The Region Today: Trump woos authoritarian leaders, Cambodian journalist flees to US, and Hijab Cosplay in Malaysia

By: Euan Black - Posted on: May 2, 2017 | Featured

Southeast Asia Globe’s daily rundown of the region’s top stories

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (R) talks with the visiting Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (L) during a signing ceremony prior to their joint news conference at the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, 21 March 2017. Photo: EPA/Narong Sangnak
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (R) talks with the visiting Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (L) during a signing ceremony prior to their joint news conference at the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, 21 March 2017. Photo: EPA/Narong Sangnak

2 May 2017

Trump looking to build bridges with Southeast Asian strongmen

President Trump has drawn the ire of human rights groups by extending invitations to Prayuth Chan-ocha, the Thai junta leader, and Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine president whose ‘war on drugs’ has led to thousands of extrajudicial killings over the past year.

The Trump administration said that the leaders were invited to discuss the risk posed by North Korea. But many have questioned this explanation, pointing to the fact that neither country has leverage in the situation, and noting that Trump’s family brand is set to open a skyscraper in Manila.

Duterte, who has made substantial efforts to deepen ties with Bejing since assuming the presidency in June, appeared to snub Trump’s invitation on Monday. “I’m tied up,” he told reporters. “I cannot make any definite promise. I am supposed to go to Russia and go to Israel.” [The Guardian]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: A brief guide to Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest in Southeast Asia

Malaysian authorities question reports of Islamic State leader’s death in Syria

Malaysia is still investigating the credibility of reports that say the country’s top Islamic State (IS) operative in Syria, Muhammada Wanndy Mohamed Jedi, was killed in a drone attack over the weekend.

Wanndy was allegedly killed in an attack in Ma’dan, Syria, last Saturday, according to various intelligence sources and a Facebook post by Wanndy’s wife, Nor Mahmudaah.

Wanndy reportedly masterminded the bombing of Movida club in Puchong on 28 June last year, the first IS attack on Malaysian soil, and was placed on the US’ Specially Designated Global Terrorist list in March. [Channel News Asia]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: Terror attack could rip apart Malaysian society

Prominent Cambodian journalist flees to US, skipping courts summons

A radio director who is among Cambodia’s most well-known journalists has fled to the US, where Radio Free Asia (RFA) is based, after receiving a court summons related to an attempt to visit a prison as part of a group of opposition politicians.

Facing up to two years in prison, Huot Vuthy, who goes by Chun Chanboth on air, left Cambodia and plans to remain in the US for his own safety and to avoid complications for his colleagues in covering upcoming local elections, RFA said in a statement.

Spokesmen for the Cambodian government, which has long accused RFA of being part of US-backed efforts to oust the ruling party, said Vuthy’s flight was proof that he was “a dog serving America.” [Phnom Penh Post]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: Killing the radio star: the battle for the Kingdom’s airwaves is raging

World’s oldest human dies in Indonesia ‘aged 146’

Mbah Ghoto (grandpa Ghoto), a heavy smoker who claimed to be 146 years old, has died in his village in Central Java. He outlived four wives, 10 siblings and all his children.

While Indonesia only started recording births in 1900, 30 years after Sodimedjo was allegedly born, local police say his papers were valid, based on documents and interviews.

He told the BBC in an interview last year that his secret to longevity was having people “that love me looking after me”. [BBC]

Hijab no barrier to cosplay in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur played host to a magical cast of Muslim superheroes, princesses, and mighty sword-wielding warriors this weekend at a hijab cosplay event.

Cosplay, a portmanteau of “costume” and “role-play”, has been popular in Malaysia for two decades, but the hijab cosplay trend has only recently begun to gain momentum.

“Some people are sometimes surprised when they see my hijab … but it doesn’t bother me,”  said Nur Azlina, a 21-year-old university student. “My friends and my family support me and I also get invited to birthday parties to attend with my costume.” [The Star Online]


Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: Hipsters in hijabs: inside the multibillion-dollar world of Muslim fashion