Akan Datang: It’s Hanoi’s turn to host Trump and Kim

Hanoi - New Naratif

Akan Datang: our contributors’ take on the stories to watch in Southeast Asia this week, curated by Regional Editor Aisyah Llewellyn.

Hello New Naratif readers and welcome to another week in Southeast Asia! As always there’s never a dull moment, and this week we have a (briefly) political princess in Thailand, anticipation over parliamentary questions in Singapore, and lots of talk about SEX in Indonesia. We also want to give special mention this week to one of the best headers we’ve seen in a long time, and raise a glass to Hammer and Pickle—the title of a piece on the problems of Vietnamese style reform in North Korea.

Over at New Naratif this week we published this piece on HIV+ children in North Sumatra who have to live with heavy stigma within their local community. You can also read the piece in Bahasa Indonesia. We also have this piece from Timor-Leste on the country’s high birth rate and family planning policy—which don’t tell the full story of childbirth in the country. This piece is also available in Bahasa Indonesia.

We also have an episode of Political Agenda on Singapore’s Bicentennial, as 2019 is the 200th anniversary of Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival and the beginning of colonisation in Singapore. We also featured an extra podcast from our managing director PJ Thum on the historiography and conflicting narratives of Singapore. You can follow the show on Spotify or subscribe on iTunes.

Here are all the stories to watch in Southeast Asia this week…


Amazing Thailand is probably the country that had the best news this week, or at least the coverage that made the biggest splash.

It started with the surprise announcement that Princess Ubolratana Mahidol was going to run for prime minister. As it would appear to be a conflict of interest for a member of the royal family to hold such a political role, commentators duly started frothing at the mouths, only for King Maha Vajiralongkorn to announce just a few hours later that it would be unconstitutional for her to do so.

The princess would have represented the Thai Raksa Chart (Save the Nation) party, which is now facing a potential ban, so it seems as if this is a story to watch in the coming week to see what the repercussions of this short-lived foray into politics are for all involved. The party is allied to former prime minister (and now exile) Thaksin Shinawatra.

Predictably, he also had a few words on the subject:


From Singapore, our Chief Editor, Kirsten Han, has this news:

Parliament sits in Singapore today, and questions over safety during National Service are set to dominate. This is unsurprising given the outpouring of public angst over the tragic death of Aloysius Pang, a young actor who died after being crushed while serving his reservist in New Zealand. The Minister for Defence is also going to give a ministerial statement—we’ll have to wait and see if Singaporeans find the government’s answers satisfactory.

(In other news, if we go by Facebook comments many Singaporeans seem to be very relieved that Trump and Kim aren’t coming back to our sunny shores for another summit. #SorryNotSorry to Vietnam!)


In Sabah, Consulting Editor for Sabah, Jared Abdul Rahman, has this succinct update:

Amidst all else, perhaps the most notable news from Sabah is this: we celebrated the Lunar New Year, welcoming the Year of the Pig. Without prejudice.


From Vietnam this week, our contributor, Mike Tatarski, has this news:

The big news in Vietnam is obvious: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un are meeting in Hanoi from February 27-28. This will be the second time the two leaders meet in person, after their get-together in Singapore last year.

There have been many takes on what this means for Vietnam, the US and North Korea, and the next two weeks will undoubtedly be a bit of a media circus around here. The outcome of this meeting won’t have a big impact on Vietnam, but it will bolster the government’s wish to be seen as a serious player in international diplomacy.

Elsewhere, there have been some worrying developments in terms of human rights. An Australian citizen and activist of Vietnamese descent was arrested in Saigon and is under investigation for activities against the state. An American citizen originally from Vietnam has been in detention in the same city for months as part of an obscure investigation, and last week a Vietnamese dissident blogger disappeared in Bangkok after applying for asylum.

Vietnam will certainly put on a great show for the Trump-Kim meeting, but the country’s human rights record remains appalling.


In Indonesia this week it’s the tale of two bills, both of which are in draft form and causing discontent across the country.

The first of these is draft legislation meant to tackle sexual violence―something which you’d think would be a positive move in the right direction. Not so unfortunately, as there have been calls for the Draft Law on the Elimination of Sexual Violence to be scrapped for promoting “free sex” and being out of touch with “Muslim values”. This is certainly on to watch this week as the backlash continues to grow on both sides of what really shouldn’t be a contentious issue at all.

In addition to the Elimination of Sexual Violence Bill, we also have the Music Bill, which has, in its own way, also caused much ire among the arts community. The bill has a number of problematic points to it, including prohibiting musicians from “creating” blasphemous or pornographic content, or, bizarrely, “negative influences from foreign cultures”?

More “free sex” perhaps? Honestly some people are obsessed…

And that’s a wrap on this week in Southeast Asia! If you have a tip on a news story you would like to see featured in Akan Datang, then send it to us via aisyah.llewellyn@newnaratif.com !

See you next week!

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