Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Five years on, no answers to who felled MH17

Asia Times examines in two parts why Malaysia’s premier and others doubt a Dutch-led probe’s finding that Russia shot down flight MH17


Five years ago, scenes of horror unfolded across the sunflower fields of eastern Ukraine. Shot out of the sky, the smoldering fuselage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 tumbled back to earth with 298 passengers aboard, unwitting victims of the single deadliest incident of a still-festering civil war on Europe’s periphery.

Bound for Kuala Lumpur, the Boeing 777-200ER’s flight path took it directly over conflict-ridden areas of Ukraine where Russian-backed separatists and government forces were engaged in fierce combat. The plane disappeared from radar nearly four hours after departing from Amsterdam and crashed in Donetsk, a separatist-led breakaway republic bordering Russia.

International investigators concluded in 2016 that the plane was hit by a Russian-made Buk-9M38 missile fired by separatist fighters. The missile system in question is said to have been brought across the border into eastern Ukraine to aid the Russia-backed rebels and quickly rolled back after the MH17 disaster to avoid detection.

A multinational Joint Investigation Team (JIT) believes the Soviet-era surface-to-air rocket was supplied by the Russian military’s 53rd Air Defense Missile Brigade, a charge the Kremlin has strongly and consistently denied.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Singapore the big winner of Hong Kong’s chaos

The city-state’s comparative stability is drawing business and funds away from tumultuous Hong Kong


Recent turmoil and tumult in Hong Kong has spooked investors and dampened business sentiment, prompting capital flight that appears initially to have benefitted rival business and finance hub Singapore. 

The Southeast Asian city-state, likewise known for its modern banking and financial services, is widely seen as an attractive alternative for investors seeking stability and impartial rule of law in the region.

The mammoth protests against a proposed extradition bill that have gripped Hong Kong since early June would be unthinkable in Singapore, which strictly enforces laws that curb public protests and political expression. 

The weeks-long demonstrations took an extraordinary turn on July 1 when protesters besieged and ransacked Hong Kong’s legislative building on the anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule in 1997.

Though the chaotic scenes have made global headlines and raised new questions about the city’s future as Asia’s premier financial center, analysts and experts say the protests are not necessarily the main factor driving the capital outflows.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Singapore licks its trade war wounds

City-state’s exposure to tariff-disrupted supply chains could soon tilt the trade-reliant economy into recession


While the US-China trade war truce achieved at the G20 summit has been widely welcomed by business and markets, trade-reliant regional countries like Singapore are still bracing for economic headwinds.

Economists have warned that Singapore could tip towards recession if the US imposes more tariffs on Chinese imports, a reflection of the wealthy city-state’s high exposure to China-linked supply chains and production networks.

While US President Donald Trump has stepped back, for now, from his threat to slap levies on some US$300 billion worth of additional Chinese goods, US tariffs applied so far have contributed to Singapore’s worst manufacturing downturn in a decade.

The high-tech manufacturing hub’s electronics exports tumbled 31.4% year on year in May as the impact of US tariffs coursed through regional supply chains. Trade data released last month by Enterprise Singapore, a government agency, showed non-oil exports fell 15.9% in May, down from 11.8% in March and 10% in April.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Hong Kong teeters on edge of US sanctions

US legislation aims to penalize abuses committed in Hong Kong and could make the city’s special status a pawn in the US-China trade war


Hongkonger Hendrick Lui believes the United States should slap sanctions on those responsible for cracking down on recent mass protests against controversial legislation that aims to allow for criminal suspects to be extradited and tried in mainland China.

Lui was among hundreds of mostly young demonstrators involved in a June 21 sit-in at the city’s Legislative Council (Legco) building and nearby roads, where some held banners in support of a bill recently tabled by senior American lawmakers to sanction mainland and city officials involved in rights abuses.

The bipartisan legislation, known as the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, was introduced on June 13 by hawkish Republican senator Marco Rubio and Democratic congressman Jim McGovern in the wake of recent violent clashes between protestors and security forces in Hong Kong.

If passed, the bill would impose sanctions and travel restrictions against individuals in China and Hong Kong found to be involved in human rights violations, and require the US president to certify annually that Hong Kong is “sufficiently autonomous” to continue receiving US trade privileges not afforded to mainland China.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

While Lam relents, Hong Kong calls massively for her ouster

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam backed away from a contentious extradition bill and issued a public apology but as many as two million demonstrated on Sunday calling for her resignation


Hong Kong’s embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam issued a public apology Sunday evening (June 16) as hundreds of thousands of protestors dressed in black clogged the city’s streets in another massive protest demanding her resignation and the scrapping of a contentious bill that would allow for the extradition of suspects to mainland China.

