For a country that could once have been said to have the world at its feet, it is hard to believe how far Malaysia has fallen.
If the MH370 debacle wasn’t enough to erase your faith in Malaysian governance standards, the world now confronts official insanity such as that described here. Then again, if attacking gays isn’t sufficiently destructive to the national reputation there is also the awesome lack of cultural awareness on show here.
Characteristic of traditional Malaysian/Indonesian rivally, when it comes to gay rights Indonesia is also doing all it can to beat Malaysia in the race to maximum intolerance.
Both nations are capable of much better than that, or is it an admission that they are not?
For those who didn’t remember* we are quickly approaching the cultural event of the year in Vietnam.
The Vietnamese New Year celebrations, known as Tet Nguyen Dan and understandably abbreviated to simply Tet, begin on the first day of the first month of the Lunar Calendar and can be expected to contine for a few days. The date shifts around somewhat from year to year due to the difference between the Gregorian and Lunar Calendar, but invariably settles down between January and February.
With charactereristic Vietnamese pragmatism this coincides with the seasonal agricultural cycle, traditionally offering a well earned rest between harvesting and planting successive rice crops.
Anyway, all the above can be quickly picked up from any half good guide book so I will just make two quick points.
One is that in preparing this post and consdering the cultural importance of Tet, I can see parallels with the themes of forgiveness, generousity and social reunification that is characteristic of the Islamic festivals of Ramadan and Idil Fitri. In the West that function is increasingly expected of Christmas (at the same time that Christmas seems less and less reliable in achieving that ambition), and both Tet and Ramadan in Southeast Asia seem much more authentic and successful.
The other is the reference I picked up in the newspaper story here that I intended to use to illustrate the associated fireworks displays. I found it curious and revealing that Vietnamese authorities were keen to emphasise that the fireworks were not funded by public money. Perhaps it is a pointer to the Vietnamese authorities’ inclination to rest the pillars of Vietnamese national unity on the more politically loaded commemorative events that follow later in the year.
Happy, as always, for readers’ thoughts on this.
* which nearly included me!
In an effort to reinvigorate my rather dismal posting rate I am trialling a weekly short summary of sources from a particular country.
I’ll start with Indonesia, where there is always something happening, and try to keep moving around the region.
So what are the three most recent stories about Indonesia on the online portal of Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC?
Well, there is the story here on Aceh’s decision to require female Muslim flight attendants to wear a hijab on incoming AND outgoing flights. Garuda Air has already tactfully described it as a “suggestion”, and I expect a lot more flexible interpretations of the demand in practice.
There is also the story here of Indonesia’s decision to open up its university sector (just a bit) to foreign universities. There is a lot of potential there, but also some even bigger problems. Indonesian government demands for a high degree of control over staffing and course content will start to chafe veey quickly, and that’s before the first big (and inevitable) clash over academic values.
Then there is the story here about the omnipresent threat of violence confronting Indonesia’s LGTBI community. I suspect there will be a day in my lifetime when Indonesia looks back on this period with shame, but for now that day seems far into the future.
The post title is also the headline of the oneindia.com news article here.
That article’s opening paragraph concludes that “…with some careful planning, you can end up celebrating the New Year’s Eve in some of the most exciting places in Southeast Asia”. The planning required will be extraordinary indeed given that the article was published just yesterday, five days after New Year’s Eve.
Nevertheless, the purpose of this post is not to criticise in any way what I am sure are the fine folk at oneindia.com. I highlight this post merely for its curious nomination of Korea as being within Southeast Asia.
I am mindful that the list is perhaps less definitive of “best places to be on New Years Eve” than “best places to be on New Years Eve for the sort of reader who oneindia.com appeals to”. And that is fair enough, you can hardly expect oneindia.com to cater for a different readership, but it does raise the question; is Korea portayed as being part of Southeast Asia because oneindia.com believes it is, or is Korea placed in Southeast Asia because oneindia.com thinks it’s readers consider it to be so?
