Akan Datang: The South China Sea heats up, and Duterte’s making death threats again

Rodrigo Duterte - New Naratif

Hello New Naratif readers! It’s time for a new week in Southeast Asia and we’re spoilt for choice. There’s no shortage of news in the region as we reach the end of May, from talk of Nobel Peace Prizes in Malaysia, to arguments over the South China Sea, and yo-yoing reactions in Singapore over the cancellation-then-reinstatement of the Trump-Kim summit. As none of us are getting any younger, let’s get right to it…


Our dispatch from Vietnam comes from our local contributor Mike Tatarski and it’s all about maritime affairs:

Keep an eye on the South China Sea this week, as Vietnamese officials have expressed concern over actions by China in the contested waterway. Last week General Le Chiem, the deputy minister of national defense, told local media that Chinese fishing boats, supported by law enforcement ships, have repeatedly entered Vietnam’s territorial waters this year.

Meanwhile another member of the military warned that China could establish an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over its claims in the sea in the future. It’s unlikely that this would happen anytime soon, but Vietnam’s leadership is clearly concerned by China’s increasingly confident stance. Two US warships have sailed near islands claimed by China, so things could get tense again.


Will Mahathir be nominated for Nobel Peace Prize? After all, “Tun Dr Mahathir is akin to being the ‘Nelson Mandela’ of Malaysia,” says an online petition with over 13,500 signatures at the time of writing.


Over in Cambodia we’re still discussing the sale of the highly regarded independent newspaper, the Phnom Penh Post, which saw carnage in its newsroom as members of staff were either fired or resigned in protest at the sudden change in management.

Asia Times has this piece on the new owner of the Post, “Siva Kumar G” and we’re also pleased to welcome former Post journalist Andrew Nachemson as one of our contributors at New Naratif with this election preview, Hun Sen’s Struggle for Legitimacy.


The Economist has this piece about 20 bombings which took place on May 20 in the south of the country. Ominously, “[t]he explosions are being interpreted as a warning to the authorities,” so we may hear more about this and plans to avoid more attacks in the coming days.


The Minister for Finance has announced that the fourth generation (4G) ruling party leadership are going to launch a new discussion series to solicit views from citizens. But they’ve done that a lot previously so it’s not really that groundbreaking. More exciting is this piece by our chief editor Kirsten Han in the Lowy Interpreter this week which touches on the new discussion series and links it back to the recent Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods and Operation Coldstore.

Also one to watch this week is the ongoing saga of the will-they-won’t-they duo Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump. First, Trump cancelled the summit scheduled for 12 June. Singaporean police officers were thus told that they could apply for leave. Then Trump said it could be back on—the White House is sending a team to Singapore to prep just in case it does happen.


In Myanmar our contributor Victoria Milko has this assessment for the week ahead:

This week the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict to Myanmar, Virginia Gamba, will deliver a press conference about her first visit to the country. The press briefing is anticipated to discuss the progress made by the Burmese military on the action plan they signed in 2012 with the United Nations that aimed to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children in its forces, as well as other issues of concern for the protection of children in Myanmar. There has been a sharp escalation in violence in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States since Gamba assumed the position, and it will be interesting to hear her assessment about how children are—or aren’t—being protected in Myanmar today.

We also reported on villagers internally displaced in Karen State back in April.


In Indonesia we are still terrorised, this time by the passing of a new anti-terror law which includes a range of initiatives that will allow police, among other things, to hold terrorist suspects without charge for up to 14 days. There seem to be mixed feelings about this on the ground, with some saying that anything seen to combat terrorism can only be a good thing following the recent attacks in Surabaya, and others worried that the new law could be used against activists or others deemed a “threat to Indonesia”. Expect many, many think pieces on this in the next week.

On a similar theme, ABC has this piece about Agan Harahap, an Indonesian artist fooling the world with doctored celebrity photos, and a wider discussion of Indonesia’s well-known problem with fake news.

We also reported on the Muslim Cyber Army and the Virtual Battlefield in Indonesia at the start of May which ties into all of the above.


And over in the Phils the one to watch this week is President Duterte inviting Jose Maria Sison, the founder of the Communist Party in the Philippines currently in self-imposed exile in The Netherlands, to return for peace talks. Duterte promises that, even if the peace talks fail, he’ll let Sison back out of the country. But he also says that if Sison ever returns again, he’ll kill him. A consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines said the threat doesn’t improve things—which seems pretty obvious—but Sison himself has shrugged the threat off.

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 northsumatra.editor@newnaratif.com.

See you next week!

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