A day after Lam announced a surprise decision to indefinitely postpone the bill in a press conference on Saturday, the city’s leader vowed to “sincerely and humbly accept all criticism and to improve and serve the public” in a statement released at 8:30 pm as chanting crowds stood outside the gates of her office calling for her to step down.

“Carrie Lam’s press conference yesterday just made Hong Kong people angrier. We don’t think she will step down, but we must force her out,” said 27-year-old Chiew minutes before demonstrators began marching from Victoria Park in the scorching afternoon heat with the aim of forcing the government to rescind, rather than postpone, the controversial bill.

Gripped by a surge of mass dissent, the Asian financial hub has been thrust into political crisis amid the largest political demonstrations and some of the worst scenes of violence since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997. Organizers from the Civil Human Rights Front said almost two million people took part in Sunday’s march.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 14 June 2019

As China blames US, Hong Kong on a precarious edge

Beijing claims ‘external forces’ were behind recent mass protests in Hong Kong while US readies legislation that could strip the autonomous city of its special status


Hong Kong’s legislature building remains closed after mass protests over a proposed extradition law that would allow for suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial turned violent on Wednesday (June 12).

While the city’s center returned to normalcy on Friday, demonstrators are set to take to the streets again in the days ahead, setting the stage for new rounds of confrontation and a potentially more severe official response.

Clashes between police and tens of thousands of young black-clad protestors resulted in the hospitalization of at least 81 people in some of the worst violence seen in the former British colony since it was handed back to China in 1997.

The protests are already having diplomatic ramifications. Senior US lawmakers from both Democratic and Republican parties on Thursday introduced legislation that would require the US government to annually certify Hong Kong’s autonomy from mainland China to qualify for special business and trade privileges.

China, meanwhile, has rejected accusations it is throttling Hong Kong’s legally guaranteed autonomy and forcing legal changes on the city’s government. In response, Chinese state media has taken sharp aim at “external forces” it claims are trying to drive a wedge between the city and the mainland by creating chaos over the bill.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Protests set stage for historic clash in Hong Kong

Youthful demonstrators block talks on controversial extradition bill, paralyzing the financial hub


Throngs of youthful black-clad demonstrators with umbrellas, goggles and face masks blockaded major roads around Hong Kong’s legislature building on Wednesday, a surge of mass dissent against an extradition bill that, if passed, would allow city residents to be sent to mainland China for trial.

Leaderless but highly organized, protesters in their tens of thousands had been in an hours-long stand-off with riot police bearing shields and wielding batons in scenes reminiscent of the protracted Occupy Central democracy protests of late 2014. Police used pepper spray, beanbag rounds, tear gas and even rubber bullets against protesters who defied the show of official force and refused to retreat.

The protests have symbolically erupted just after the 30-year anniversary of China’s lethal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square. How the protests, if sustained, will ultimately be handled is unclear, but the stage is now set for a pivotal clash of pro- and anti-Beijing forces in China’s special administrative region.

Mass opposition to the bill has fast spiraled into a political crisis for Chief Executive Carrie Lam with escalating street protests and strikes clogging key roads near government offices three days after Hong Kong’s biggest political demonstration since its return to Chinese rule in 1997 drew more than one million people, according to organizers.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Why Hong Kong won’t go quietly to China

One million Hongkongers protested, some violently, on Sunday against a pending extradition law many fear would undermine the city’s judicial and political independence


A protest march of more than a million people brought Hong Kong’s streets to a standstill on Sunday (June 9) in what organizers claim to be the city’s largest-ever rally. They gathered to voice mass opposition to a proposed extradition law that would for the first time allow fugitives wanted by authorities in China to be sent from Hong Kong to the mainland for trial.

Braving sweltering temperatures, throngs of demonstrators clad in white held placards and yellow umbrellas in defiance as they shouted slogans in English and Cantonese calling for the resignation of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who critics say has tried to hastily push through the unpopular bill.

The Civil Human Rights Front, the group that organized the sprawling march, claimed a record turnout of 1.03 million people, a massive showing that raises pressure on local authorities to scrap the rendition bill. Police estimates down played the numbers, per usual, with security forces claiming attendance peaked at 240,000.

