Ninja Cops create drug war controversy

Also: China trade deal gets 'meh' response and Jokowi begins second term

As I write this, I am at a campground outside of beautiful Zion National Park, sitting in my car (well, if we are being honest it’s my mom’s car but that kills my street cred). I am listening to the baseball World Series after having spent a few hours watching it with some random locals. It is hard to beat my situation.

I say this not to brag, but to continue the good fight against the intrinsic cynicism that often seems to dominate our conversations (in both Asia and America).

I think a lot of people have an instinctively dark view of the world which makes it difficult to solve the problems we face. I hope if people try to see the best in strangers they will stop being so horrible to one another. I think this will go a long way to improving our world.

Or, we can all listen to baseball and sleep outside. That seems to be an effective solution.

Note: Because of said camping situation, this issue will not include photos. Can I request some feedback on if this is better or worse? You should be able to just reply directly to this email and I will receive it. It’s a good opportunity for some A/B testing.

Quote of the Week: “They were built like makeshift tents in a disaster-stricken area or isolation wards.”

-Kim Jong-un after discovering a brand new resort was built by a South Korean company. The resort was summarily demolished.


Senate report finds Albayalde liable in ‘ninja cops’ case

What Happened: The Philippines police force has been rocked by a controversy dubbed the ‘Ninja Cop’ case. In 2013, a group of police officers seized around 200kg of drugs but only reported to have found 38kg of drugs. The officers then sold the remaining 162kg.

The reason the case has blown into a national scandal (instead of a case of local police corruption) is that a man named Oscar D. Albayalde appears to have actively participated in the cover up. Mr. Albayalde was, until this week, the head of the Philippines National Police.

He resigned on Tuesday and now faces possible criminal charges that could land him in prison for 15 years if convicted. The case also resulted in a massive reshuffle of the Philippines National Police force.

Note: The incident happened before Duterte was elected, so it was not under his administration but promoting Albayalde is problematic. It has created serious questions about how Albayalde was allowed to be the point man for the War on Drugs.

The Pretend Trade Deal

What Happened: Trump declared that the US and China had reached a provisional agreement to ease some trade tensions. The general public gave a mooted response after a couple of years of starts-and-stops.

One major reason is that the deal is not signed, and there are some gigantic issues on the horizon that could single-handily tank the agreement (specifically, an impending vote in the Senate about the Hong Kong Freedom and Democracy Act).

The core problem is that the two countries have major disagreements about core problems in the relationship, as this article describes clearly.

China’s Economic Growth Slows as Challenges Mount

What Happened: Regarding the trade war, one inconvenient truth for China is that the American economy continues to hum while China is experiencing turbulence. China may very well become the global hegemon in 10 years (and there is an interesting argument that the average American may prefer that world), but it’s not happening in the next few years.

Xi Jinping has built a reputation as the world’s most powerful authoritarian leader, but there is a lot of grumbling within China about his antagonistic approach to the trade war.

Thailand’s army chief sees a commie conspiracy to topple the king

What Happened: This article is a ‘red flag’ for me. General Apirat, the head of the Thailand military, said the country is being undermined by communist forces (read, “anyone who disagrees with me”). The concern is that Mr. Apirat is not allying himself with the government but the monarchy.

The Thailand king holds a unique position of being largely ceremonial but extremely powerful. Typically, the king allows the government to operate freely, but unlike Britain he still has the ability throw down the hammer.

The concern is that if politics do not go the way approved by Mr. Apirat he will be well positioned to organise yet another Thai coup.

Indonesia’s Joko Widodo pledges to create jobs and cut bureaucracy as he’s sworn in for 2nd term

What Happened: Indonesia is a lot like the United States whereby there is a fairly significant gap between a candidate being elected and them taking power. Unfortunately for Joko Widodo, that downtime proved to be extremely eventful.

Jokowi has some major issues to solve (West Papua unrest, concerns of a free speech clampdown and a fight for pluralism). Plus, he wants to move the capital outside of Jakarta by essentially building a brand new city, which feels extremely optimistic considering current politics.

