SINGAPORE — It was tame enough weighed against his usual invective, but by itself Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s account of a conversation he had with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, was startling. During a meeting between the two leaders in Beijing in May 2017, the subject turned to whether the Philippines would drill for oil in a part of the South China Sea claimed by both countries. Duterte said he was given a blunt warning by China’s president. “[Xi’s] response to me [was], ‘We’re friends, we don’t want to quarrel with you, we want to maintain the presence of warm relationship, but if you force the issue, we’ll go to war,” Duterte recounted.
SINGAPORE — China has long bristled at the U.S. Navy’s “freedom of navigation operations” in the South China Sea, which challenge Beijing’s territorial claims in the disputed waters. So when Zhao Xiaozhuo, a senior colonel in the Chinese army, found himself with a chance to complain about them directly to U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis recently, he took it. The U.S. operations are a “violation of the law of the People’s Republic of China, of territorial waters,” Zhao told Mattis during a conference in Singapore on June 2. Mattis defended the naval operations by citing a 2016 international tribunal decision that dismissed China’s expansive “nine-dash line” claim to much of the sea.
JAKARTA — The sight of commuters, their faces hidden behind masks while perched on motorcycle taxis, is common across Asia. The bikes weave through gridlock in cities like Jakarta and Bangkok, getting the passengers to work on time. But the masks, sometimes worn by both driver and passenger, hint that the air they breathe might not be the cleanest. Judging from World Health Organization figures released on Wednesday, covering 4,300 cities across 108 countries, the commuters have the right idea. Of an estimated 7 million deaths worldwide per year from air pollution, just over two-thirds occur in Asia, which is home to slightly less than 60% of the global population. Breaking the numbers down, the 10 countries in the WHO’s “South-east Asia” region account for about a quarter of the world’s population but suffer around 2.4 million, or 34%, of all air pollution deaths.
SINGAPORE — Reacting to the U.S. move last week to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Muslim-majority countries in Asia have joined fresh calls for wider recognition of an independent Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. Speaking in Istanbul on Wednesday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo told the 56 other members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation that the group “can serve as a motor” to persuade countries that have not recognized Palestine “to do so immediately.” The Palestinian mission to the United Nations lists 137 countries as recognizing Palestine. The level of recognition varies among those countries, as Palestine has not been granted full U.N. membership. Though some OIC members recognize Israel — including summit host Turkey — Asian countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Malaysia do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
TANGERANG, Indonesia — Asian governments in countries with large Muslim populations condemned U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy to the city, with the leaders of Indonesia and Malaysia speaking out against it. “Indonesia strongly condemns the United States’ unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and asks the U.S. to reconsider the decision,” President Joko Widodo said at a news conference on Thursday. With parliamentary elections scheduled for next year, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak was more forceful. Speaking at a ruling party conference in Kuala Lumpur the same day, he said, “I call on all Muslims across the world to let your voices be heard. Make it clear that we strongly oppose any recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital for all time.”
JAKARTA — According to legend, the world’s oldest beverage came about by accident more than 4,000 years ago, when a draft blew some tea leaves into a pot of boiling water being prepared for Shen Nung, the Chinese emperor known as “the divine farmer.” Divine intervention, maybe? Whatever the provenance of that fateful gust, it was not the first farce — or tragedy — to propel the tea industry forward and eventually globalize what was for thousands of years an Asian drink. As recently as the late 16th century, a handful of Japanese Christian pilgrims in Rome prompted much curiosity among their hosts by making tea: Locals assumed at first that the drink was just boiled water, according to “Tea: The Drink That Changed The World,” a 2007 book by John Griffiths. Kakuzo Okakura’s “The Book of Tea,” a 1906 paean to tea culture, suggested that the drink — by then almost as much of a staple in parts of Europe and North American as it had long been in Asia — could be a liquid bridge between East and West. Tea, wrote the Japanese scholar, who was also known as Tenshin Okakura, “has not the arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of cocoa.”
JAKARTA — Businessmen clad in batik shirts tap on laptops and smartphones, while women in designer Muslim garb chat over pots of hot chai and browse menus listing hundreds of teas, from the exotic (Yellow Gold Tea Buds from China) to the commonplace (English Breakfast). This crowd, a mix of old and young and mostly well-to-do, has made the TWG shop in the Pacific Place mall in Jakarta a lively meeting point in the city. With dozens of these boutique tea shops across Asia offering fine dining and veneered furnishings, Singapore’s The Wellbeing Group, known as TWG, is trying “to bring a new era of tea appreciation” in the region, said Trixie Anindita, the group’s communication and operation manager in Indonesia.
JAKARTA — Thousands of Indonesian Muslims chanting “Allahu Akbar” protested in central Jakarta on Wednesday at Burma’s treatment of its 1.1 million Rohingya minority. Around 146,000 Rohingya have fled Burma military counter-insurgency operations into Bangladesh over the past two weeks. The army’s reprisals came after Rohingya militants stormed Burma army and police posts in August. Wednesday’s protest was the fourth and biggest pro-Rohingya demonstration over the past week in the Indonesian capital, the commercial centre of the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country. The event was peaceful, though toward the end several dozen demonstrators tried to push through police barricades and razor-wire set up about 200 yards from the Burmese embassy. Overhead swung an effigy of the Buddhist monk Wirathu, leader of an anti-Islamic movement in Burma that has been blamed for stirring anti-Rohingya feeling in the predominantly Buddhist country.
JAKARTA — Hundreds of protesters in Indonesia rallied for the third straight day Monday as Muslim nations across Asia voiced growing concern over Myanmar’s brutal military crackdown against its Rohingya Muslim minority . Gathering outside the Myanmar Embassy in Jakarta, the demonstrators, mostly hijab-clad women, chanted, “God is great!” and demanded the Indonesian government put pressure on neighboring Myanmar to stop the military operation that has sent tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees streaming into camps in Bangladesh — the second such exodus in the last 12 months. “We are here because of solidarity of Muslims,” said one demonstrator who gave her name as Mama Bahin.
JAKARTA — As Asia’s economies grow and its cities modernize, the region’s voracious appetite for construction materials has driven demand for sand — alongside illegal trade of the commodity — to unprecedented levels. With rapid urbanization and infrastructure expansion, some countries are mining surrounding seas and their river and lake beds at a pace that could have grave implications for the environment. Along with gravel, cement and water, sand is needed to make up the trillions of tons of concrete used so far in laying Asia’s new roads and constructing tens of thousands of urban buildings. Around a third of the world’s land area is classed as desert, but, rounded and smoothed by the heat and wind, desert sand grains are useless for construction. Sand also makes for a bulky, heavy cargo and the high transportation costs mean that sand is usually dug up or dredged relatively close to where it ends up being used. “International trade is limited, unless the two countries in question are close neighbors,” said Zoe Biller, an industry analyst