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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
JAKARTA – A businessman alleged to have aided Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak siphon millions from a state development fund has fled the country as an Interpol warrant was issued for his arrest. Mr Najib, who has pleaded not guilty to three counts of criminal breach of trust and one of abuse of power, is alleged to been involved in the laundering of millions from the state fund he established – 1MDB. Malaysian authorities said that Jho Low, a financier who US prosecutors claim was a central figure in the looting of the fund, had fled the country.
RANGOON – Aung San Suu Kyi’s chances of becoming president dimmed yesterday after she lost her struggle to break the dominance of Burma’s military establishment. Supporters of the democracy activist failed to muster enough votes, despite three days of debate in Naypyidaw, to pass an amendment that would remove a clause that is, in effect, a military veto on new legislation. The army will now almost certainly continue its dominance over politics into the next parliament. Ms Suu Kyi, 70, a Nobel peace prize winner who spent 15 years as a political prisoner, is by far Burma’s most popular politician, and can expect to win an overwhelming victory in this year’s general election.
PHNOM PENH — Asia’s longest-standing leader was re-elected yesterday, but with a significantly reduced majority amid widespread allegations of dirty tricks. Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party won 68 out of 123 seats — according to early projections — 22 fewer than at the last election, and a big advance for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). It represents a relative victory for the CNRP’s popular leader, Sam Rainsy, who returned from exile nine days before the election, too late either to vote or stand as a candidate. Early reports suggested that the election was mostly conducted peacefully, although there was a stream of reports of irregularities. Even before the polls opened, the Opposition said that voter registration procedures were badly flawed, leaving as many as a million people disenfranchised.
CHIANG MAI — The Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is raising political funds from some of her country’s most notorious crony businessmen, in the latest in a series of controversies surrounding the former political prisoner. Ms Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has admitted receiving hundreds of thousands of pounds from companies owned by the reviled bosses, who amassed fortunes through their close relationships with the brutal junta that controlled Burma for almost 50 years.