Want (tax-free) sugar in that drink?

No thanks, Asean is sweet enough

Hello friends,

As I said on Tuesday, this week is a freebie to everybody as I get my new plan up and running! Twice a week from here on out — which I thought would make this a touch more concise but it’s still just as long as the full week so uh, no shortcuts when you’re covering 11 countries!

As of next week we’ll be back to the usual free/premium deal, so if you’re keen to stick with your TWO blasts a week sign up here for $5 a month or $50 for the year:

See you next Tuesday,

Erin Cook

Let’s start in Singapore, which is once again Asean’s leader in Streisand Effect via the courtroom. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is suing financial advisor Leong Sze Hian, who reposted a piece from a Malaysian outlet which suggested LHL helped out Najib Razak in securing loans for 1MDB. His government has already targeted the Coverage, the publisher of the original story, but also went after Leong Sze Hian after he allegedly ignored a letter from LHL’s lawyers asking him to remove the post.  What are you even on about, Leong Sze Hian has said. This is one of those fairly common Singapore stories that on the surface seem very ‘ugh get real problems Singapore’, but really raises much bigger questions about how tight restrictions on free speech are and how far the Singaporean government will go to defend them.  

If anywhere was going to take a sin tax to its extremes, it would be Singapore. A total ban on sugary drinks has been floated but we are much more likely to see a tax. Good, I love a sugar tax. Which gives me a great opportunity to talk about my biggest gripe with Singapore. Why does the McD in terminal 2 have only sugar free coke options? I don’t need Ronald McDonald making health choices for me when I’m hungover flying internationally THANKS.

Oof, this is an awkward one. Lee Bee Wah MP was met this week by Edward Foo, an activist from the Ready4Repeal movement. Foo brought with him a petition signed by hundreds of constituents who all want to see the colonial era criminalisation of the LGBT community overturned. How well do you think that went? Foo says the MP said “I have other residents with real problems” before bailing on the whole event. Yikes. Nothing like watching lawmakers drag their feet on the inevitable. Good on ya, Edward Foo and pals! I hope we’ll see more of these sorts of events as we head towards the election. Polling isn’t yet in the activists favour, but that hasn’t stopped anyone yet.

In Malaysia, three people have been killed in an explosion at a Sarawak mall. Definitely not terrorism, authorities say, probably a gas leak. New charges for Jho Low! But still no Jho Low. Through his attorney the run-away said he has no chance of a fair trial anyway. Race has been an underlying tension for a couple of weeks now (and decades too, to be fair) and Reuters has a nice look at that. Rama Ramanathan over at Asia Times has a look at the temple riot. Some good news though: don’t expect a credit downgrade despite a slowdown and dang that media is getting free.

The Philippines is ALSO going to war on sugar! Imelda Marcos paid her bail on those sticky old graft charges. Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters clashed with military, leaving seven dead. The latest round of violence comes just weeks before a vote on the Bangsamoro Organic Law, so is certainly one to watch. Richard Heydarian on the wider impacts of the conviction of the police who killed Kian Delos Santos. I did like this one on China money. The headlines versus the delivery is a bubbling story in much of the region (and BRI world too) and definitely deserves more investigation. And of course, Maria Ressa. The United Nations has backed the journalist, though given the president’s take on the UN it may not be too helpful, and there should be bigger developments later today as Manila wakes up.

Lots of developments in Myanmar on the Rohingya crisis front. Firstly, those fears of a mass exodus on boats again appear to have come to fruition with the arrival of 20 Rohingya men in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, on Tuesday. Reuters spoke with Rohingya who have lived in temporary camps in Rakhine State administered by the United Nations. Efforts to fix those sites up have been quite the dud and residents say they still live under the same old draconian rules. Meanwhile, beef with Bangladesh is heating up. The Myanmar ambassador was summoned on Wednesday to follow up on comments made by the religious minister about Rohingya “marching on Myanmar”. The national legislature has dropped the ball on child protection, drawing the ire of voters and fitting in nicely with a horrible region-wide trend.

The shamelessness with which Thailand passes laws directly aimed at the Shinawatra family truly madly deeply leaves me gobsmacked sometimes. Sure, according to Mahannop Detwithak, the lawmaker who led the bill, the law is "not designed to treat anyone unfairly" but let’s just take a lil look. Okay, so anyone convicted of a crime who flees their sentence will no longer be able to file criminal suits. Given how quickly the Bangkok press screamed the Shinawatra siren, I think we can make safe assumptions.

Elsewhere, the coronation of the new king will probably take place after the election says Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. He’s set to be nominated as the prime minister candidate for the Palang Pracharat party, confirming the new party’s spot as the most pro-junta. Remember the constitution change madness back in April last year? That is this! The prime minister no longer has to be elected to parliament and can be nominated as an ‘outsider’ by the parties. Each party is required to nominate three candidates, but Palang Pracharat has not tipped who the other two would be. Imagine being that filler!

I am so confused by this nose story.

I’ve got a friend in Vietnam at the moment and her Instagram has been good food on good food until last night! When Vietnam beat out the Philippines to make it through to the AFF Cup final and Hanoi erupted. They’ll face Malaysia for the top spot. Nothing too gossip-y just yet, but Facebook’s head of Vietnam operations Le Diep Kieu Trang has announced she will resign at the end of the year. It comes after the introduction of tough new laws on internet companies. Connected? I don’t know let’s wait and see! At least one Chinese manufacturer has bailed on plans to relocate to Vietnam amid a ~truce in the China-US trade war. Hmm.

In Cambodia, the government has again suggested it would ‘welcome’ Radio Free Asia to return. “There was no pressure, RFA closed the office by itself”, Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng said this week echoing comments made a couple months back. “But now we welcome them back, and the radio station can re-establish its office in Phnom Penh”. Ooh, EU tariffs on rice haven’t passed just yet. In the latest surrogacy ring, 32 Cambodian women have been released from prison after being charged with human trafficking. They have all agreed to keep the babies instead of give them up. It’s been awhile since we had a decent longread on this, so someone please do it. I want to know what happens to these babies and women. It’s a tough deal. This one from David Hutt on the emerging dynasties in Cambodian politics did numbers.

The horrible dam collapse in Laos just doesn’t end. Nearly six months after the collapse of the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy hydropower project, villages both near and far still struggle to deal. RFA spoke with a university student who is not sure she’ll be able to continue her studies. She says the family has not received government support for two months.

Quiet second half of the week in Timor-Leste.

And Brunei.

This story from Indonesia makes me sick. What we do know is up to 31 construction workers in West Papua were killed in a massacre. The West Papuan liberation army has claimed responsibility, according to media reports, and efforts by military to enter the area were met with gunfire. The first week of December is always a hairy one for West Papua with Independence Day on the 1st often leading to arrests and violence team that with notorious difficulty for foreign and local media alike in safely entering the tenser districts it may take more time for the rest of the story to come out. For some context, this Conversation piece on President Jokowi’s efforts in the region is excellent. It reads well with John McBeth’s Asia Times piece.