October 1 passes with violence

Plus, Indonesia catches the protest bug and Malaysia acquiesces

An update on the novel-with-recipes (Red Sparrow):

First, it’s an extremely average book. The plot is solid but the characters are all ridiculous caricatures. It is in the tradition of Dan Brown but not as good because Dan Brown is awesome; come at me.

More interesting is the unique decisions to put recipes after every chapter. Last issue, I was about one-third of the way through the book and was enjoying the gimmick. Then it got weird.

The story would contain an explicit sexual encounter…followed by a chicken recipe. Or a much beloved character is killed in an emotional, drawn out, chapter…Here’s a nice cucumber salad to make on a warm sunny day.

Some of the recipes were clearly terrible (like literal prison food) and the author would sometimes force his characters to meet at Asian restaurants so he could diversify the menu.

To give the author some credit, he succeeded in making me curious about Russian food. Some of the dishes (especially the soups) sounded scrumptious.

All-in-all, I appreciate the creativity but I don’t think it worked.

Hong Kong update has its own section at the bottom if you want to scroll down and read it. It’s the most important story of this issue.

Quote of the Week: “There is no force that can shake the foundation of this great nation."

-Xi Jinping during his National Day speech.


Indonesia’s Leader Faces Student Protests and Crises Heading Into New Term

What Happened: Joko Widodo was recently elected for a second term, and promptly bungled four major policy decisions.

First, West Papua continues to be a source of unrest. 31 people have reportedly been killed. It is unclear if the people were killed in riot-related fires or if the police were involved.

Second, the country is obnoxiously close to passing a law banning extramarital intercourse — which would also essentially outlaw gay relationships.

Third, there is a plan to gut the anti-corruption task force. This is the most important issue. In Indonesia, if the country does not get its corruption problem under control there are no protections for the LGBT community or justice for Papuans. It underpins every part of Indonesian society and it is why weakening the task force is enough to bring the students to the streets.

Finally, the forest fires are still burning, which creates a visual manifestation of all of these problems piling up.

Malaysia PM says can't provoke Beijing on South China Sea, Uighur issue

What Happened: Realpolitik wins the day in Malaysia, who has decided to ignore transgressions from China because of money.

While never touching on Malaysia, this podcast does a nice job of outlining why a foreign policy driven by technocrats causes real issues. When foreign policy is ruled by ad-hoc decision making, rather than consistent morals and planning, it destroys trust amidst third parties, who inevitably disengage.

The podcast uses the conceit to criticise US foreign policy (why would the Americans invade Iraq but not Syria?), but I think it applies to this situation as well.

Singapore’s Foreign Interference Challenge in the Spotlight

What Happened: K. Shanmugam, Singapore’s heavy-handed Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs, is pursuing a crackdown on foreign interference. Singapore residents can thank Vladimir Putin for this newish policy shift.

The 2016 American election meddling spooked Singapore, whose leaders have since made eliminating fake news and foreign meddling a core part of their decision making.

While these policies are not in themselves bad, the People’s Action Party cannot help itself and often leans into its paternalistic authoritarian tendencies.

One activist-journalist has been hit hard, and is being used by the government as a scapegoat to go after foreign meddling. This is a weird moment for me because I know about this woman and we have had a brief handshake introduction. It’s weird when the people you read about in the news become, well, people.

An administrative error reveals the fear Filipinos have of the police

What Happened: It is kind of amazing this story is not everywhere. As the headline suggests, an administrative error resulted in the release of nearly 2,000 Filipinos from jail. Duterte, in his typical style, said that if they did not turn themselves back in they “would be returned to their cell dead or alive”.

They all duly reported back to prison.

The crazy part is that about 1,900 people were released in the error, and over 2,200 people surrendered. That means 300 people turned themselves in because they were genuinely scared of being murdered by the police.

The “big picture” of this story is obvious (and in the article), so I will let this strange situation lie on its own.

