Australia to close Manus Island immigrant detention centre
The Australian government announced it would close its detention centre for asylum seekers on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, in accordance with a ruling from a PNG court in April. Conservative Australian governments have for almost 20 years defended hardline policies on illegal immigration, including “offshore processing”, arguing the end justifies the means as it discourages people smugglers. So when refugee advocates greeted the decision to close the facility by calling for the refugees to be resettled in Australia, it came as little surprise that the government insisted that would not happen.
The focus will intensify on Australia’s other Pacific detention facility, on Nauru, which has become a lightning rod for criticism after leaked documents catalogued the widespread abuse and mistreatment of detainees. Rights groups have condemned the Australian government for this ‘outsourcing’ and may interpret the closure of the Manus Island camp as a defining moment.
Indonesia changes sea’s name in attempt to maintain sovereignty amid dispute
Indonesia has adopted a novel approach the preserving its sovereignty in the South China Sea, announcing a plan to change the name of part of its territory. Under the plan, the area within 200 miles of its Natuna Islands would become the Natuna Sea. The announcement coincided with Indonesia’s Independence Day, which Jakarta celebrated by scuttling 60 illegal fishing vessels, mostly in the Natuna region, which China often claims as traditional fishing grounds. So while Indonesia’s vigilance over the Natuna Islands is ostensibly about cracking down on illegal fishing, it’s hard to ignore broader implications in the labyrinthine dispute over the South China Sea, parts of which Indonesia claims, along with other countries.
China’s claim to the South China Sea overlaps with rival claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, as well as the Natuna Islands, which are part of Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone. If a straightforward name change persuades Beijing to back off, it would presumably be the first of many, with several copycats to follow.
North Korean diplomat in Britain defects to South
Thae Yong-ho, the No.2 diplomat at North’s Korea embassy in London, last week became the most senior Pyongyang diplomat to defect to the South in many years. Seoul promptly trumpeted their propaganda coup, insisting Thae defected out of disillusionment with supreme leader Kim Jong-un’s regime and a yearning for freedom. London is one of the most prestigious diplomatic postings, and Thae was granted rare independence, having been there for 10 years. And he and his wife both came from blue-blood revolutionary families. It paints a picture of Thae as one of the trusted elite within Pyongyang’s diplomatic corps, making his defection all the more surprising and damaging. The affair adds to the heightened tension on the Korean peninsula, where relations have deteriorated in recent years to a low not seen since the cold war.
Pyongyang has in the past responded to defections by smearing the people involved, or insisting they were kidnapped by South Korean spies. Whichever tack they take regarding Thae, next week’s joint Ulchi Freedom military drills between Seoul and Washington are unlikely to improve Kim’s mood.
Duterte tells ‘stupid’ UN not to intervene in Philippines after crackdown rebuke
Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has attracted plenty of criticism from rights groups over his anti-drug sweep, which has so far killed more than 1,500 people. According to police chief Ronald de la Rosa, 665 suspects have been killed by police, and another 889 vigilantes. But the backlash against Duterte intensified last week when the UN issued a specific warning to Duterte, insisting that “state actors” could still be held responsible for “illegal killings”. The finger-wagging came after Duterte derided the UN as “stupid” and warned them not to meddle in his country. His spokesman added that “no war is without casualties” and that Duterte had advertised his plans in advance of May’s election, which he won in a landslide.
It’s hard to imagine Duterte reversing his hardline stance due to some tepid criticism from the UN. But the pronouncements may herald a renewed international focus on extrajudicial killings – and perhaps greater pressure from Manila’s allies in the West.
Indian health outcry after squalid conditions for mental patients revealed
Fresh scandal hit India’s health system after mentally ill patients were found naked and filthy at a West Bengal government hospital. Photos of the patients were posted online. According to advocate Ratnaboli Ray, “the pictures cannot describe the reality – the stench was unbearable and it was simply subhuman”. Ray said she had repeatedly alerted officials to the deplorable conditions at the Berhampore Mental Hospital, housing about 400 adults with various mental illnesses. Earlier this month, an Indian family alleged their baby died after hospital staff demanded bribes in return for treatment, and senior staff at a hospital were charged over a kidney harvesting racket.
The discovery prompted scrutiny of the plight of India’s many mental health patients, only a tiny fraction of whom get adequate treatment, according to studies published in The Lancet and other medical journals. They suffer discrimination and abuse and often languish in facilities, in a country where families often regard disability as punishment for misdeeds in a past life.
Latest Hollywood controversy arrives in Hong Kong... or is it Shanghai?
Set for release in November, Arrival is Hollywood’s latest alien invasion epic. But its promotional poster set tongues wagging for all the wrong reasons last week. The image shows a UFO hovering over Hong Kong with the city’s famous skyline in the background. But, for some reason, Shanghai’s famous Oriental Pearl Tower had been superimposed into the vista. Some suggested it was a metaphor for Beijing’s growing influence in the city. The hashtag #HongKongisnotChina sprang up, in response to the studio’s apparent cluelessness about such local political sensitivities.
The film stars Amy Adams as a translator roped in to communicate with extraterrestrial visitors by decoding their language. Maybe for her next blockbuster, she can play a Hong Kong taxi driver who rants endlessly about the government while blasting Cantonese opera.