Important: Jokowi announced his cabinet this week and it is a doozy. It includes the guy he defeated in the recent election and the most famous tech Founder in the country.

Japan's rugby dream run ends after progress lifts ticket sales

What Happened: The best story in sports has come to an end. Japan lost to South Africa in the World Cup quarterfinals, ending their magical run. Here is a statistic to prove how big of a deal this was in Japan: The World Cup has sold 99% of its remaining tickets, regardless of who moves forward in the playoffs.

It seems like this Japanese team captured the imagination of the general public and now the locals want to see how the World Cup ends; no matter that Japan won’t be participating.

Trump's 'China Muse' Has an Imaginary Friend

In the books of Peter Navarro, the most important American-not-named-Trump, there are quotes from an analyst called Ron Vara. He has intense opinions about China that cross the line from hawk to red-scare-racist.

Turns out, Ron Vara is simply a pseudonym used by Navarro (Ron Vara it’s an anagram of ‘Navarro’).

It begs the question of if Ron Vara is used to express opinions that Navarro actually believes but are too controversial to put a name behind.

Assuming Navarro believes the quotes said by Ron Vara, he can no longer be the China envoy. Officials can be hawks regarding the CCP, but they can’t be racist against the Chinese people.

Even if we put morality aside, the cold analytical war games would show this mindset as a huge strategic weakness.

Some Levity

We have a movie of the year! It’s called Parasite and it comes out of South Korea. Parasite is about two Korean families that are representative of the nation’s income gap. The plot of the movie is dynamic, the acting is fantastic and Director Bong Joon-ho has launched himself into ‘household name’ status.

Most importantly, it has humour! After ruminating on Joker for a month, I have come to hate that movie more and more by the day (I liked it when I first saw it). I hate how unrelentingly bleak it is.

Parasite is a serious movie, but it’s also genuinely funny. I have more respect for that kind of filmmaking.

Kevin’s Share

Vote for people based on ideas, not place of birth

I wrote a Letter to the Editor for the local paper and figured I would share it here. I am discussing a cultural quirk of Montana political campaigning but I would imagine it is transferable to other places.

Long Read

The hunt for Asia’s El Chapo

How could this article not be featured in Aseophile? I mean, it’s a 10,000+ word article about the number one meth cartel in China. If there was ever a “written for an audience of Kevin” article, this would be it. The only thing that could have made this story more interesting would have been if it somehow involved a cult.

One NBA Post

I am writing this on opening night of the NBA season. Everyone is letting the league have its night, but this China issue is casting a shadow over the evening.

The World Series opening night is also tonight, and I would be curious to see how the ratings compare. Basketball is certainly a more popular sport, but I wonder if some folks choose to watch baseball tonight because it is free of politics.

Related: The animated film ‘Abominable’ is facing a similar-but-opposite situation as its inclusion of a Chinese map with the official nine-dot-line has infuriated Southeast Asia.

Hong Kong

The weekend saw a resurgence of peaceful protests and heavy vandalism as the movement was able to rally support from the general public. It was helped by two acts of serious assault from pro-China individuals against protest organisers. Ironically (for the attackers), the attacks inspired the average person to come to the streets to protest. Organisers said 350,000 protesters turned out for the peaceful march.

As is typical with the protests, vandalism and clashes got more violent as the day wore on.

One incident will be talked about all week: The police accidentally sprayed a mosque with the blue paint they use to identify (and arrest) frontline protesters. This will obviously infuriate the local muslim population. For non-muslims it highlights the perception that the police are just launching tear gas and spray paint with no rhyme or reason.

An interesting development this week was that the murder suspect — whose case inspired the extradition bill that started the protests — wants to return to Taiwan to turn himself in. Taiwan says they need Hong Kong to go through the proper channels. Now it seems he will go Taiwan and is being released from prison. It’s all moving very fast.

I also wanted to share an opinion article I vehemently disagreed with. It is an effort to help readers understand a fairly common opinion. Just because I disagree does not mean the opinion doesn’t have traction. Actually, the opposite is true.

One a final note, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said protesters were simply, “trying to embarrass the government”.