The complicated push-pull of Mongolia, China and the United States

What Happened: The original headline is too caught up in the US-China binary, but the article itself is a really nice analysis of the current situation in Mongolia.

In a lot of ways, Mongolia is a microcosm of the rest of Asia. A core part of its governance is to consistently exert its independence from China, but its southern neighbour is so large, and so rich, that there will be an inevitable tension between ideals and reality.

It is quite similar to the push-pull that Latin America has long had with the United States.

China shows off its biggest guns for the first time

China’s National Day celebration was yesterday, marking 70 years since the communists took control of the nation. It was a GIGANTIC parade, filled with patriotism, military hardware, speeches and some cultural aspects towards the end.

It was quite the power flex, and probably worried a lot of people around the globe.

Personally, I think it’s just a parade, and a moment to celebrate how far the country has come. The ugly problems in China will not disappear because of patriotism, so I say let them have their day and foreigners can enjoy watching the world’s best parade on their television.

In other words, I think it’s OK to temporarily compartmentalise during this moment. The more serious stuff is at the bottom of this issue.

‘I am hugely proud’: Japan’s Jamie Joseph praises team after Ireland upset

What Happened: A cool story. Japan is hosting the Rugby World Cup and just pulled off the biggest upset in the country’s history by defeating the rugby titans from Ireland. They are hoping this win can propel the programme to become a consistent global competitor.

Some Levity

What a wonderfully strange story.

A group of coal miners created a massive strike after their employer went bust and failed to pay their wages. They found a group of unlikely allies; transgender anarchists who took control of the organisation and built a significant movement.

Then, a far-right Trump-supporter caused problems. The transgender folks became so offended by his politics that they threatened to leave if the man was not kicked out. The coal miners, claiming “this is a local issue”, called the bluff. The anarchists left and the protest promptly fell apart.

Wild stuff.

Long Read

Pangolins: multimillion-dollar animal faces extinction as trade thrives

It’s important to keep beating the drum of illegal animal trade in Asia. There are some touch points that, if local authorities decide to act, could help the issue.

For Pangolins: Indonesia is the supply, which means rooting out corruption within communities. Vietnam is the logistics-chain, which means focussing on border enforcement. China is the demand, so Beijing needs to implement real consequences for people who buy/sell pangolin scales.

One NBA Post

The Lakers Suffer Another Setback, and This One Could Really Hurt

Kyle Kuzma is a very good basketball player. He is not a superstar, and probably not even an all-star, but he can be a contributing starter on a championship team. Furthermore, he is the only decent Lakers player who plays like a guard.

This roster is in desperate need of a scoring guard now that Kuzma is sidelined.

Hong Kong

I was waiting until after October 1 to send this issue because it was important to see what happened in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, it was another rough day for the city.

A teenage boy was shot in the chest by a police officer (reports tentatively suggest he will survive). The only word to describe the emotions coming out of Hong Kong is ‘grief’. Grief for the boy, but also grief for their city. The police are claiming self defence.

To me, I think the most disturbing part is how long it took for authorities to register the seriousness of the situation (one police officer tackled another protester who was checking the guy who had just been shot).

[Here is a video, it is separated because it’s hard to watch so you can decide if you want to click].

Clashes on Sunday were also intense, and after the shooting it will be hard to overestimate the rage that is directed at the Hong Kong Police Force.

To “mark” the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of China under communist rule, protesters called it a “day of mourning”. They dressed in black and covered the city in joss paper — which are typically burned to honour dead ancestors.

The city did deploy 6,000 police and Hong Kong was essentially on full lockdown. Carrie Lam was in Beijing to celebrate National Day.

Xi Jinping sent not-so-subtle threats to the city, claiming he will work to uphold the one-country two-systems policy, but that “no force that can shake the foundation of this great nation.”

The SCMP reported that the guy who killed his girlfriend, sparking this entire situation, is set to be freed in a month.