KUALA LUMPUR — U.S. President Barack Obama has just wound up a visit to Vietnam that saw two former antagonists, who for two decades have been growing trade partners, draw even closer, with the dropping of a U.S. arms embargo against the communist-ruled country. “He himself said the welcome of Vietnamese people has touched his heart. [He was] very moved and very thankful,” said Vietnam’s new prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, in an interview with foreign media given on Wednesday. Obama was greeted by thousands of well-wishers on the streets of Hanoi, the capital, and Ho Chi Minh City, the biggest city and economic hub of the country, which was previously known as Saigon. However, the visit was marred by signals that Vietnam, a one-party state, remains unwilling to cede ground on freedom of speech, with several noted advocates of democratic reforms prevented from meeting with Obama as scheduled and with the government staging a sham election to the country’s communist-run parliament on the day of Obama’s arrival. One positive note prefaced Obama’s arrival in Vietnam last Sunday, with the release from jail of one of the country’s most determined dissidents, Father Nguyen Van Ly. The Catholic priest was first imprisoned by the communist regime in 1977, two years after the end of the Vietnam War, and had spent much of the intervening 38 years in jail or under house arrest.
KUALA LUMPUR — Relatives of passengers who were onboard a Malaysia Airlines jet that disappeared more than two years ago have pleaded with the Australian, Chinese and Malaysian governments to keep looking for the missing aircraft. The relatives’ concerns were raised after the head of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which was leading the underwater search for MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean, said there was no indication that the search would be continued beyond August after the designated 120,000 sq. km of ocean had been combed through. “We are gravely concerned about the impending completion of the search in the current targeted area,” the Voice370 group told Agence France-Presse. Voice370 is made up of the families of the 239 people onboard on the plane, which was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 2014 when it disappeared. Voice370 aims “to seek the truth about the incident and find our loved ones onboard MH370,” according to the group’s Facebook page. ATSB Chief Executive Martin Dolan said on May 20 that there was a “diminishing level of confidence we will find the aircraft,” but added that “the remaining 13,000 sq. km is still a lot of territory and it’s still entirely possible the aircraft is there.”
MANILA — When Pope Francis visited the Philippines in 2015, he was greeted with the adulation you would expect in what is one of the world’s most distinctively and devoutly Catholic countries — but not that way by the person who was elected this week as the nation’s new president. An estimated six million people turned out in the steaming tropical rain to hear the Pope say Mass in Manila’s Rizal Park, with hundreds of thousands more lining the city’s streets to catch a glimpse of the papal motorcade and maybe even snare a fleeting blessing from the outgoing Argentinian. However there was one man who was not impressed by the pageantry, or even by the Pope, it seems. Rodrigo Duterte, the mayor of Davao, the biggest city in the southern Philippines, was caught for hours in Manila’s infamously clogged traffic — the jam made worse by the huge throng in town to see Pope Francis. Duterte, famously abrupt and blunt, let his frustration get the better of him and called Pope Francis “a son of a bitch” — or “son of a whore,” depending on translation — remarks that predictably earned the mayor the scorn of Church leaders in the Philippines, home to around 80 million Catholics.
MANILA — If crowds are anything to go by, the May 9 presidential election is a foregone conclusion. Two days before the vote, leading candidate Rodrigo Duterte drew between 300,000 to 500,000 people at his final election rally at a landmark grandstand near Manila’s Rizal Park. The turnout was at least double that of any other candidate. “This is the next president of the Philippines,” yelled supporter Angel Valeron, one of thousands of fist-pumping “Dutertards,” clad in red t-shirts bearing the slogan “Iron fist,” a reference to the 71- year-old Duterte’s no-nonsense style of running Davao on the southern island of Mindanao. “Dutertard” is a slur leveled at Duterte supporters by rivals, but since appropriated by backers of the Davao City mayor in self-styled defiance. As mayor for 22 years, Duterte oversaw a clean-up of the once dangerous and chaotic city, allegedly even participating in the extrajudicial shooting of alleged criminals. Duterte said he will do the same nationally if elected, telling the crowd in Manila that he will “butcher” criminals. “If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor. You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out,” Duterte said, drawing a thunderous roar from the crowd.
