Indonesia sends warships to drive off Chinese boats – The Times

Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian island of Bali in October 2018. Photo: Simon Roughneen

KUALA LUMPUR — Indonesia has sent an armada of warships and fishermen to waters around its northern Natuna Islands in response to recent incursions by dozens of Chinese fishing boats and coastguard ships. China’s sweeping claim to most of the South China Sea overlaps with Indonesian waters around the Natunas, with the latest flare-up prompting the usually soft-spoken Indonesian President Joko Widodo to bluntly assert that “Natuna is Indonesia” during a visit to the contested region last week. Beijing’s claim to the South China Sea, through which between US$3-5 billion worth of trade passes most years, extends 2000 kilometers from the Chinese mainland and has angered neighbouring countries, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines, whose own smaller claims around the sea overlap with Beijing’s. 

New power plants blamed for turning Mekong River blue – The Times

PHNOM PENH – With horror images showing fields of plastic rubbish bobbing on turquoise seas around the world, one could be forgiven for welcoming the sight of one of the world’s great rivers turning a fresh blue. However the azure hue seen in recent weeks along stretches of the Mekong is stirring concerns that dozens of hydroelectric dams, the biggest of which are in China, are interrupting the river’s natural flow and blocking sediment that should be carried to farmland downriver that helps feed 60 million people. Earlier this month the Mekong River Commission, a regional intergovernmental body, put the colour change down to “extremely low flow, slow drop in the river sediments,” after warning last month that the Mekong region could face serious drought over the turn of the year.

East versus West battle looms over 5G rollout – Asia Times

PHNOM PENH – Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei predicted in late December that the number of 5G connections worldwide would jump from around 20 million in 2019 to over 200 million by the end of 2020. Nowhere will the corporate and geopolitical contest to lead that rollout be more hotly contested than in Southeast Asia. Since a successful launch of commercial 5G services last April in South Korea, where around 3.5 million people have signed up for more expensive high-speed 5G and are using three times the data of 4G subscribers, mobile network providers across Asia could be set to cash in if the technology is made widespread soon. If those millions can soon become tens or even hundreds of millions, 5G, which promises download speeds between 20 to 100 times faster than the current leading 4G system, could revolutionize fields from public transport to healthcare to manufacturing, a potential that Dutch bank ING suggests could be “an economic light-bulb moment.”

Doubt surrounds Malaysian succession plan – The Times/RTÉ World Report

PHNOM PENH — Malaysia’s prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim is facing a sexual assault complaint that could derail a succession already shrouded in doubt by the apparent reluctance of 94 year old leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad to hand over as promised. Mr Anwar gave a statement to police on Thursday, promising “full cooperation” after 26 year old Muhammed Yusoff Rawther, a former researcher in Mr Anwar’s office, last week accused the heir-designate of making unwanted sexual advance, allegations that echo previous cases that saw Anwar jailed, including by Mahathir.  Mr Anwar had already denounced the claims as “baseless slander” and “politics at its worst,” aimed at torpedoing a handover lined up since Dr Mahathir, then 92, won a sensational election victory in May 2018. When Dr Mahathir became Malaysia’s prime minister for the second time he was adamant that his return to politics would be short-lived: not only would he step down after two years, he would hand power to his one time protégé who became a bitter foe, 72-year old Mr Anwar. However Dr Mahathir, the world’s oldest prime minister, is pleading to stay in the job at least until after Malaysia hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in November next year. “Because Mahathir has not yet confirmed a handover date, Anwar supporters are assuming the worst,” said Ibrahim Suffian, head of Merdeka Center, a Malaysian opinion survey group.

In too deep? Cambodia caught up in China-US rivalry – Southeast Asia Globe

PHNOM PENH — Despite Kem Sokha being freed from house arrest a month ago, it was later announced that he will face trial on January 15, a decision that is unlikely to bolster Cambodia’s case for avoiding sanctions. To Kem Monovithya, a leading opposition politician and a daughter of Kem Sokha, the decision to try her father shows “there is no good will from the CPP [Cambodian People’s Party] controlled court”. It is not just opposition leaders who have been targeted. Though most have since been freed, dozens of local opposition activists were rounded up in the weeks prior to Sokha’s release, as the government issued lurid jeremiads about a coup attempt allegedly being orchestrated by Sokha’s fellow opposition leader Sam Rainsy. “We are very concerned about the human rights situation there. The Cambodians now have one month to respond and we will make our final decision in Feb next year,” commented outgoing Commission trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom in a 12 November post on Twitter.

