Will Nguyen - New Naratif

Akan Datang: Myanmar tries to talk peace, Vietnam puts Will Nguyen on trial

Hello New Naratif readers! It’s another week and there’s a lot to get through as ever.

There’s never a dull moment in this part of the world it seems, whether it’s President Duterte lambasting God, or the ‘Con Queen of Hollywood’ pulling off an elaborate scam in Indonesia.

Here’s all the news you need to look out for in the coming week…


We start this week with Cambodia and I’m delighted to welcome Andrew Nachemson as our newest contributor to Akan Datang, who has this dispatch from the region:

With two weeks to go it’s hard to get away from Cambodia’s election. Whether it’s parades in the streets or news articles flooding Twitter, it seems Hun Sen’s sham election has still captured domestic and international attention—even without a viable competitor. I wrote this piece on Hun Sen and the elections for New Naratif back in May.

Having wrapped up its fact-finding mission, the European Union is now deliberating whether or not Cambodia still qualifies for its preferential trade agreement under the Everything But Arms deal. Given the ongoing oppressive government crackdown, I find it hard to believe Cambodia still meets the necessary human rights requirements, but the EU will have to decide whether or not to take a step that could cripple Cambodia’s economy.

Back in Cambodia’s notoriously corrupt and politically biased courts, the widely criticised trial of Australian blogger and documentary filmmaker James Ricketon continues on Monday. The 69-year-old was arrested a year ago while flying a drone over an opposition political rally and was charged with espionage. If sentenced, the he could face a further nine years in the dangerously overcrowded Prey Sar Prison, where he has already complained of numerous health issues.


In Thailand, we have the almost unbelievable good news that the Wild Boars football team are now safe and will be released from hospital on Thursday. While this has indeed been one of the most uplifting stories of our times, perhaps we should now leave the boys alone and give them the space they need to recover from their ordeal. Unfortunately, the media feeding frenzy seems to continue—so expect more coverage of this ongoing saga this week.

On a related note, the Bangkok Post has this op-ed on safety standards in Thailand, which prosaically points out that, “The government can’t prevent boys from being naughty any more than it can prevent squalls in an open sea” but does raise a valid argument that so many tragedies like the Phoenix boat disaster which killed 47 are preventable if only the right safety measures were in place. Perhaps the Thai government will make some much needed changes after losing THB7 million after Chinese tour groups cancelled trips to the country in droves.


We now go to Myanmar and this dispatch from our local contributor Victoria Milko:

The third session of the 21st Century Panglong Conference—in which leaders from various political parties, ethnicities, and armed groups gather to discuss national issues—concludes this week. During this session armed ethnic groups that are not signatories to the National Ceasefire Agreement were invited to attend the conference but were restricted from speaking.

The event is named after the original 1947 conference convened by Suu Kyi’s father, Major General Aung San, who was head of an interim government while his country prepared for independence from Britain. An agreement brokered by Aung San and signed by several major ethnic minority groups granted minorities significant autonomy and the right to secede if they joined a post-independence federal union. But Aung San was assassinated shortly after and the deal fell apart.

Previous sessions held in August 2016 and May 2017 failed to make much headway in resolving differences between the government, the military and ethnic rebel groups seeking greater autonomy—but some have hopes that some progress might be made as a result of the latest session.

We have more about the summit and Myanmar’s failed peace process here.

The Philippines

And over in the Philippines, we have this great analysis of President Duterte’s time in office in the South China Morning Post, which starts with the searing line:

“Tough-talking Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte must have known he was playing with fire when he called God a ‘son of a bitch’ who is ‘really stupid’ in a country where 80 per cent of the population is Catholic.”


Over in Vietnam, our contributor Mike Tatarski has news of the biggest story to watch in the country this week, which has weirdly been flying under the radar internationally:

In a worrying development, late last week Vietnamese officials announced that William Nguyen, an American citizen who was detained during protests in Ho Chi Minh City on 10 June, will stand trial starting 20 July. He has been charged with “disturbing public order”, as well as “inciting others”, the latter of which can carry a sentence of up to seven years. The trial was announced just days after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo completed a trip to Hanoi for meetings with Vietnamese leadership. Pompeo did not make any public comments on Nguyen’s case during the visit.

A number of Vietnamese nationals have already been sentenced for their involvement in last month’s protests, but jailing a foreign citizen would be a significant escalation in Vietnam’s response to this unrest. I wrote about this situation for ThinkProgress.


Our Singapore contribution this week comes from Editor-in-Chief Kirsten Han:

Come 2020, all Singaporeans and Permanent Residents born between 1980–1990 will have to buy CareShield Life, a government insurance scheme that will provide lifetime monthly payouts to people considered severely disabled. Although it’s been praised as being a step in the right direction in terms of providing more healthcare for Singaporeans, it’s now under the spotlight for its gender-differentiated premiums: while men aged 30 will pay SGD206 (USD150) before subsidies, women aged 30 will have to pay SGD253 (USD185). The Minister of State for Health has justified this as being “actuarially fair” because women statistically live longer lives and are more likely to remain in disability for a longer time. But some have pointed out that this is gender discrimination, and a petition calling for equal premiums has, at the time of writing, garnered 5,827 signatures.


And so we end with Indonesia and this frankly bonkers piece about an elaborate scam that targeted victims in Hollywood and played out thus:

“The victims travel to Indonesia on a promise of work and, once there, are asked to hand over relatively modest amounts of money at a time, up to $3,000 in some cases, to help cover expenses for things like car travel, translation, tour guides and fixers. A designated Indonesian ‘moneyman’ arrives on a moped to collect the funds.”

This story is so crazy that it absolutely should get picked up and we may hear more details about it this week. But, moral of the tale: don’t give your money to a random stranger who shows up on a motorbike in the wilds of Indonesia.

And that’s a wrap on this week in Southeast Asia! If you have a tip on a news story you would like to see featured in Akan Datang, then send it to us via [email protected]!

See you next week!

If you enjoyed this article and would like to join our movement to create space for research, conversation, and action in Southeast Asia, please subscribe to New Naratif—it’s just US$52/year (US$1/week)!

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