YANGON – Prospects for an improvement in the Rohingya’s situation appear bleak after the Myanmar foreign ministry, which is headed by Suu Kyi, recently asked the U.S. to refrain from using the term “Rohingya.” Aung Win, a Rohingya community leader in the Rakhine capital of Sittwe, said that he was not surprised at the foreign ministry’s petition to the U.S. “The foreign minister and Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi understands very well about the Rohingya and what is happening in Rakhine state, but she is silent and not saying anything.” Rather than dealing with the Rohingya issue, some observers believe that Suu Kyi is now focused on changing the country’s constitution to allow her to become president. The new government has also said it wants to prioritize peacemaking with Myanmar’s many ethnic militias as well as promote economic growth. “I think the new government is more concerned right now about maintaining domestic political stability. The NLD probably doesn’t want to have to deal with the voices of the Myanmar’s extreme nationalists as it feels that it already has a lot on its plate,” said Miguel Chanco, Southeast Asia analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit.
SINGAPORE – With “Western-style” ailments such as obesity and diabetes on the increase in Asia, health-related businesses are ramping up their efforts to keep those diseases at bay. Asia’s spending on health care has been soaring. By 2017, the region’s expenditure will reach $2.1 trillion, 24% of the global total, according to a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit. “As incomes rise, education levels also improve, creating much greater awareness of health issues,” the report said. But as Asians earn more, they are becoming not only better educated but also more susceptible to so-called “lifestyle” diseases — afflictions the World Health Organization classes as “noncommunicable” and “chronic.” Chronic maladies such as heart disease and diabetes are the No. 1 killers in Southeast Asia, accounting for 62% of all deaths, according to the WHO. Growing Asian affluence and the spread of fast-food chains have led to increasingly unhealthy eating habits, as foods high in fat, salt and sugar are consumed in greater amounts. This, in turn, has caused a spike in conditions previously more common in Western countries. Malaysia-based IHH Healthcare is among the hospital operators responding to the region’s growing medical needs. “Rapid growth, rapid rise in affluence and the development of the middle income group, these are all very favorable factors for the health care industry,” said Tan See Leng, IHH’s managing director and CEO, speaking at the FT-Nikkei Asia300 Forum in Hong Kong on April 25.
SINGAPORE – After enduring two terms in prison in military-ruled Myanmar, Bo Kyi might have been forgiven for thinking he had overcome the worst life could throw at him. But in February, a decade and a half after he was released from jail, his doctor gave him some grim news: a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. Not for the first time, the outspoken activist faced some life-changing decisions, perhaps the most significant since the day nearly three decades ago when he joined thousands of other students protesting against army rule in what was then Burma. “I changed my lifestyle since I found out,” Bo Kyi said, explaining that he has cut out beer, cigarettes and sugary food. He said the grinding neglect typical of life as a political prisoner in Myanmar did not cause his diabetes. But with poor hygiene and malnutrition common in Myanmar jails, the best Bo Kyi could say was that he is “not sure” how seven years behind bars has affected his health. The World Health Organization lists diabetes as one of the four main types of noncommunicable diseases, alongside cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke, chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma, and cancers. Worldwide, there were 415 million adults living with diabetes in 2015, according to the latest estimates published by the International Diabetes Federation. The IDF expects that number to hit 642 million by 2040.
SINGAPORE — Perched at the cashier’s desk in MJ’s Pinoy Shop in Singapore’s Lucky Plaza, Janice Estrera’s mind drifts back to her three children at home on Cebu island in the central Philippines, where they live with their grandparents. “I would really like to go back, it is suffering to be outside [the country],” the 34-year-old business graduate lamented. Estrera is part of the estimated 180,000-strong Filipino community in Singapore, just one of the many sizeable overseas communities of expatriates who left the Philippines to work and send remittances to family members at home. In Singapore, 83,276 Filipinos are registered to vote in the May 9 national elections, in which up to 55 million voters will elect a president, vice-president and local and national lawmakers. “We have set up air-conditioned tentages to accommodate our voters. We also provided a postal ballot system to encourage voters who are not able to go out to mail in their ballots,” said Victorio Mario M. Dimagiba Jr., minister and consul general at the Philippine embassy in Singapore. Of the estimated 10 million Filipinos living overseas, 1.3 million are registered to vote at selected embassies or by post.