Suu Kyi prepares to defend Myanmar against Rohingya genocide charges – UCA News

BANGKOK — The lead lawyer in the upcoming genocide hearings against Myanmar wants the United Nations’ International Court of Justice (ICJ) to push for investigators be allowed into the country. “We will be asking the court to order Myanmar to allow access to UN agencies that are duly authorized by the UN to gather the facts,” said Paul Reichler, head of International Litigation and Arbitration practice at U.S.-based law firm Foley Hoag. “We hope that the court will order Myanmar to allow access to its territory for this purpose.” Foley Hoag was hired by Gambia to lead its legal team at The Hague in the Netherlands, where the opening hearings in a case alleging genocide against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, will take place from Dec. 10-12. Myanmar will be represented by State Counselor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, who will “defend the national interest of Myanmar,” according to a government statement. Suu Kyi won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and was a political prisoner of Myanmar’s military junta for 15 years, during which she was admired internationally for her fight against dictatorship.

Life-giving Mekong dying a slow death – Asia Times

BANGKOK — A confluence of drought and dams along the Mekong River has renewed concerns about the future of the 4,763 kilometer waterway, upon which tens of millions of people depend for their livelihoods in [mention China too? or maybe it just flows too fast there for it to matter] Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The number of dams impeding the Mekong’s flow is fast multiplying, drying up segments of the once fast-flowing river and leaving the region facing imminent drought, according to the Mekong River Commission (MRC), a regional intergovernmental body that aims to jointly manage the river’s water resources. “China’s operators of the Jinghong Dam and the Thai operators of the newly opened Xayaburi dam in Laos conducted operations that actually exacerbated the drought,” said Brian Eyler, director of the Southeast Asia program at the Stimson Center, a US think tank. “Those dams and more than 70 others now operational in Laos and China all contribute to deteriorating downstream conditions related to the drought.”

Indonesia’s Widodo pits old school vs millennial – Asia Times

Indonesian President Joko Widodo and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde (both center) at the IMF/World Bank annual meetings in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia on Oct. 12 2018 (Simon Roughneen

BANGKOK — Indonesian leader Joko Widodo is bidding to put a new generation shine on his second term administration with the appointment of young business entrepreneurs and other experts to his 12-member presidential staff. Whether the new blood appointments can counter the influence and power of the many old school politicians appointed to Widodo’s new Cabinet will likely determine the new government’s reform legacy. Re-elected to a new five-year term at polls in April, Widodo recently appointed seven new top advisors aged between 23 and 36. The move came after he tapped Nadiem Makarim, the 35-year-old founder of ride-hailing giant Gojek, as his education minister.

There be dragons, and a visit could cost US$1000 – The Times

Sunset over islands in East Nusa Tenggara. (Simon Roughneen)

BANGKOK — In a hint that Indonesia could be tiring of the drunken antics of young Western visitors to the holiday island of Bali, President Joko Widodo said he wants only “super premium” visitors to nearby islands that are home to the Komodo dragon, the world’s biggest and deadliest lizard. “Don’t mix with the middle lower ones,” Widodo told a conference in capital Jakarta, implying that Labuan Bajo, an island in eastern Indonesia that is the gateway to Komodo, one of the handful of islands where the eponymous reptiles can be seen, opt for well-to-do tourists. Local officials have touted a US$1000 “annual membership” fee to visit Komodo for a look at the lizards, which hunt deer and buffalo, packing a venomous bite that can kill an adult human. 

Peace shattered as marchers and police clash in Hong Kong once again – The Times

PHNOM PENH — Police fired tear gas at thousands of anti-government protesters in Hong Kong this morning as residents took to the streets chanting “revolution of our time” and “liberate Hong Kong”. The protest in the shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui followed a march by hundreds of people to the US consulate to show “gratitude” for US support for the demonstrations that have agitated the Chinese-ruled city for six months. The stand-off today also marked the end of a week-long lull in demonstrations and came a week after pro-democracy candidates won a landslide victory in local elections.