SINGAPORE — It was tame enough weighed against his usual invective, but by itself Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s account of a conversation he had with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, was startling. During a meeting between the two leaders in Beijing in May 2017, the subject turned to whether the Philippines would drill for oil in a part of the South China Sea claimed by both countries. Duterte said he was given a blunt warning by China’s president. “[Xi’s] response to me [was], ‘We’re friends, we don’t want to quarrel with you, we want to maintain the presence of warm relationship, but if you force the issue, we’ll go to war,” Duterte recounted.
KAMPUNG BUKIT, KEDAH, MALAYSIA — With police investigating him under Malaysia’s new anti-“fake news” law, Mahathir Mohamad, the nearly 93-year-old former prime minister turned opposition frontman, says his country faces its dirtiest election on Wednesday. The governing coalition “will cheat like mad, they will steal votes, but still I think we can win,” Mahathir said in an interview with The Times, stepping off a makeshift stage and into a nearby BMW waiting to take him to yet another campaign rally. Defying his age, Mahathir had just wrapped up a half-hour stump speech in this farming area about a 20-mile drive from Aloh Setar, the capital of Kedah state, his home base. Kedah has typically been a government stronghold, although the green flags of Malaysia’s Islamist party also flutter along its roadsides. Mahathir wants to swing the state, and enough rural Muslim Malays across the country, to his four-party opposition grouping known as the Alliance of Hope.
JAKARTA — Indonesia is the latest Asian country to face American trade curbs after the U.S. Department of Commerce said it planned to slap anti-dumping duties of 92.52% to 276.65% on biodiesel imports from the archipelago. Argentina, another biodiesel producer, was also targeted by the Feb. 21 announcement, after U.S. businesses complained that they were being undercut by unfairly subsidized fuel from both countries. The commerce department said that exporters from Argentina and Indonesia respectively sold biodiesel in the U.S. at 60.44% to 86.41% and 92.52% to 276.65% below what it deems fair value. The U.S. International Trade Commission will make a final decision on April 6 on whether the imports have hurt U.S. producers. If the ruling is upheld, the duties recommended by the commerce department will effectively price Indonesian biodiesel out of the U.S. market.
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.
DOONBEG — Every time President Trump rails against big “pharma” over the jobs that have been shipped overseas, his pledges to streamline regulations and lower taxes to lure them home prompt grimaces 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. More than 50,000 people are employed with pharmaceutical and medical device companies here in Ireland, with most of the companies refugees from America. Baxter, a medical equipment manufacturer based in Deerfield, Illinois, employs a thousand people in Ireland. Pfizer, Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson all have substantial Irish operations. Dublin’s Silicon Docks neighborhood earned its nickname after Facebook, Google, Twitter and other U.S. tech companies set up in glossy offices, often mammoth European headquarters, close to the River Liffey. They are among an estimated 700 U.S. companies which, attracted by Ireland’s low corporate tax rate and English-speaking work force, have helped drive a multinational invasion on the Emerald Isle that once turned it into the “Celtic Tiger” of Europe, employing around 170,000 people in all.
JAKARTA — When Yunalis Zarai saw a picture of herself loom large over a New York landmark in late November, she was understandably elated. “Your Kedah-born girl just went up on the @NASDAQ billboard in Times Square New York today,” the 30-year-old singer-songwriter tweeted, with an accompanying snapshot of the signage. “Every month, the billboard will feature artistes to promote their music, so this month it’s my turn,” she explained. Professionally known as Yuna, her third album “Chapters” was ranked among the Top 10 Critics’ Choice R&B records of 2016 by Billboard, alongside albums by Beyonce, John Legend and Rihanna. The U.S. magazine compared her to Sade, a 1980s Nigerian-British singer-songwriter who sold 50 million records, including such hits as “Smooth Operator.” Yuna’s musical style and voice also has been likened to hit singers Norah Jones and Adele.