Though the China-backed extradition bill is a local government initiative, many here are wary that it would give authorities in Beijing a freer hand to target political opponents and foreign businesspeople on the self-ruled island with contrived charges to be heard in China’s politicized court system.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Thirty years on, Hong Kong fears its own Tiananmen

On the anniversary of China’s June 4, 1989 fatal clampdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, Hong Kong’s freedoms are quickly eroding away


A candlelight vigil commemorating the 30th anniversary of the June 4 crackdown on student-led demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square was attended by tens of thousands in Hong Kong, with young and old alike gathered to mark what many see as a seminal event in modern Chinese history.

Crowds gathered on the damp football fields of Victoria Park where they swayed to protest songs with candles in hand and chanted slogans. Some could be seen shedding tears or heard sobbing as a eulogy to the dead rang out over loudspeakers. Hundreds of miles away in the city where the violent events unfolded, however, it was as if nothing had ever happened, according to news reports.

Three decades on, mention of the violent repression is heavily censored in Chinese news and social media as perhaps the country’s biggest political taboo. Hong Kong, along with Macau, are the only places on Chinese soil where commemorations are held each year. The date continues to resonate with Hongkongers amid rising distrust of mainland authorities.

“The memory of June 4 scares me,” said Tiffany, a 23-year-old university student who attended the vigil. “Seeing these people still alive makes me very touched,” she said as a former student leader gave a stirring speech. “Being here reminds me that the Chinese government is so inhumane and, recently, they are tightening the rule of law in Hong Kong.”

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Fifty years on, fateful race riots still haunt Malaysia

PM Mahathir Mohamad’s political career was forged in the fires of May 13, 1969 race riots yet he remains reluctant to seek the truth about the violence


This month Malaysia commemorated the 50th anniversary of one of the darkest episodes of its post-independence history, a convulsion of racial violence that still haunts the multi-ethnic nation. The bloody race riots of May 13, 1969, saw explosive communal clashes between ethnic Malays and Chinese break out in the streets of Kuala Lumpur, leaving hundreds dead and a then young nation traumatized.

Five decades on, the date still looms large in the national consciousness and weighs like an albatross on the generations that lived through the carnage where as many as 800 may had been killed in an orgy of racial violence.

Then as now, race relations remain a delicate matter and at the center of multi-ethnic Malaysia’s long-enduring but controversial social contract that favors the ethnic Malay majority over minority Chinese and Indians, a construct that emerged in the riots’ aftermath with the 1971 New Economic Policy (NEP).

Over the years, various politicians have evoked the episode’s sectarian violence as a warning, often in the lead up to elections, that any challenge to the special rights and constitutionally-ascribed privileges enjoyed by Malays would upset the nation’s delicate balance and possibly lead to new bloodshed.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

US, Malaysia in a 1MDB quid pro quo

Malaysia’s extradition of ex-Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng to the US likely facilitated a first $196 million tranche return of recovered fund assets


When Malaysian authorities filed criminal charges in December against Goldman Sachs’ employees and subsidiaries for alleged misconduct in their dealings with the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state investment fund, they sought from the outset to exact a high price.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng declared soon thereafter that Malaysia would seek a whopping US$7.5 billion in reparations from the American investment bank, a figure that exceeded market expectations and underscored the urgency his government placed on recouping billions of dollars lost in the now infamous global scandal.

While law enforcement officials in the United States, Malaysia and beyond have maintained pressure on Goldman Sachs, sources familiar with the matter told Asia Times that Malaysian authorities have voiced frustration with the perceived slow pace of the multinational effort to recover assets illegally acquired through funds diverted from 1MDB.

That could explain why Malaysian authorities ultimately allowed ex-Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng to be extradited to the US earlier this month on a warrant permitting him to remain in American custody for up to 10 months. His extradition was initially postponed by Malaysia as it sought its own legal proceedings against the banker.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Rapper, fugitive and lobbyists in new 1MDB twist

Malaysia scandal turns as US indicts financier Jho Low and American rapper Prakazrel Michel for illegal foreign funding in 2012 US presidential election


The United States’ Department of Justice (DoJ) has leveled election conspiracy charges against a fugitive Malaysian financier and an American rapper, the latest twist in the globe-spanning multi-billion dollar 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption scandal.

