Southeast Asia worried about choosing sides as China-U.S. rivalry intensifies – RTÉ World Report

Vietnam's Defense Min. Ngo Van Lich and Philippine Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana at the Shangrila Dialogue in SIngapore on June 2 2019 (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — “We do not want to choose between the United States and China.” So said Malaysia’s Deputy Defense Minister Chin Tong Liew during a speech last week on his country’s relations with China. Earlier this month the U.S. Secretary of Defence and his Chinese counterpart told a conference of defence ministers in Singapore that they do not expect other countries to takes sides. But many in Southeast Asia fear this is a choice they will have to make, given the increasingly-acrimonious Chinese-American rivalry.

Trash-talking over trash trade – Asia Times/RTÉ World Report

KUALA LUMPUR — The Philippines appears to have won its long-running and often heated dispute with Canada over 69 shipping containers brimming with Canadian waste left to rot at two Philippine ports since 2013.Ottawa announced on Wednesday (May 22) that it had hired a private company to take back the refuse, which the Philippines has said was wrongly classified as recyclable. Officials said the waste would be back on Canadian soil by June.Ottawa’s announcement came after the Philippines said it would ship the containers back to Canada after a May 15 deadline announced by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had lapsed.

Not yet crazy rich, but getting crazy drunk – Asia Times/RTÉ World Report

Revelers dance and drink in Vientiane to ring in the 2016 New Year (Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — Rising incomes mean that Asians are increasingly likely to get drunk at least once a month, according to new data underpinning a report on global drinking habits published this week in The Lancet, a British medical journal. Since 1990, so-called “heavy episodic drinking” has increased significantly in China, Thailand, Timor Leste and Vietnam. Tiny Bhutan, source of the concept of “gross national happiness,” coined by the country’s king in 1972 as an alternative to the standard economic yardsticks of gross national product or income per capita, is more often drowning its sorrows.

Outcome remains unclear a month after Thailand’s elections – RTÉ World Report

BANGKOK — More than a month after parliamentary elections, the 38 million Thais who voted still waiting for results, with the prospect of a handover to a civilian government diminishing by the day in a country ruled by the army since a 2014 coup. The complicated vote was based on mix of 350 constituency seats to be decided on simple first-past-the-post contest, with 150 more seats won in a party-list system. The latter seats are to be allocated using a complicated formula that even the election commission is, it seems, struggling to get to grips with. The commission said on Thursday that it would announce the party list seat winners after the constituency seats, but then backtracked and said all the results would be ready on time. The original final deadline for the results to be announced was May 9 – but given that the election was postponed several times since the army seized power five years ago, before finally taking place on March 24th, it will be no surprise if results are not announced as scheduled either.

Despite late surge by challenger, Indonesia’s pre-election opinion polls point to President Widodo retaining power – RTÉ World Report

JAKARTA — On Wednesday next week, perhaps the world’s most logistically-challenging elections will take place across Indonesia’s 3,000 mile wide, 13,000 island archipelago. Over 192 million people are eligible to vote at over 800,000 polling stations overseen by 6 million election officials, with roughly 245,000 candidates contesting around 20,000 seats for local and national legislatures. India’s elections, which started last week, entail much bigger numbers, around 900 million voters — the biggest elections the world has ever seen — but voting there is staggered and will run until May 19. Indonesia’s elections take place on a single day, April 17, and most eyes will be on the presidential race, a re-run of the 2014 contest between President Joko Widodo, known by his nickname Jokowi, and Prabowo Subianto, a former general.

Tsunami linked to volcano kills over 200 in Indonesia – Los Angeles Times/RTÉ/France 24

JAKARTA — The sea rose up without warning Saturday night, crashing into coastal villages on Indonesia’s two most populous islands. It killed at least 220 people, washing away buildings, roads and a rock concert on the beach, officials said Sunday evening. The tsunami that struck the western tip of Java and the southern tip of Sumatra was believed to have been triggered by an underwater landslide from the flank of an erupting volcano. Officials in Jakarta said hundreds more people were injured and 30 were missing after the tsunami, the latest in a string of deadly disasters that have killed thousands in Indonesia this year. About 600 buildings were damaged, officials said. Soldiers and rescue workers moved quickly to clear roads blocked by debris; television and social media video showed survivors pulling at wreckage trying to find loved ones. “People are still afraid to go back to their homes since there were still rumors that a tsunami might strike again,” said Aulia Arriani, a spokeswoman for the Indonesian Red Cross.

Dozens of bodies pulled from mud as relief effort in Indonesia slowly expands – Los Angeles Times/RTÉ

JAKARTA — Aid workers described scenes of destruction and desperation Monday in areas of central Sulawesi they reached for the first time since a magnitude 7.5 earthquake and tsunami leveled parts of the Indonesian island, blocked roads and turned solid ground into mud. Just outside the hard-hit town of Palu, the regional capital and hub of the relief effort, volunteers retrieved the bodies of 34 students from a Bible school in the town of Sigi Biromaru, said Aulia Arriani, head of communications at the Indonesian Red Cross. The Red Cross team had “a hard time to evacuate the bodies as they had to walk through mud for one-and-a-half hours,” Aulia said. At least 1,203 people were killed after Friday’s quake, according to an unofficial count by volunteers, nongovernmental groups and hospitals in Palu. The tremor unleashed a tsunami as high as 20 feet crashing into the coastline, destroying roads and bridges, downing cellphone towers and washing away thousands of houses.

Indonesia’s quake-tsunami death toll tops 800, with several coastal towns still to be heard from – Los Angeles Times/RTÉ

JAKARTA — Anisah Firdaus Bandu’s mother called her in tears from her hometown of Palu on Friday evening when a magnitude 7.5 earthquake jolted the island of Sulawesi in eastern Indonesia. Since then, with cellphone towers and other infrastructure damaged by the quake and an ensuing tsunami, Anisah hasn’t heard from her parents, who are among thousands believed unaccounted for in the disaster that has left at least 800 people dead, officials said Sunday. “My mother cried a lot, she tried to pick up my father at his office,” said Anisah, a civil servant in Jakarta, the capital. “I really tried hard to reach them till now but I can’t.” As anxious relatives tried to place phone calls in vain and clamored to board military or relief flights to Palu, a town of some 380,000 people, emergency crews struggled to reach the worst affected areas, including a string of coastal towns that remained cut off by washed-out roads and downed communication lines.