I cannot of course answer that question without significant research (unless, dear reader, you just happen to have a link to a peer referenced paper on this very question), but I suspect each option is possible.
From an Indian perspective distant east Asia is quite possibly just that, East Asia. The disinction between north-East and south-East is largely a Western cultural creation, and there is no special reason why Indian online newspaper readers must embrace that particular interpretation of the international order. The concept of Korea being part of Southeast Asia may also be an echo of a distant era of state relations and understandings that predate contemporary international boundaries.
Or perhaps it is simply the perception that there are an insufficient number of worthwhile places to be in Southeast Asia on New Years’ Eve for oneindia.com readers, and Seoul is considered to be an equally attractive alternative.
I will leave it to you as to whether that says more about the views of some potential Indian tourists or the possible lack of tourist appeal of most of Southeast Asia.
That’s the title of the recently released Australian Strategic Policy Institute report available in a .pdf here.
In a comprehensive breakdown by a range of metrics and individual country assessments, the report “assesses the national approach of Asia–Pacific countries to the challenges and opportunities of cyberspace, taking a holistic approach that assesses governance and legislation, law enforcement, military capacity and policy involvement, and business and social engagement in cyber policy and security issues”.
The five second summary? Greater national wealth correlates closely with enhanced cyber security. Now you know.
A good summary of the latest developments in the Setya Novanto chronicle by Tim Lindsey, who has a great piece here.
Indonesian social media users may see parallels with the Australian political candidate John Alexander, who is currently being ridiculed on social media for a photo here of him (and his staff) calling voters…using phones that were unconnected.
In another amazing coincidence a high profile Australian also suffered serious injuries on his recent trip to court. You can read the story here and, would you believe it, the matter also evolved into another police investigation (see here) on related matters.
Sometimes Australia and Indonesia are not that different after all.
Yes, that time of year again when vast plumes of airborne particulates from forest fires in Sumatra and elsewhere in the region cause choking pollution across much of Southeast Asia.
A very readable background piece offering an understanding of the issue is here.
There was some hope that this year would be different. In 2016 the World Resources Institute wrote here that…
For the last several years, forest fires driven by agricultural expansion have spiked every summer in Indonesia, creating smog and public health crises, including more than 100,000 deaths, throughout Southeast Asia. While fires are once again flaring, they’re not nearly as bad as usual—there are currently about a quarter as many burning across Indonesia this year compared to this time [September 2016] in 2015.
The article goes on to give a comprehensive explanation why.
Sadly however that trend seems not to have lasted a year.
Just a couple of days ago the East Asia Forum here Armida S Alisjahbana, Padjadjaran University and Jonah Busch wrote that “forest fires sweeping across Sumatra and Kalimantan in recent months prompted six Indonesian provinces to declare a state of emergency”.
That may imply the problem suddenly emerged, but as the Jakarta Post report here from January this year indicates, the annual emergency has effectively become chronic and now lasts for much of the year.
The reader can come to their own conclusion on the Indonesian Government’s recent claims to success in fighting fires (reported here), but given a recent Reuters report here that Indonesia lost a million hectares of tree cover in 2016 alone and the disastrous public health impacts from the smog that you can read about here, here and here, I desperately hope the Indonesian Government is right.
Tis the season…to be talking.
Of course few bodies talk more and arguably achieve less than ASEAN, with the added distraction this time around with the presence of US President Trump at the meetings now taking place in Manila.
What will they discuss? What are the likely outcomes? A good summary for those interested is available here.
The summary? There will almost certainly be a lot of talk. And action? Well, if acting involves muliple statements, then yes, expect action.
And life and increasingly death for the Rohingya will continue, and the other urgent problems in the regon will be there unaddressed for the next meeting and further talks.
An insighful analysis is available from New Mandala here with some disturbing implications for supporters of democracy in the region.
I hadn’t previously encountered the work of Dan Slater, but this is seriously good and I’ll clearly need to read more of his writings.
Pepinsky’s piece in a similar vein here is of also of the high standard you would expect.