Unsealed on May 10, the indictment claims Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, directed the transfer of approximately US$21.6 million into accounts controlled by music mogul Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, some of which allegedly went to campaign contributions for the 2012 US presidential election in violation of US law.

Low, a close associate of then Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, and Michel, a founding member of the 1990’s Fugees hip hop group, both face charges of conspiracy to defraud the US government by making and channeling illegal foreign campaign contributions. Michel has also been charged with scheming to conceal material facts and making a false entry in a record in connection with the alleged conspiracy.

The pair reputedly masked the source of foreign money by funneling it through more than a dozen “straw donors” who made legal contributions in their own names, according to the indictment, which said Michel and Low hoped to “buy access to, and potentially influence with a candidate, the candidate’s campaign and the candidate’s administration.”

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

One year on, Mahathir’s grip starts to slip

On the first anniversary of Malaysia’s historic election, the honeymoon is clearly over


One year ago today (May 9), Malaysians from all walks of life went to the ballot box seeking change. Victory for Pakatan Harapan, a reform-oriented multi-party alliance led by 93-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, stunned observers and brought six-decades of rule by the once-formidable Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition to a jubilant end.

At a time when many lamented democratic backsliding in the region and beyond, the unlikely election of a pluralistic ruling coalition bent on broad political reform imbued Malaysia with a newfound significance. Economic headwinds and widening sociopolitical polarization, however, have since complicated matters for the upstart leadership.

Though some argue campaign vows have been realized, perceptions of the government’s performance after a year in power are decidedly mixed. According to research by the Merdeka Center, an independent polling agency, recent approval ratings for both the ruling coalition and the prime minister have suffered a significant slide.

Mahathir, an iconic political personality who previously served as premier for over two decades before his re-election, polled at 83% shortly after taking office last May. His popularity, according to a survey published last month, has almost halved to just 46%.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Western boycotts soften Brunei’s sharia law

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has stepped back from new anti-gay measures amid celebrity-led calls to boycott his Western-held commercial interests


Amid a global outcry against Brunei’s implementation of Islamic sharia law measures that allow for death by stoning for sex between men and extramarital affairs, the sultanate’s ruler has apparently climbed down from the harshest measures in what some have interpreted as a bid to shield his nation’s besieged overseas commercial interests.

The United Nations, United States and other Western governments had all lodged their concerns over the strict new measures. Hollywood celebrities, meanwhile, had called for a boycott of luxury hotels in Europe and the US owned by the country’s sovereign wealth fund, exclusive properties known collectively as the Dorchester Collection.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the small oil-rich sultanate’s absolute ruler, had previously defended his nation’s right to implement the code, part of his move towards what some see as the most extreme interpretation of sharia law. Apart from death by stoning for sexual offenses, the law also allows for amputation of limbs for theft and whipping for other violations.

In a televised May 5 speech, the 72-year-old monarch appeared to step back from those measures, declaring first that Brunei would ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture and that it would not enforce the death penalty on those convicted under new religious laws.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Diplomacy trumps justice in Kim Jong Nam killing

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother’s assassination is left diplomatically unresolved with release of last suspect in Malaysia


Vietnamese woman accused of assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s estranged half-brother Kim Jong Nam with VX nerve agent in 2017 has been released from a Malaysian jail. Doan Thi Huong, 30, walked free early Friday (May 3) morning after being held in custody for more than two years.

She was taken directly into immigration custody after her release from prison and is expected to remain there before boarding a flight to Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital, later in the day. Huong’s lawyers told local media that she looked forward to returning home and that she plans to pursue singing and acting as a career.

The release of the sole suspect held in connection with Kim’s murder in all likelihood suggests the case will fade from view without a conviction. Analysts believe that Malaysia – and the wider region – have little appetite for raising further questions over the incident amid expectations that previously strained bilateral ties will soon be normalized.

Malaysian prosecutors dropped a murder charge against Huong on April 1 following diplomatic pressure from the Vietnamese government, which had stepped up lobbying efforts for her release after prosecutors withdrew a similar murder charge against a second defendant, Indonesian national Siti Aisyah, who was released on March 11.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Raffles bicentennial anniversary ruffles Singapore

City-state’s 200-year commemoration of the Englishman credited with founding Singapore is under fire for glorifying colonialism and overlooking atrocities


Along the banks of the Singapore River stands a gleaming white statue of an Englishmen in 19th century dress, surveying his surroundings with folded arms and a self-satisfied air. Sir Stamford Raffles, a British colonial official, is said to have landed two centuries ago at the very spot where his pedestal now rests.

