A Quiet(er) Week In Southeast Asia

Hello everyone!

I’ve opened this week up to a few subscribers still on the basic model, just a cute little reminder of what you’re missing and can be getting each week for $5 a month or $50 a year. Sign up now using this little subscribe button.


Two things that are worth knowing about but don’t fit anywhere exactly: GoJek is coming! GoJek changed my life and I swear I spend half my time in KL and Singapore missing it. I know we’re all supposed to be hyper-aware millennials who spend our lives criticising capitalism, but GoJek!!!

Secondly, no reason to sound the alarm just yet but markets here are on their toes after capital flights kicked off in South America emerging markets raising the spectre of contagion.

Cross your fingers, but I’m broke anyway.

Erin Cook

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Okay, Singapore. Let’s just get this out of the way. The US-North Korea summit will NOT be going ahead in SG next month. Wow I am absolutely zero percent shocked. The economy is looking better than anyone thought though, which is something! Annual LGBT celebration Pink Dot has been under the lens a bit over the last few years with foreigners now banned from attending and media restrictions. Organisers have worked out a way around this, with this year’s event to include PinkFest over two weekends in June. And here’s Kirsten Han on Operation Coldstore. Read it.

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Let’s split Malaysia into two this week. First, let’s have a look at how this new government is going. Hey, what happened to all those promises about gender parity and raising women in the cabinet? Of the 14 cabinet positions in the federal government, just three are held by women including Deputy PM Wan Azizah. Here’s a look at who is who. Still no word on foreign minister, but I can’t imagine the first few years of this government being too interested in FP so, whatever. Here’s Mahathir’s finance team, though.

But now the juicy stuff: ooh, Najib you’re in trouble pal! As we’re all aware, raids on his properties have continued this week as he faces up to the anti-corruption court (MACC) over the 1MDB case. Actually, this is a Splice Shorts, isn’t it? So much coverage and so much detail. Make sure you’re signed up to that here and I’ll get you an easy 300 word catch up.

Also, I was on the Pod on the Hill earlier this week having a chat about the election.

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Thankfully, it has been a much quieter week here in Indonesia. There has been a lot of analysis about the attacks, the best of which is Sidney Jones (DUH) for NYT on how Islamic State has changed the nature of terrorism here. I think it’s very interesting that the prison riot has been somewhat washed over by international coverage, so this is a great piece to catch up.

It’s an important week here, with 20 years passing since the fall of Suharto. I was thrilled to have interviewed one of my fave artists, Eko Nugroho, on the impact this had on Indonesian contemporary art. There are soooo many pieces on how xyz has developed or floundered in the two decades since, so I might work my way through them all this weekend and knock up a best of!

And it’s not Ramadan unless FPI gets back on the sweeps. Mount Merapi is blastin’. I love a Harry Tanoe profile. Terrorism law revisions have officially passed (analysis forthcoming, this is literally breaking right now).   

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Philippines at it AGAIN with the peace talks, jeeze. Communist Party founder Jose Maria Sison has been invited home from exile to chat with Duterte and find resolution once and for all and failing that he’ll be able to leave the country again. Despite being labelled a terrorist. By Duterte. This entire narrative is one of the most confusing of Duterte’s presidency. He has repeatedly said ‘no more’ only to invite communist rebels back to the table. It does my head.

A year on from the start of the Marawi City siege, there’s a whole lot of ‘what next’ pieces out this week. Two Chinese firms which have been blacklisted by the World Bank have been tipped to lead reconstruction efforts.

Speaking of, Chinese bombers in the South China Sea have elicited an odd but increasingly standard toothless response from Duterte. What other options are there? That the opposition hasn’t been able to capitalise on this capitulation really to me underlines how strong the support for his domestic policies is and likewise how concrete the cult of personality surrounding him is. This is annoying me too much lately, let’s go to Laos.    

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Phew, hi Laos. Hmm all I can see is this look at Laos-Cambodia border negotiations.

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Cambodia? A deeper look at the new owners behind the Phnom Penh Post. Anyone found to be encouraging a boycott of the July vote will find themselves hauled in front of a court, the government has reiterated after reports exiled opposition figures have encouraged supporters to dodge the polls. And here’s some analysis on what these polls will even look like. This is a weird one about the property bubble in Phnom Penh. A second person (already!!) has been arrested for allegedly violating the new lese-majeste laws.  

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I won’t lie, I anticipated this one from Thailand to be a bit bigger. Okay, so this week is four years since the coup which led to the junta. We’ve talked a bit over the last handful of months about the slowly, but certainly, building movement pushing for a return to democracy. The anniversary was marked by public demonstrations which in and of themselves is a big development, but didn’t really kick off as hard as I’d thought. Organisers were arrested during the main demonstration on Tuesday for violating laws on public gatherings, but were bailed out on Thursday. Still, it may well be considered a success after a splinter group almost managed to make it to Government House despite the police’s best efforts.

We’ve also got some more dirty monks on our hands, but honestly a variation of this story comes up every second month or so and I can’t be bothered covering them anymore I swear. Also, a bit more background on CIA operations in light of Gina Haspel becoming boss.

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A complicated week in Myanmar. An Amnesty International report says ARSA, the Rakhine State insurgency, last year killed 99 Hindus. It pretty much goes without saying this report can be used to justify violence against the Rohingya population. That obviously doesn’t mean that it should never have been released or anything crazy. In the case of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, a judge ruled police are allowed to enter evidence police say they took from the pair’s phones.

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There is literally nothing Brunei this week. Not even the ubiquitous ‘GoJek is coming!’ story.

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Ask (Bec Strating) and you shall receive! An update on the Timor-Leste and Australia dispute after the return of Xanana Gusmao to the Prime Ministership. And what of corruption under the new government?

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Now we had a story a while ago that looked at how well countries deal with sustainability and Vietnam was, if I recall correctly???, the only country in the world that can sustain its population at current rates. That story, from the NYT climate newsletter, did not care too much to get into how and why Vietnam became this unicorn and this piece doesn’t too much either. Someone do this! I want a long read on this, I want thousands of words and gorgeous photos on how this happened. And then the lede on this one: Pham Quoc Cong walks 2km to use the bathroom because his 2.2 sq m house isn't big enough to have one.