral conversions’ of children is illegal – thankfully, here’s your explainer. Bollywood film Padmaavat has been banned after the government said it portrays Muslims in a bad light. Malaysian mining town’s Chinese Hakka heritage is under threat, despite efforts to keep the history alive.
🇸🇬 🇸🇬 🇸🇬
Across the water in Singapore, I loved this one from Kirsten Han for Quartz exploring the case of an LGBT couple whose marriage was ruled ineligible after one of the parties transitioned. This one I liked less so: durian cafes are here to stay. Singapore is once again in its feelings about whether or not the city is boring. If I was the tourism board I’d strap a Go-Pro to my mates who always make sure I have a ripper night when I come visit. Subway is looking at going halal which is low-key sad news for me since I love inhaling a ham sanga on the SMRT out of Changi.
🇧🇳 🇧🇳 🇧🇳
Brunei! Real, actual, meaty news out of Brunei! For this, we turn to the Scoop. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah took to the tv to announce a shock cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday. The Scoop has the full list of who is out and who is in and notes that some of the government’s longest-serving ministers have been dumped.
🇵🇭 🇵🇭 🇵🇭
While we’re on Borneo, let’s talk about the Philippines and the dispute over who can lay claim to Sabah, part of Malaysian Borneo. This has roots in the colonial-era but has largely quietened down for a minute. BUT now that the Philippines’ 1987 Constitution is up for review, everything is on the table again. I doubt this has legs to it with both Malaysia and the Philippines far more interested in monitoring the security situation in the Sulu Sea than duking it out over borders but with Sabah vital to Malaysian elections this year who knows what’s next.
Three police officers have been charged by the Justice Department of the death of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos last year which prompted widespread protests against police impunity as part of Duterte’s war on drugs. Rafael Baylosis, former head of the Communist Party and alleged ‘acting secretary’ of the New People’s Army, has been arrested in Quezon City. Jeepneys are outta here. The dengue vaccine crisis is now believed to be linked to three deaths.
🇮🇩 🇮🇩 🇮🇩
Down here in Indonesia it’s been a week of bad news. Renewed efforts to criminalise LGBT identities are getting further than it ever has before with all major parties backing legal amendments. As a lot of commentators have noted, this is the kind of chest-thumping typical of some parties ahead of elections both this year and next, but it is important to stay vigilant. In a tiny glimmer of hope, police will investigate the treatment of a dozen transgender women in Aceh after local police abused them. Also in Aceh, air hostesses will now be required to wear headscarves regardless of religious affiliation.
Across the country, in Papua, a health crisis is unfolding. Cases of childhood malnutrition have been widespread while an outbreak of measles is further exacerbating the problems. HRW researcher Andreas Harsono noted this has a lot to do with traditional foods disappearing and replaced with a reliance on imported foods.
Back here in Jakarta, there’s a lot of chatter about the first 100 days of the Anies Baswedan-Sandiaga Uno administration but we’ll ignore that because I have a piece about to be published on it.
🇹🇱 🇹🇱 🇹🇱
Despite last week announcing the dissolution of government and fresh elections in Timor-Leste, there’s still virtually no news! But, it will almost certainly delay border negotiations with Australia.