The Region Today: Turks nabbed in Malaysia, Xi rings Duterte and Islamic State worries in Thailand

By: Euan Black - Posted on: May 4, 2017 | Current Affairs

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

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (L) speaks to his Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a welcoming ceremony at Prime Minister's office in Putrajaya, Malaysia, 10 January 2014. Photo: EPA/Ahmad Yusni
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (L) speaks to his Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a welcoming ceremony at Prime Minister’s office in Putrajaya, Malaysia, 10 January 2014. Photo: EPA/Ahmad Yusni

4 May 2017

Arrest of Turks in Malaysia has rights activists worried

Malaysian authorities have arrested two Turkish men for “activities that threaten the safety of Malaysia” under a section of the penal code that covers terrorism and organised crime.

Rights groups are concerned that the men will be deported to Turkey, where they will likely “face torture in detention, and if charged with crimes there, be subjected to a trial that will fall far short of fair-trial standards”, according to Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director.  

Both men reportedly worked for an international school, but it has not yet been confirmed whether or not their arrests were linked to a campaign by Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to arrest followers of Fethullah Gülen, an exiled preacher blamed for a failed coup attempt last year. [The Guardian]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: Classroom or cult? Turkey’s campaign against Fethullah Gülen

China’s president follows in Trump’s footsteps, calls Duterte

After US President Trump’s “very friendly” conversation with President Duterte on Saturday, it was Chinese President Xi Jinping’s turn to call the authoritarian Philippines leader yesterday – the latest in a series of efforts to woo the longtime American ally and ease tensions in the South China Sea.

Both Trump and Xi said their conversations revolved around the risks posed by North Korea.

Since Duterte took office in June, he has continually threatened to cut ties with the US, cancelling joint military operations between the two nations and repeatedly bemoaning Western “hypocrisy”. [The New York Times]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: Cambodia caught between China and US amid superpower showdown

Thailand on high alert as Islamic State suspect enters troubled south

Muhammad Muzaffa Arieff Junaidi, a Malaysian believed to have been running an Islamic State-affiliated terrorist cell, has fled to Thailand’s deep south, according to Khalid Abu Bakar, inspector-general of Malaysia’s police force.

“He managed to escape to southern Thailand with an M4 Carbine rifle and a pistol on March 22,” Bakar said.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, told Thai authorities to be on high alert and warned the media not to play up the issue. [The Nation]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: Is there any hope for peace in Thailand’s troubled south?

Singapore moves closer to realising AI capabilities with $107m boost

Singapore’s ambitions to become the frontrunners of all things tech has received a welcome boost with the National Research Foundation (NRF) announcing that it will invest up to $107m (SGD150m) into Singapore’s artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities over the next five years.

“[The initiative] will do three key things – first, address major challenges that affect both society and industry. Secondly, invest in deep capabilities to catch the next wave of scientific innovation. And finally, to grow AI innovation and adoption in companies – an initiative most pertinent to our business community,” explained minister for communications and information Yaacob Ibrahim.

Earlier this year, the US-based Startup Genome Project pronounced Singapore the world’s best location for generating global startup talent. [Channel News Asia]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: How Singapore is becoming a world leader in fintech

Singapore celebrates Star Wars Day with three days of events

Singapore sets off three days of festivities celebrating the iconic Star Wars film franchise today with an event held at the tourist draw Gardens by the Bay. The park’s vertical gardens, which stand as high as 50 metres, will be transformed into giant lightsabers – the glowing, sword-like weapon brandished by the movie’s lead characters..

The event marks the beginning of a three-year partnership between the Singapore Tourism Board and Walt Disney, in which the city-state will celebrate the Marvel franchise in 2018 and Walt Disney’s most popular animated films in 2019 [The Straits Times]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: Pencil politics: comic artist Sonny Liew redraws Singapore’s narrative