Thursday, 31 January 2019

No clear line on stalled China-Malaysia railway

Malaysia has reviewed, suspended, cancelled and now apparently revived the $20 bn East Coast Rail Link project, stops and starts designed to drive a harder bargain with Beijing


First it was under review, then it was suspended, and later it was said to be cancelled altogether. Now, its reportedly back on the negotiating table. The status of Malaysia’s China-backed East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) has been mired in confusion this week after two senior ministers issued conflicting statements on the US$20 billion project’s future.

Malaysia’s Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali announced on January 26 that the Cabinet had agreed to terminate the rail link on grounds that the project was “beyond the government’s financial capability.” He said that the ECRL would be terminated “without jeopardizing relations with China.”

That was apparently news to Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, who admitted he was “shocked” after hearing Azmin’s announcement and suggested he might not have been fully informed of the administration’s decision on a project. The railway was originally negotiated by then premier Najib Razak’s government and formally initiated in November 2016.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad suspended the deal last July just months after his shock election victory, making good on an campaign vow to review costly China-backed projects that some feel risked plunging the country into a debt trap. Now, Mahathir’s government is scrambling to walk back comments about the deal’s termination.

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, 9 January 2019

Asia’s budding interest in corporate cannabis

First-mover regional nations are eyeing windfall profits as the marijuana industry sprouts and spreads worldwide


One after another, Asian nations are rethinking their stance on marijuana. Growing commercial acceptance and promised economic gains of legalization have spurred a wave of liberalization that has seen a rising number of industrialized countries allow the use of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes.

Pot has gone from illicit substance to up-and-coming commodity in the span of a few years as global investors, portfolio managers and high-ranking executives tread on what was once the turf of the neighborhood dealer. Multi-billion dollar growth projections have even started to give pause to lawmakers in staunchly anti-drug Southeast Asia.

Thailand is slated to become the region’s first country to allow the medical use of marijuana after a military-appointed legislative assembly vote on December 28 backed the measure. Though the Buddhist-majority country still plans to retain penalties for recreational use, analysts see the reversal on medical marijuana as a precursor to more liberalization.

Although Southeast Asian nations have until now had little tolerance for marijuana, seen in some the world’s strictest narcotics laws, scientific studies espousing the plant’s medicinal benefits and its fast-growing corporate commoditization have sparked a new debate.

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, 7 January 2019

King’s abdication stirs Malaysia’s royal affairs

Sultan Muhammad V's surprise abdication, reputedly to avoid scrutiny of his marriage to a Russian beauty queen, puts the rotational monarchy in uncharted waters



Malaysia’s constitutional monarchy is in the midst of a rare upheaval after the surprise abdication of Sultan Muhammad V, he country’s king, or the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, as he is officially known. On January 6, the 49-year-old sultan became the first royal ever to resign from the federation’s throne.

A statement issued by the palace offered no official reason for the monarch’s decision to quit after serving just two years of a five-year term that was slated to expire in 2021. Prior to the announcement, speculation had been mounting about the monarch’s status after he took a two-month leave of absence on medical grounds.

During that period, reports spread that the sultan had married Oksana Voevodina, a 25-year-old Russian beauty queen, in Moscow, although this was never officially confirmed or addressed by the palace. Reports suggest the country’s other hereditary rulers were uneasy over the union and the possible royal coronation of Voevodina.

Malaysia’s constitutional monarchs have a ceremonial role and are bestowed as the heads of Islam in their respective states. A total of nine Malay royal houses comprise the Conference of Rulers, which convenes to elect among themselves a Yang di-Pertuan Agong, a largely symbolic head of state who typically serves a five-year term.

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.