SIEM REAP — For an art production house based in North Korea, whose usual stock-in-trade is nationalist-communist propaganda, constructing a museum in Cambodia to celebrate the grandeur of the Khmer Empire might seem a surprising project. While North Korea may be on the verge of a rapprochement with the U.S. ahead of the proposed meeting between its dictator Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump, recent sanctions imposed on the country in response to its missile tests could raise questions about the status of the Angkor Panorama Museum, which opened in late 2015 at a cost of $24 million and sits on the doorstep of the vast Angkor temple complex. When the United Nations Security Council enacted sanctions against North Korea in 2017 in response to its missile tests, it said that states “shall prohibit, by their nationals or in their territories, the opening, maintenance, and operation of all joint ventures or cooperative entities, new and existing, with DPRK entities or individuals.” That suggests Cambodia, other than requesting an opt-out from the council, would be required to close the North Korean-built museum or ensure that it is now fully locally owned. “Cambodia is required by UNSC sanctions measures to close the joint venture or request an exemption,” said William Newcomb of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.
JAKARTA — When the Indonesian government invited the United Nations’ human rights commissioner to Jakarta, it must have known that Zeid Ra’al al Hussein, a Jordanian diplomat who is nearing the end of his 4 year term, would have plenty to say about proposed changes to country’s criminal code. Indonesian parliamentarians will vote soon on measures which include criminalizing not only gay sex but all sex outside marriage between men and women. Al Hussein joined foreign minister Retno Marsudi in addressing a conference at the ministry on Monday last week, telling the officials and diplomats that human rights are not restricted by geography, ethnic group or gender. Two days later, after meeting Indonesian President Joko Widodo, al-Hussein was less bland, claiming that the proposed changes “betray strains of intolerance seemingly alien to Indonesian culture.”
HONG KONG/JAKARTA — Cardinal Joseph Zen, former bishop of Hong Kong, has criticized the Vatican for being “unfaithful” to its subjects in striking a deal with Beijing on the appointment of Chinese bishops, which he believes would eliminate the very few freedoms enjoyed by unofficially sanctioned “underground” churches in China. Zen’s comments come after reports emerged that Pope Francis has decided to accept the legitimacy of seven Catholic bishops chosen by the Chinese government as part of a rapprochement between the Vatican and Beijing after decades of cool relations. Such acquiescence implies that although the pope is the one who appoints the bishops, it was the Chinese government that chose the candidates. “[Beijing] wants the Vatican to [help] get all these birds into the cage,” Zen told media in Hong Kong on Friday, referring to the appointments.
MELAKA — “Fun” is a subjective concept, as is the even more nebulous “culture.” As for “heritage,” it is a debatable term too, but can be more or less quantified by the range and antiquity of buildings and monuments that make up a place. But how about cruising through a UNESCO World Heritage site in a garish Pokemon or Hello Kitty-decor trishaw, a speaker blaring Taylor Swift from the roof and exhorting passers-by to “Shake It Off,” as a wizened driver struggles to pedal a cartload of tourists along a cobbled street toward the ruins of a 16th century church? Fun?
CASTLEBAR — Sometime around AD 600, a handful of Irish monks decided that the rigors of fasting and penance on the mainland were not exacting enough. Waiting until the seas were calm enough, they are believed to have rowed to Skellig Michael, a small, pyramid-shaped island seven miles off Ireland’s southwest coast. There, the holy men built a monastery and found the raw seclusion they were after. A millennium and a half later, the site’s ruins are one of Ireland’s best-known heritage and tourist attractions, an antique allure made all the more vivid by the colonies of seabirds that flock to the island’s crags and crevices, and by the puffins and gulls sheltering in the monks’ long-abandoned stone structures. But since 2015, some of those visitors are as likely to be dressed as Chewbacca and waving lightsabers as they are to be conversant in the ways of early Christian eremites or the nesting habits of kittiwakes or gannets.
DUBLIN – Irish heritage conservationists fear that a rugged island off the country’s southwest coast could lose its prestigious Unesco listing because of a spike in visitor numbers, after scenes from Star Wars: The Last Jedi were shot there. An Taisce, Ireland’s national trust, is seeking government intervention over Skellig Michael, the site of an ancient monastic settlement described as “Ireland’s Machu Picchu” by National Geographic, but which the trust believes has undergone a “commercial re-branding” after being “swamped” by the Star Wars connection. However, Emma Hynes, press officer for Ireland’s Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said Unesco was informed of each episode of filmmaking and “has raised no correspondence whatsoever on the matter” “The Unesco status of the island is not in question nor is it contingent on a certain visitor level,” she said.
SINGAPORE – Indonesia’s constitutional court today turned down a petition to have extra-marital sex banned, the latest culture war skirmish in the world’s biggest Muslim democracy. A narrow 5-4 majority of judges voted to reject the request made by a group called the Family Love Alliance which said it wants Indonesian law to categorise adultery to mean any relationship that involves sex outside marriage, not just married people having affairs. The group said it would appeal the decision and is hoping that like-minded MPs will resume the campaign in parliament to criminalise “sexual deviance,” including gay relationships as well as adultery.
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.
JAKARTA — The region’s jarring social media jousting means that platforms such as Twitter are not really “social” anymore, but have become “weaponized” according to Indonesian political analyst Wimar Witoelar, who has 439,000 Twitter followers. “So interaction is more often divisive than not. You cannot form a consensus. Instead you sharpen your differences,” he said via WhatsApp. Even Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s president, is not immune to savaging on social media, taking to Facebook in September to make his point. “I was asked, ‘President Jokowi, how is the state of social media in Indonesia?’, I replied, ‘In Indonesia, it can get very vicious,” he posted.
JAKARTA — With volcano Mt. Agung billowing ash into the sky above his home island, the majority-Hindu Bali, Khairy Susanto was unsure if he would be able to fly home on December 3, the day after he joined tens of thousands of fellow Indonesian Islamists at a rally held in the shadow of Monas, the national monument that towers over a huge plaza across the street from the presidential palace in Jakarta. “Inshallah, we can fly, but it doesn’t matter, we will be ok,” he said. “We are happy to be here today to celebrate our victory.” The event was organized to mark a year since an estimated half million people chanted in the rain for the arrest of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the Governor of Jakarta. Purnama, a Protestant of Chinese descent nicknamed “Ahok,” since lost the gubernatorial election and was jailed for two years in May on the same blasphemy charges that twice brought hundreds of thousands of people onto Jakarta’s streets late last year.