The wealthy city-state has organized a series of events marking the bicentennial of his 1819 arrival on the island, where he established a trading post for Britain’s East India Company. That act, according to the plaque on his statue, “changed the destiny of Singapore from an obscure fishing village to a great seaport and modern metropolis.”

What critics see as a simplified national history – one which casts Raffles as the “founder” of modern Singapore – is now being reevaluated through a slew of state-sanctioned events, exhibits, festivals and talks. But to some, the bicentennial feels less like a commemoration of Singapore’s colonial past and more like a celebration of it.

Singapore, in sharp contrast to neighboring and regional countries who endured Western colonialism, is distinct for its salutary appraisal of the period. Unlike former British colonies like India and neighboring Malaysia, it chose to retain anglicized names left behind by the British. 

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Mahathir sets tone for renegotiating with China

Malaysia and China have come to new cheaper terms on the suspended East Coast Rail Link, a BRI mega-project many previously saw as a corrupt debt-trap


Malaysia has announced it will move ahead with the suspended East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), a multibillion-dollar China-backed infrastructure project designed to connect strategic ports on the peninsula’s east and west coasts. A new deal reached with the mega-project’s main Chinese state-owned contractor will cut previously agreed construction costs of nearly US$16 billion by nearly one-third, according to reports.

The renegotiated contract represents a potential boon for the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition, which suspended the project last July to make good on Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s campaign vow to review China-linked projects initiated by the previous government that some felt risked overburdening the country with debt.

The resumption of the rail link, touted as an important part of China’s US$1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure scheme, comes after nine months of protracted negotiations over the future of the project, during which Malaysian officials issued conflicting statements and sent mixed signals about whether it would proceed at all.

A supplementary agreement signed in Beijing by representatives from both countries on April 12, however, paves the way for the on-again, off-again project to finally proceed on terms Malaysia now apparently finds equitable.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Mahathir’s reforms face a royal challenge

Malaysia’s premier tussles with influential Sultan Ibrahim Ismail, rekindling an age-old spat that could have implications for stability


Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is once more at daggers drawn with the royal family of the southern state of Johor, with the two sides jousting over issues ranging from the powers of hereditary sultans to whether they can be prosecuted in international tribunals.

The tussle reprises Mahathir’s earlier challenge to royal authority, a political power play that helped to define his previous premiership spanning 1981-2003. Whether the nonagenarian leader is willing to openly clash with traditional sultans during his second tenure in power could have implications for stability in the months ahead.

Faced with vocal opposition from the Johor royal house, Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan coalition government recently reneged on plans to accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). In the wake of the policy reversal, the premier alleged a plot by critics of his administration to pit the country’s constitutional monarchy against his government.

Johor’s influential ruler, Sultan Ibrahim Ismail, spoke out against Harapan’s plans to ratify the international treaty on war crimes and genocide by claiming the move would contravene the constitution, which affords special treatment to the country’s monarchs and their families and the setting up of a special court to prosecute them should the need arise.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Is Brunei’s sharia law just for show?

Nation’s move to mandate penalties including amputation and death by stoning has sparked a global outcry but is more symbolic than substantive


Brunei, one of the world’s smallest countries and few remaining absolute monarchies, is under global fire for phasing in a controversial new sharia penal code that mandates amputation, whipping or stoning to death for violations.

The oil-rich sultanate of less than half a million people is now the first Southeast Asian country to adopt Islamic criminal law at the national level, reflecting a regional shift toward an increasingly conservative interpretation of Islam.

The stricter laws come five years after the first phase of the penal code entered force. Enacted in April 2014, the initial phase related to tazir offenses that included penalties such as fines or imprisonment for indecent behavior, failure to attend Friday prayers and out-of-wedlock pregnancies.

The latest phases relate to hudud and qisas which mete out punishments interpreted by Muslim juristic scholars derived from the Koran. They include public flogging for abortion, amputation for theft and the death penalty for a number of offenses, including rape, adultery, sodomy, robbery and insulting or defaming the prophet Muhammad.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Will Mahathir offload Malaysia Airlines?