JAKARTA — On the face of it, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his soon-to-be American counterpart U.S. President-elect Donald Trump could not be more dissimilar. Widodo, or “Jokowi” as he is known, is understated, self-effacing and wry, while Trump is abrasive, brash and loquacious. Before entering Indonesian politics, Widodo was a furniture exporter, while Trump, a real estate mogul, has long been one of the best-known U.S. businessmen. During a five-minute phone call on Nov. 28, it was reported that the two leaders hit it off. “It seems because both are lifelong businessmen they really connect well, there is good chemistry,” said Thomas Lembong, chairman of the Indonesia Investment Co-ordination Board, the government investment agency, speaking to media at the Forbes Global CEO Conference in Jakarta. “They had a very cordial telephone conversation,” added Lembong, who was Indonesia’s trade minister before a cabinet reshuffle in mid-2016. If true, the rapport between Trump and Widodo could offset any Indonesian disappointment over the incoming U.S. administration’s intention to ditch the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a far-reaching free trade pact between the U.S. and 11 other Asia-Pacific countries. Indonesia was not among the initial 12 signatories to TPP, but had wanted to join the bloc. In the wake of Trump’s announcement, Lembong said Jakarta would continue to try to liberalize its trading arrangements with other countries. “President Jokowi reaffirmed our commitment to free trade, to international investment. We are very committed to concluding our free trade agreements with the European Union, with Australia. Our economic agenda remains unchanged,” Lembong told the Nikkei Asian Review.
JAKARTA — After the most divisive election campaign in decades, tens of thousands of Americans have protested and rioted against the winner in cities across the country, prompting international concerns about an increasingly divided superpower. During his campaign, Trump called Mexicans “rapists,” appeared to mock a disabled reporter, threatened to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., and faced accusations of sexually assaulting women. Clinton was subject to an FBI investigation over her use of a private email account while working as secretary of state, while a foundation run with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, was suspected of soliciting cash from foreign governments in return for contacts in the U.S. government. China crowed over the debacle. “The innumerable scandals, rumors, conspiracy theories and obscenities make it impossible for a person to look away,” said state media outlet Xinhua News Agency. Alongside its unrivalled economic and military strength, the U.S. has relied on intangible “soft power” to influence other countries. Joseph Nye, the Harvard University scholar who coined the term, calls it “the ability to get what one wants through attraction rather than coercion or payments.” But Nye noted that American prestige in Asia has been undermined. “The lack of civility in the presidential debate and the nativist, xenophobic nature of a number of Trump’s statements have already had a negative effect on American soft power in Asia and elsewhere,” he told the Nikkei Asian Review.
JAKARTA — Stalled efforts by the U.S. and European Union to forge a trans-Atlantic trade pact will remain on ice for the foreseeable future — regardless of the outcome of the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election, according to the EU’s agriculture commissioner. Failure to finalize the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership pact reflects growing protectionist sentiment in both the U.S. and Europe, and mirrors problems besetting its U.S.-Asian counterpart, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Negotiations on the TTIP will not resume until the new U.S. administration — led by Democrat Hillary Clinton or her Republican rival Donald Trump — settles into office, said Phil Hogan, the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. “These are on hold at the moment until we know what the new policy position of the U.S. will be,” Hogan said on Tuesday in Jakarta, on the final leg of an EU trade mission to Asia. “We have had a lot of political rhetoric from both candidates, probably to a greater extent from Mr. Trump who has expressed himself as anti-trade, Mrs. Clinton has said less than positive things about trade as well.”
JAKARTA — America’s quirky electoral college system is meant as “a compromise between election of the president by a vote in Congress and election of the president by a popular vote of qualified citizens,” according to the U.S. National Archives. “In a global perspective, the most common format is a two-round system. This involves the public choosing between a greater range of candidates to begin with. The finalists (usually two) then go head-to-head for the presidency in a final vote,” said Toby Green, an elections expert at the University of East Anglia. The system helps ensure the dominance of the two main parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. In 1992, although independent candidate Ross Perot won 19% of the popular vote nationwide, he did not win any electoral college votes. The overall national vote does not usually equal the electoral college vote outcome. For example, Barack Obama win 51% of the nationwide vote in 2012, but 61% of the electoral college vote. In 2008, Obama won 53% of the popular vote but 68% of the electoral college vote. In four elections since 1800, the winning president has lost the popular vote — the last time in 2000 when George W. Bush won a cliffhanger election by getting Florida’s electoral college votes.