JAKARTA — East Timor is a tiny country, with a land area around the same as the North of Ireland and a population of 1.3 million people. Its existing oil and gas reserves will be depleted in less than a decade, and with little sign of growth in other parts of the economy, it badly needs this deal with Australia How much money it ends up getting will depend on fluctuating oil and gas prices and on what subsequent deal is worked out to extract and process the underwater oil and gas. The companies with rights to drill in the field have floated, pun intended, the idea of a floating platform in the Timor Sea to process the gas there. But Australia wants to pipe to Darwin and use existing facilities, which would mean an 80% revenue cut for East Timor. The Timorese want pipe to East Timor and process there, giving a Dili 70% revenue cut but potentially allowing the Timorese to develop spin-off industries that could modernise its economy.
JAKARTA/SINGAPORE — A year ago two young female migrant workers in Indonesia, including 26 year old Indonesian Siti Nurbaya, were cast at the center of an international murder mystery when they were arrested by police for their alleged role in the audacious, Le Carré-esque assassination by poisoning of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which was carried out despite the usual bustling morning crowd at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport. Preying on the women’s perceived vulnerability as relatively-poor migrant workers at the margins of society, defense lawyers contend that North Korean agents duped their clients into unwittingly carrying out the murder by bluffing they were being recruited for a series of made for TV pranks. As the trial of Nurbaya and her alleged accomplice from Vietnam rolled on last month in Shah Alam near Kuala Lumpur, another case was emerging that highlighted the perils facing migrants in Malaysia. Adelina Sao died in a Penang hospital on February 11 after she was found with head injuries and infected wounds on her limbs, succumbing after two years in Malaysia as one of around 400,000 foreign maids working in the country.
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.
JAKARTA – Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson has a record of freeing detainees held by some of the world’s harshest dictatorships. But in working for the release of detained Reuters journalists in Myanmar, he hit a brick wall. “I had success in freeing prisoners in Sudan, Cuba, North Korea, Mexico,” said Richardson, a former cabinet member under U.S. President Bill Clinton, in a telephone interview from his office in the New Mexico capital of Santa Fe. But Richardson could report no such triumph after interceding last week with Myanmar’s de factor leader, Aung San Suu Kyi — herself a former political prisoner — over the two journalists, who face over a decade in jail for alleged breaches of the country’s state secrets law. According to Richardson’s account of their Jan. 22 meeting, Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and who now holds the official title of state counsellor, bristled when he raised the detention of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, arrested in mid-December. He suggested her reaction was stronger than those of some of the most notorious leaders of other authoritarian regimes he has dealt with.
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.
MANILA — A banner draped over the facade of Manila’s De La Salle University reads “Stop the killings. Start the healing.” But Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is adamant that the killings will go on precisely because the country needs healing — from drugs. Officially around 4,000 people have been killed in police counter-narcotics operations since Duterte took office in mid-2016. High as that is, over 2.000 more have died in drug-related killings, some attributed to gang turf wars, and several thousand more again have been shot in unsolved murders. The exact number of dead is unknown due to what the United Nations believes to be differences in terminology in official reports as well as the slow progress of investigations.
SHAH ALAM — More than a month into the murder trial in one of the most brazen, cunning and perplexing assassinations seen in a long time, defence lawyer Gooi Soon Seng was on the front foot. “When was the first time you identified them, when was the first time you saw the CCTV footage?” Seng asked Wan Azirul, a police investigator and prosecution witness. The lawyer was referring to 4 North Korean men seen on footage from Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13 this year. That morning, Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half brother of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was poisoned with VX, a chemical weapon, while waiting at the airport to board a flight to Macau. The grainy security camera videos could be key to the case against the only two people standing trial in the case, which is being tried In a small courtroom about 20 miles from the centre of Kuala Lumpur.
MANILA — A deal aimed at protecting Southeast Asia’s estimated 7 million migrant workers is flawed, as countries can opt out of key provisions, according to a group of parliamentarians from across the region. Teddy Baguilat, a Philippine lawmaker and member of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said Friday that the agreement affords “wide latitude to states to limit protections in accordance with domestic laws and policies.” The ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers was meant as the pinnacle of the Philippines 2017 chairing of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which culminated in a lavish signing ceremony on Nov. 14. President Rodrigo Duterte took plaudits for the deal before handing over leadership of ASEAN to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. “I would like to thank the Philippines for its chairmanship achievements,” Lee said, prompting wild cheers from an audience that included the Philippine cabinet and prominent lawmakers such as Senator Manny Pacquaio, the iconic multiple world boxing champion.
MANILA — Cambodia’s Supreme Court has ordered the break-up of the main opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party over allegations that it aimed to topple the government. The ruling was widely expected, including by the CNRP, which did not send lawyers to contest the case. The court is headed by a judge who is a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. The decision means that Prime Minister Hun Sen, in office since 1985, will face little opposition in national elections scheduled for July 2018. The CNRP came close to matching CPP in national elections in 2013, winning 44.46% of the popular vote. There was a similar outcome in local elections earlier this year.