Malaysian leader says the country can no longer afford to keep the loss-making national carrier afloat, opening the way for a foreign takeover


Does Malaysia really need a national airline? That’s the question many are asking as Malaysia Airlines (MAS) comes under rising pressure to revise its growth strategy and profit plan after consecutive years of poor performance.

The loss-making flag carrier has struggled to stay afloat after being privatized in 2014 by Khazanah Nasional Berhad, the Malaysian government’s sovereign wealth fund. A five-year recovery plan was unveiled soon after the state investment arm became the airline’s sole shareholder with an aim of returning the carrier to profitability within three years.

Despite a six billion ringgit (US$1.47 billion) capital injection and retrenchment of some 6,000 staff, MAS has yet to break even and recently failed to meet its March 2019 target date for re-listing on the local bourse.

Last year, Khazanah posted its first annual loss in more than a decade, with nearly half of its registered 7.3 billion ringgit ($1.78 billion) impairment loss attributed to keeping the airline afloat.
The state fund has yet to indicate if it will inject additional funds into the airline and recently called on the company’s management to produce a new strategic plan to produce better returns.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Trial of the century opens in Malaysia

Ex-premier Najib Razak finally took the stand today in the first of 42 criminal charges he faces in the multi-billion dollar globe-spanning 1MDB swindle


The long-awaited first hearing of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak’s trial began at the Kuala Lumpur High Court today. It marks the first time a former Malaysian leader has stood in the accused dock for a criminal hearing.

The date coincidentally marks exactly a decade since Najib was sworn in as Malaysia’s sixth prime minister. He has been arrested multiple times since his unexpected ouster in a May 2018 general election and now faces 42 criminal charges linked to a globe-spanning financial scandal involving the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state development fund.

Investigators believe an estimated US$4.5 billion was embezzled from the state fund between 2009 and 2014, some of which was traced to the ex-premier’s bank accounts. After a wait that has had Malaysians on tenterhooks, the opening of today’s trial represents just the first of several criminal proceedings Najib is due to face in the months ahead.

The former premier, who has deftly utilized social media to reinvent himself as an opposition politician in recent months, maintains his innocence and denies all wrongdoing.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Murder charge dropped in Kim Jong Nam assassination

Vietnamese suspect is given a lesser charge of causing harm and will soon walk free, a verdict that leaves the nerve agent killing of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half brother unsolved


Doan Thi Huong, the lone suspect held in connection with the February 2017 assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother Kim Jong Nam, is expected to walk free after pleading guilty to a lesser charge than murder in a Malaysian court.

A Malaysian judge today sentenced the 30-year-old Vietnamese national to three years and four months in jail for causing harm using dangerous means rather than murder, which under local law carries the death penalty by hanging.

Her legal team said that with usual sentence reductions for good behavior she would be released by “the first week” of May. Huong said she welcomed the “fair sentence” after the verdict was handed down in a case that involved the use of the lethal nerve agent VX.

Prosecutors offered the reduced charge after receiving representations from the Vietnamese embassy and the woman’s lawyers. The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry reportedly stepped up lobbying efforts in recent weeks after prosecutors withdrew a similar murder charge against a second defendant, Indonesian national Siti Aisyah, last month.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Race and religion roiling Malaysian reform

The political pendulum is swinging away from the ruling Harapan coalition just ten months after its historic election win


Ten months after Malaysia’s historic election that unseated the long-ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO), there are already signs the political pendulum is starting to swing back. 

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s multiracial ruling coalition, known as Pakatan Harapan, is now suddenly on the defensive from an emboldened opposition pact that has successfully rebranded itself after last May’s crushing electoral defeat.

Earlier this month, UMNO and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), the country’s two largest ethnic Malay-based parties, formalized their loose cooperation into a formal alliance after notching two consecutive by-election wins so far this year, with the latest electoral gains made in a government stronghold state.

Divisive rhetoric from UMNO and PAS figures has flared tensions, as both parties fashion themselves as defenders of ethnic Malay rights and Islam, which they say are being threatened by the government’s reform agenda and the appointment of non-Malay politicians to prominent positions.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Hear no evil, see no evil in Singapore

A last-minute decision to cancel a black metal gig has irked fans and sparked debate about the limits of expression in the city-state


Southeast Asian metalheads descended on Singapore last week for an event they hoped would be infernal and enthralling: a live concert performance by the acclaimed Swedish black metal band Watain.

