Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Uighur detainees test Malaysia’s diplomacy

China wants 11 ethnic Uighurs deported as terror suspects; the US and rights groups say they should be protected as potential refugees

As China ramps up anti-terrorism security measures in its restive northwestern Xinjiang region, Malaysia is suddenly at the center of an extradition controversy where Beijing is bidding to leverage its economic clout for strategic favors.

China is now requesting Malaysia to repatriate 11 ethnic Uighur Muslims, a Turkic people indigenous to the Xinjiang region, currently being held in an immigration detention without charge or legal representation. The group of 11 were among 20 Uighur migrants who dramatically escaped a jail in southern Thailand last November.

The escapees, who have identified themselves as Turkish citizens and asked to be sent to Turkey, were part of a group of more than 200 Uighur migrants detained in Thailand since 2014.

Beijing has pursued a muscular security strategy in Xinjiang following a spate of violent attacks in recent years that authorities attribute to armed Uighur separatists who seek to establish an independent state. It has deployed military and paramilitary organizations in a bid to thwart Uighur nationalist militancy.

The heavy state security presence has come alongside a raft of measures curbing religious practices and freedom of movement. Surveillance and monitoring technologies have been deployed by authorities to impose political and social control, spurring frustration and fears of cultural loss among Xinjiang’s Uighur minority.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Demographic time bomb ticks down on Singapore

A fast aging population threatens to stall the economy, test social cohesion and strain national finances

It is being called a “demographic time bomb.” The impact of a shrinking workforce coupled with a greying population will be among the toughest economic and social challenges Singapore faces in the decades ahead.

Already the oldest society in Southeast Asia measured by median age, the wealthy city-state is now seeking coping strategies for the economic and social impacts to come of a rapidly aging population.

While aging populations affect much of the Asia-Pacific, the expected decline in Singapore’s working-age population will be among the region’s most acute.

Indeed, this year marks the first time in modern Singapore’s history when the share of the population that is 65 years old and over will match that of those under 15 years old, according to a UOB report published last year.

UOB economist Francis Tan predicted in the research that demographic change will stall the city-state’s economic growth and raise substantially future healthcare costs.

Other data suggests that Singapore’s percentage of seniors will reach 27% by 2030, while the percentage of juniors under 15 will decrease to 10.8%, leading in a worst-case scenario to a nearly 1:1 dependency ratio, with one working-age adult supporting a child or elderly person.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Singapore swings and misses at the arts

State-led bid to promote the arts and a creative society has failed to capture the national imagination

Singapore, known for its robust education system, meticulous city planning and draconian laws, is more often associated with efficiency than creativity.

Derided by some as a “cultural desert” for its past lack of emphasis on the arts, the city-state of 5.6 million people has doubled down on national cultural policies over the last two decades in a push to become a center for Southeast Asian art.

The wealthy island nation, a hub for financial and wealth management services, has made massive investments in cultural infrastructure in recent years: showcase museums, a world-class national gallery and performance centers dedicated to the arts.

But despite the state-led push, with generous backing from government agencies like the National Arts Council (NAC), Economic Development Board and the Singapore Tourism Board, it’s still not clear an organically vibrant arts scene has taken root.

Top-down ambitions to nurture creativity and innovation date back to the roll-out of the government ‘Renaissance City Plan’ in 2000. The initiative envisioned the arts as “cultural ballast” to nation-building and strengthening Singaporeans’ sense of national identity. Moreover, the plan identified the importance of creative, artistic endeavors in a future-oriented economy.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at