KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia is on track to achieving high-income status, according to the World Bank, while many of its Southeast Asian neighbors face the prospect of being caught in a middle-income trap. “Malaysia is well on its way to cross the threshold into high-income and developed country status over the coming years,” Victoria Kwakwa, the World Bank vice-president for East Asia and Pacific, said this month after meeting Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Malaysia’s gross national income per capita has grown from $1,980 in 1981, when Mahathir first became prime minister, to $9,650 in 2017. Even so, the country still has some way to go to reach the World Bank’s developed country benchmark of $12,055. “As long as the country does not face growth stagnation, it is inching toward the high income level as defined by the World Bank,” said Yeah Kim Leng, Professor of Economics at Sunway University Business School in Kuala Lumpur. “Hence, it’s a question of when, give or take a couple of years, as long as it is able to sustain its current growth momentum.”
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.
JAKARTA — Since 2016, thousands of people have been killed as part of a state-sanctioned campaign against illegal drugs that critics say is rife with extrajudicial killings and impunity for the perpetrators. Duterte won a landslide victory, partly thanks to his strident anti-drug rhetoric, and has long said the Philippines faces a narcotics trafficking and addiction crisis. But Victoria Tauli-Corpuz fears “parallels” between the name-and-shame, trigger-happy tenor of the war on drugs and the publicizing of the government’s list, which she worries could encourage would-be hitmen. “I have some protection as I am from the UN, but I and others need to improve security now,” she said.
JAKARTA – Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, a senior United Nations official based in the Philippines, is refusing to leave her homeland despite a legal petition by the government to designate her and about 600 others as terrorists. Tauli-Corpuz, appointed the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples in 2014, said in a telephone interview that “of course I am concerned” about the government’s list, which was filed by the justice ministry in court in Manila on February 21, but was adamant that she would not flee overseas.
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.
MANILA — A din of giggles, whispers and squeals greeted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he strode into the hall where most journalists were confined during the recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations summits. With media garrisoned about 2km from the Philippine International Convention Center where the main summit action was taking place, the photogenic 45-year-old Trudeau’s entrance around noon on Tuesday was a rare chance for the reporters to hear from one of the summit leaders in the flesh. Around an hour later, after fielding questions mostly from Canadian news people, and delivering answers in English and French, Canada’s official languages, Trudeau made his way from the podium to the exit. Mobbed by a mix of officials and journalists, some yelling, “Justin, Justin,” as they jostled to intercept the prime minister as he left the hall, anyone listening outside might have thought the Justin in question was Bieber, and that the audience a crowd of star-struck teenagers rather than hard-bitten reporters.
JAKARTA — The world’s seaborne trade exceeded 10 billion tons in a single year for the first time in 2015, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, with about 60% passing through Asia. Sitting between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, Southeast Asia’s big archipelagos should be well placed to capitalize as trade expands. Indonesia and the Philippines comprise about 17,000 and 7,500 islands respectively, while Indonesia, home to the world’s fourth-biggest population — about 260 million people — has the second-longest coastline after Canada. However, the bulk of this seaborne trade is moving between Europe and Asia’s powerhouse economies in China and Japan, mainly through the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca, which lies between Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. “The largest archipelagic countries in the world are not being optimized,” said Fauziah Zen, an economist with the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia, at the recent launch of a report on Southeast Asia’s maritime infrastructure published by The Habibie Center, a Jakarta-based research organization.
JAKARTA — Official crackdowns on emigrants in Malaysia and Thailand have cast further doubt on over prospects that member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations can finalize a long discussed deal on migrant workers’ rights. In June and July around 100,000 mostly Myanmar migrant workers fled Thailand after the military government in Bangkok announced hefty new fines for undocumented workers and their employers. Then, starting July 1, Malaysia made a series of arrests of alleged undocumented migrant workers, affecting more than 3,000 workers and around 60 employers accused of giving work to illegals. These tough actions — though a reprise of previous years’ crackdowns — come as the region’s governments mull proposed enhancements to the 2007 ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, signed in Cebu in the central Philippines during one of Manila’s past tenures as the group’s chair. Two years after the Cebu declaration, ASEAN countries started moves toward a set of region-wide legal norms, but progress has been slow. With Manila again chairing ASEAN this year, there has been a renewed push to address migrant rights — an important social and political issue in the Philippines.
JAKARTA — After Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s succession of tirades against the country’s Catholic Church leaders, bishops hardly expected a presidential climb down, even after their entreaty asking the government to ease up on a violent anti-drugs campaign. In less than eight months, more than 7,600 people, mostly drug traffickers and drug users, have been executed extrajudicially, often by a gunshot to the head, their bodies left on the blood-strewn street as a warning. Some have been killed in police operations and some have been murdered by unidentified paramilitary squads. The bloodshed prompted a February pastoral letter signed by Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, which said, “This traffic in illegal drugs needs to be stopped and overcome. But the solution does not lie in the killing of suspected drug users and pushers.”
JAKARTA — Maritime piracy attacks in Asia fell by more than two-thirds in the first half of 2016 compared to a year ago, suggesting that regional efforts to reduce the number of incidents are making headway amid a global decline in the number of ships seized or ambushed. Even so, Indonesia remains a hotspot that in the first half of the year saw about one quarter of all piracy attacks reported worldwide take place in its waters. In addition, the waters between Malaysia and Indonesia remain dangerous because of kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, which recently executed two Canadian hostages and is holding at least 10 more for ransom. “A search on our database shows 141 incidents [worldwide] this year until Sept. 5,” said Natasha Brown, an official at the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency. There were 223 incidents in the comparable period of 2015, indicating “a downward year on year trend,” Brown told the Nikkei Asian Review. The International Maritime Bureau, part of the International Chamber of Commerce, also reported that pirate attacks were down significantly in 2016 compared with a year ago, with only 98 attacks worldwide in the first six months of 2016 — the lowest in 21 years.