Known for their abrasive sound and unhallowed imagery, the group had been given official approval to play their first-ever show in the wealthy city-state on March 7. Fans, however, were left disappointed when a media regulator announced the show’s cancellation just three hours before it was set to blast.

The state’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), a regulatory agency, announced the show could not go on due to its “potential to cause enmity and disrupt Singapore’s social harmony.”

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) raised “security concerns” about the event, while Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam acknowledged a public outcry against the group, though he denied that an online petition calling for the concert’s cancellation had forced the government’s hand.

The petition, which had gathered more than 16,000 signatures before the show, called on lawmakers to ban Watain and Soilwork, a comparatively anodyne Swedish heavy metal band scheduled to perform in Singapore in October.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Vietnamese woman now lone suspect in Kim Jong-nam killing

Malaysian prosecutors deny defendant’s appeal despite Hanoi’s protestations and evidence of North Korean state complicity in the assassination


Prosecutors in Malaysia have rejected an appeal to drop a murder charge against Doan Thi Huong, a 30-year-old Vietnamese woman accused of assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s estranged half-brother Kim Jong-nam.

The decision to proceed with the trial comes after a surprise court decision on Monday (March 11) allowed her Indonesian co-defendant Siti Aisyah, 27, to walk free. A High Court judge discharged the Indonesian suspect without an acquittal after prosecutors said they had been instructed to withdraw the charge against her without offering a reason.

The Indonesian embassy flew Aisyah to Jakarta the same day while lobbying efforts by President Joko Widodo’s administration are thought to have played a key role in securing her release.

Doan is now the only suspect in the case still behind bars. Her lawyer, Hisham Teh Poh Teik, slammed Malaysian Attorney General Tommy Thomas’s decision to reject the appeal.

“The decision not to withdraw does not sit well with our criminal justice system. There is discrimination as the prosecution favors one party to the other,” he told reporters.

Both women were charged on the same evidence and ordered by the court in August to enter their defense on the same grounds after a judge ruled the prosecution had proven a prima facie case against the accused.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 11 March 2019

Woman accused of killing Kim Jong-un’s half-brother walks free

Malaysian court’s surprise and unexplained decision resurrects suspicion of North Korean state complicity in the cloak-and-dagger crime


An Indonesian woman accused of assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s estranged half-brother Kim Jong-nam with a liquid VX nerve agent in 2017 has walked free after a Malaysian court dropped a murder charge against her.

“I am surprised and very happy. I did not expect that today I would be released,” Siti Aisyah, 27, told reporters before being ushered out of the courtroom and escorted to an Indonesian embassy car waiting for outside, according to media reports.

Upon hearing the court’s decision, the Indonesian broke out in tears and hugged her co-accused, Doan Thi Huong, a 30-year-old Vietnamese woman who is still being held in the case and is soon expected to testify.

The pair, who have been in custody for two years, are the only suspects detained in connection with the killing of Kim Jong-nam. Police quickly apprehended both women shortly after closed-circuit television cameras captured them accosting the 45-year-old North Korean in an airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on February 13, 2017.

The two women, both from rural Southeast Asian villages who lived precariously as undocumented migrant workers in the Malaysian capital, say they were duped by North Korean agents into believing they were participating in a prank for a hidden camera TV show that saw them smearing lotion on the faces of strangers in exchange for cash.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Eye on China, Singapore splurges on top-line arms

Big-ticket procurements will enable the island state to operate with the US in any South China Sea conflict


For global arms companies looking to ply their wares in Southeast Asia, Singapore is a sought-after client. And American and German hardware suppliers are poised for windfall profits as the island nation moves to shore up its defenses.

Last month, the wealthy city-state passed its biggest ever defense budget worth US$16.7 billion, or around 30% of the government’s total planned expenditure for 2019, with rich earmarks for defense, security and related diplomacy.

Singapore allocates between 3% and 5% of its gross domestic product on defense, well above the global average, while most regional states spend closer to 1-2% or lower, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute data.

That spending is set to climb in the years ahead as the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) moves to enhance its conventional capabilities through the procurement of more modern military hardware and equipment, including new generation fighter jets and submarines.

Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen recently told Parliament that defense spending over the next decade was expected to rise by 3% or 4% a year, mostly to strengthen and modernize the SAF’s aging hardware.

