Asia turbulence continues

The region is in the middle of its most troubling period in years

After surrounding oneself with art, the real world becomes artistic.

Three dead trees standing alone in a field become a statue. Bird calls amidst the rising sun sound like music. A home’s incomplete paint job is a provocative statement on modern capitalism.

These small twists in how we view the world can improve our happiness, help us find beauty and engender more contentment towards our fellow humans.

-Bozeman, Montana 2019

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Quote of the Week: “We could partially treat the respiratory infection but the obstruction of plastic rubbish … could not be cured.”

-Veterinary surgeon Nantarika Chansue after a Thailand dugong died in a story that captured the nation’s attention.


North Korea Launches 2 Projectiles; South Korean Experts Blame Trump

What Happened: North Korea fired two more missiles this week, the sixth such missile test in the past month. South Korea analysts blame Donald Trump for the tests, claiming that his hands-off approach to the North has emboldened them to do whatever they want.

They point out that this most recent missile test was met with resounding silence from Washington.

North Korea is using a joint US-South Korea military exercise as justification for the test. Furthermore, they have cut off communications with Seoul and only seem willing to talk to America.

Taiwan sharply boosts defense budget amid China tension

What Happened: Taiwan has been ramping up its military spending for the past year to counteract growing Chinese aggression and diminishing diplomatic ties abroad. On Thursday, the government unveiled its largest defence budget increase in nearly a decade.

This also included an agreement from the United States to sell an F-16 fighter jet to Taiwan as part of a US$8 billion arms package.

This deal, and increasing military spending from Taipei, is yet another point of disagreement between the Americans and Chinese.

Exclusive: Muslim insurgent group says it met with Thai government

What Happened: As mentioned during the Bangkok bombing scare, Thailand has legitimate terrorists called Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), a fact that is unknown by many. They don’t hold the same power as their counterparts in the Philippines or Indonesia but they do attack every now and then.

The meeting can be described as diplomatic outreach to the new government. The BRN made demands that seem unrealistic (release all prisoners). But if this is a step towards formal talks it is a positive development.

Stocks Whipsaw as Traders Face Conflicting Trade War Signals

What Happened: It seems like the financial world is set to be defined by volatility for the rest of the year. An inverted bond-yield in America set off serious concerns about an impending recession while the trade war (and Hong Kong politics) have put a major strain on China’s financial industry.

It seems the markets are spooked by the unpredictability of global governance, where every day seemingly brings a new twist that was impossible to predict yesterday.

Chinese ship returns to Vietnam's exclusive economic zone

What Happened: After an apparent détente, a Chinese survey ship has returned to Vietnamese sea territory. The ship had left a week ago after a month-long standoff between the two nations.

This will surely reduce trust within the Vietnamese government who now see a promise being broken not even a week after it was made.

Deaths of destitute North Korean mother and child spark national soul-searching in wealthy South Korea

What Happened: One would imagine that, in an effort to win the soft power battle, South Korea would treat North Korean defectors with compassion. This could not be further from the truth.

The death of a family has brought the reality back into the headlines.

Defectors are often discriminated against by South Koreans and they struggle to keep up with the hyper-competitive culture. It can be nearly impossible for them to find work and they come with practically nothing.

It seems this family starved to death after risking everything to cross the border. The soul-searching is justified.

Hong Kong is in India, Kashmir is in China. Right?

What Happened: This is a good article explaining how a city (Hong Kong) ostensibly in an an authoritarian state (China, is expressing fundamental ideals of democracy while a region (Kashmir) in a democracy (India) is being ruled like a police state.

Kevin’s Share

What do Beyoncé and other voice stars of Disney’s The Lion King buy with their money?

What is this? I wrote a light-hearted piece about how the stars of Lion King spend their money. Some facts I learned that didn’t make this article:

  • James Earl Jones grew up in EXTREME poverty.

  • He also took the first Darth Vader job for US$7,000 (about US$30,000 in 2019).

  • Seth Rogen is very serious about his marijuana business (which is on brand but it feels he might care for it more than acting).

  • Billy Eichner is about to have a moment.

Some Levity

Barack Obama’s August reading list

This is your last chance to sneak in that final summer reading book. Who better to point you in a good direction than a former American President? On this list you will find Toni Morrison, Wolf Hall and Haruki Murakami.

The one that caught my attention is Inland by Téa Obreht. But my final summer reading books will be Red Sparrow for some good ol’ fashion Soviet espionage. I am just about to finish “Last Boat out of Shanghai” and will write an Aseophile book review because it is relevant to this newsletter (Spoiler: It’s a fantastic book).

Long Read

In order to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation.

What happened: In a book I read, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, the author digs deep into the economy of the 18th-19th century South. Foreign nations considered the economy so exploitative they refused to do business with the area and viewed many southerners as people who had sold their soul for material gain.

The region at that time is better to be thought of as a kingdom with lords rather than any sort of capitalist society.

This article does a good job of bringing that concept to the newspaper.

One NBA Post

Prokhorov agrees to sell Nets, Barclays to Tsai

What Happened: Prokhorov may go down as one of the worst owners in NBA history (or at least the owner who made the most egregious basketball mistake). His decision to go “all-in” and buy the washed-up Big Three Celtics turned the Nets into one of the worst teams for an entire decade.

Tsai has been involved in the Nets for awhile and has slowly accumulated stake in the franchise. This final purchase puts him as majority owner (and, thus, the big boss).

Hong Kong

The Hong Kong protests just concluded one of the most remarkable — and controversial — weeks in the movement. The week started after police shot a medic in the face with a bean bag bullet, causing her to lose an eye. It re-motivated the protesters who called for “an eye for an eye”.

They managed to shut down the Hong Kong International Airport (and the CEO of Cathay resigned) in what was the biggest flex of their power since the 2 million people march back in mid-July. Unfortunately, the protesters proceeded to give it all away.

The moment that ended the airport protests was a decision by two small groups to essentially kidnap and assault two people who they believe had close ties with Mainland China — one of whom was a propagandist from the Global Times.

Tactically, this was insanely dumb because it gives Beijing rhetorical leverage and allows them to unleash their propaganda campaign within China. But I want to talk about something that is more troubling.

Back in World War II, a lot of the Japanese occupation was supported by Chinese nationals who saw their road to success paved by their occupier. They were dubbed “hanjian”, which is a derogatory word meaning traitor.

After the war, there was a Nationalist Party-led campaign to bring justice to these people for their crimes — which is all fair, a lot of them committed horrendous acts or facilitated mass murder.

The problem is a lot of innocent people who lived in China were caught up in the sweeps. They were unable to join the Nationalist army (for whatever reason) and thus were branded as hanjian. Typically it was used as a tool by returning Nationalists for personal gain.

These were people whose lives were destroyed by war (family members killed, careers ruined, injuries suffered) but who did not technically join the Chinese military. After World War II, a lot of these people saw their lives destroyed again, this time by the Nationalist government.

Ironically, this hanjian mentality accelerated a political suicide because it threw a lot of people into the arms of the Communists, who, as we know, were on their way towards absolute power.

The point is, once any movement begins to radicalise into a, “You are either with us or against us” mentality, they risk becoming everything they are fighting against. It becomes oppressive, it becomes dangerous and history has shown it can become deadly.

A LOT of people support the protesters from the sideline, but if the movement begins to show tendencies towards mob justice they will lost the only power they have — the support of millions of people.