This month, Ng announced that Singapore would order four new F-35 fighter jets from US defense contractor Lockheed Martin and that it may purchase an additional eight of the advanced fighters after a technical evaluation.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

New politics dawning in pre-election Singapore

Opposition politician Chee Soon Juan says he senses unprecedented weakness in the ruling Peoples Action Party ahead of anticipated snap polls


Will elections come early in Singapore? Singaporeans have wondered ever since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hinted last year that the wealthy city-state might go to the polls earlier than they must be held by April 2021.

The opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), for one, isn’t wasting any time waiting for an official announcement. At a campaign launch event on February 23, party leader Chee Soon Juan made his case for political change in the form of a “freer and more democratic” Singapore. 

He said his party aims to deny the long-ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) a two-thirds majority of seats in Parliament at the next election.

If they succeed, the PAP – the longest-governing incumbent party in Southeast Asia – would lose its ability to make constitutional amendments and be put in check by a parliamentary opposition in a way that’s never before been seen in the island-nation’s history.

Realizing this electoral goal will be a herculean task, Chee openly admits. The PAP has maintained overwhelming parliamentary supermajorities since achieving independence in 1965, making Singapore one of Asia’s most asymmetrical democracies.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Pork barrel politics hint at early polls in Singapore

Expansionary spending plan includes billions of dollars worth of voter-friendly hand-outs and subsidies, including special earmarks for the elderly


Singaporean Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivered a closely watched budget statement earlier this week, unveiling an expansionary spending plan for 2019. Widely viewed as one of the key events of the city-state’s political calendar, the latest budget points towards the probability of a snap election later this year.

Speculation has been rife since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hinted last year that early elections could be called in 2019, more than a year before his government’s mandate ends. As external uncertainties weigh against the island nation's trade-reliant growth, some analysts see early polls as a hedge against a dimmer, less-predictable economic forecast.

Data released ahead of the latest budget proposal showed that Singapore’s economy grew at its slowest pace in more than two years in the fourth quarter of 2018. As such, all eyes were on Heng for signals on how the long-ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) plans to stave off economic headwinds in the financial year ahead.

The budget statement was the first major policy speech given by Heng since he was designated to succeed Lee as Singapore’s next prime minister, following a protracted selection process that saw the city-state abuzz with political guesswork. Some wondered whether the finance minister might now showcase a more campaign-oriented persona.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Conscript deaths making political waves in Singapore

Death of a heartthrob actor at defense training drill sparks an uproar over military accountability amid a rash of similar casualties


When actor Aloysius Pang died last month after sustaining serious injuries during a military training exercise, Singaporeans responded with an outpouring of grief. Family, friends and fans mourned the loss of the 28-year-old Chinese-language film and television star, whose passing is the latest in a recent spate of military training fatalities for the island nation.

Tragedy struck when Pang, an armament technician with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), was crushed while carrying out repair works inside the cabin of a self-propelled howitzer, a self-propelled artillery gun. Despite a number of surgeries to treat his injuries, the young conscript died four days later in hospital on January 23.

The incident dominated local headlines and struck a chord with the Mandarin-speaking community, an important voting bloc for the long-ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). Chief of Defense Force Melvyn Ong addressed the tragedy at a press conference and promised things would not be “business as usual” after Pang’s death.

Aiming to reassure the public, he announced a halt to all high-risk training activities as well as measures to reduce the pace and duration of training across the SAF for safety reviews. Singapore’s Ministry of Defense (Mindef) also said it would convene an independent Committee of Inquiry (COI) to investigate the incident.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Ukraine faces crowded and combative elections

There is no clear frontrunner ahead of next month’s presidential election and huge challenges face the eventual winner


An uphill battle awaits incumbent President Petro Poroshenko in Ukraine’s March 31 presidential election as, despite his lagging popularity, he aims to rally nationalist-leaning voters in a bid to secure a second mandate.

With a modest 10.8% approval rating, victory looks distant. Yet Poroshenko is still among the front-runners in a presidential race tallying a record 44 candidates, none of whom are expected to secure more than 20% support.

Elected in the aftermath of the 2014 “Maidan Revolution” that overturned pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych’s corruption-plagued rule, Poroshenko – a billionaire businessman before entering politics – was entrusted with the difficult task of guiding Ukraine toward a new western-oriented, democratic path and away from Moscow’s orbit.

Five years have passed since tumultuous scenes of revolution unfolded in Kiev’s main square. While certain democratic, social and civic gains have been realized, the revolution’s outcomes are for many decidedly mixed.

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 nilebowie@gmail.com.