Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Dennis Rodman, Voldemort, and Mountain Dew-flavored Cheetos

Here's a very special Asia-Pacific link round-up for y'all.

Rodman’s Goon Squad Goes to North Korea
“That’s not the right thing to do,” Dennis Rodman said. “He’s my friend first. He’s my friend. I don’t give a shit. I tell the world: He’s my fucking friend, I love him.” That’s what Rodman said in Beijing when answering questions about why he won’t ask North Korea’s boy tyrant, Kim Jong Un, about the myriad human rights violations he’s guilty of. Instead, for Kim’s 30th birthday, Rodman is hosting a game of “basketball diplomacy.” He’s assembled a team of ex-NBA players and “streetballers” to lace up against a North Korean squad.

For some of these ex-stars who’ve struggled with addiction and relevancy, it’s an inspirational story of perseverance. You know, like Space Jam, except not as fun, entirely pointless, and sans Bill Murray. Here’s who’s going to Pyongyang.
Who is Kenneth Bae, and why is he in a North Korean prison camp?
U.S. officials have repeatedly called on North Korea to release Bae. In August, the two countries appeared close, but North Korea rescinded an invitation to a U.S. envoy. Ambassador Robert King, President Barack Obama's special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, had been expected to fly to Pyongyang to try to win Bae's freedom.

In previous instances, North Korea has released Americans in its custody after a visit by some U.S. dignitary -- in recent cases, former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

But efforts by Bill Richardson, the former ambassador to the United Nations, was unsuccessful in winning his release during a visit to North Korea last year.

Even Rodman, at one point, called on North Korea's Kim Jong Un to release Bae.

"I'm calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea or as I call him "Kim," to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose," Rodman said in a May 7, 2013, post to his Twitter account.
Why Rodman ever went to North Korea to begin with


 Is North Korean tourism unethical?
“Is sending the Harlem Globetrotters and Dennis Rodman to the DPRK strange? In a word, yes,” said Vice founder Shane Smith, who visited the country in 2009 for his company, which has made a name for itself by blending journalism with adventure tourism and which sponsored Rodman's February trip. “But finding common ground on the basketball court is a beautiful thing.”

... I also asked B.R. Myers, a North Korea scholar who has done research inside the country, about the ethics of tourism. He was not a supporter. "Many tourists -- and all of the foreign tour operators -- assuage their consciences by telling themselves they are furthering the cause of peace or reform by building trust, breaking down barriers, and so on," Myers told me via e-mail. "This is nonsense."

"For one thing," Myers wrote, "all the tourists are talking to the same tiny bunch of hardened cadres, guides and spies. For another, individual interactions, however friendly they might be, neither reflect nor have the slightest effect on how people feel as members of one group, race or nation vis a vis another."
South Korea urged Cambodia’s military to crack down on protesters
Among Cambodian soldiers at the scene of a demonstration, GlobalPost also identified an individual bearing a South Korean flag emblem on his army fatigues. The individual, who has not been identified, was captured in a video of the demonstration aftermath posted on Facebook on Thursday (he appears at the one-minute mark; screenshot below). His identity could not be verified.

Government officials denied the individual had any connection to the Cambodian or Korean militaries. “He could be the company’s security guard,” said Kheng, although he appears to be wearing a military uniform. Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, told GlobalPost: “The Cambodian military unit does not have Korean flag bearers. What you saw could be a private individual and not a unit from Korea.”

But others weren’t so certain. Over the past decade, the South Korean military has dispatched a handful of officers to advise the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, said one Korean scholar of Cambodia who asked not to be named.

And South Korea is a known patron of the prime minister’s bodyguard unit, Brigade 70, despite reports of human rights abuses — including the shooting last week.
Revival of handmade posters channel young Korean concerns
There were no fresh facts, shocking revelations or radical opinions in the poster that suddenly appeared last month at Korea University. But it did expose the worries of frustrated and disaffected young people who feel they’ve been left behind by globalization.

Economic concerns, like low salaries and high rents, are widespread. College students are angry about expensive tuition and dim employment prospects. Support for the rail workers, another common cause, reflects concerns among young people that the rail privatization plan will start a trend, leading to higher costs for utilities and health care as they too become privatized, and to the end of the era of the coveted permanent government job.

The issue that seems to have most galvanized the poster writers is the scandal involving military and National Intelligence Service agents who carried out online campaigns during the 2012 presidential race to manipulate public opinion in favor of Park Geun-hye, who won the presidency by one million votes. Eleven officials in the Defense Ministry’s cyberwarfare unit are accused of spreading 2,100 messages praising Ms. Park. And, in a separate case, a team of N.I.S. agents is being tried for sending out millions of posts on Twitter and news websites in support of Ms. Park. The president has denied having had anything to do with the online campaigns, saying repeatedly that she had not benefited from them. ... The poster movement — a return to a more basic sort of expression — may best be seen as a backlash against an online culture that allows users to post whatever they want using false names or no names at all. Anonymity was once welcomed by political activists as a way to get opinions out in the open, but it has now come to be regarded as an obstacle to meaningful dialogue.
Harry Potter gets pulled into war of words between Japan and China
For China’s envoy, Lui Xiaoming, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s year-end visit to Yasukuni Shrine – where Japan’s war dead are honored – was evidence that dark forces were at play at the heart of the administration in Tokyo.

“In the Harry Potter story, the dark wizard Voldemort dies hard because the seven horcruxes, which contain parts of his soul, have been destroyed,” he wrote. “If militarism is like the haunting Voldemort of Japan, the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo is a kind of horcrux, representing the darkest parts of that nation’s soul.”

Mr. Liu went on to accuse Abe of putting Japan back on the path of prewar-style militarism, citing his plans to raise military spending, his eagerness to reform the postwar pacifist Constitution, and his apparent lack of remorse for his country's wartime conduct.

It took Japan just a few days to respond in kind, again in the pages of the Daily Telegraph. "East Asia is now at a crossroads," Japan’s envoy to London, Keiichi Hayashi, wrote. "There are two paths open to China. One is to seek dialogue, and abide by the rule of law. The other is to play the role of Voldemort in the region by letting loose the evil of an arms race and escalation of tensions, although Japan will not escalate the situation from its side.”
Frito Lay Japan unveils Mountain Dew Cheetos
Apparently, they taste like "sweet lemon lime chips."

The move is probably not a huge surprise as Frito Lay is the same company that introduced Pepsi-flavored Cheetos last year.

Stranger still, this isn't the first Mountain Dew-flavored snack put out by Frito Lay. Back in 2008, they came out with a mystery flavor of Doritos chips that turned out to be Mountain Dew flavor... here in the US!
Australia's asylum-seeker policy irks Indonesia
At a news conference Tuesday, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa criticized Australia's hard-line policy of turning back asylum seekers who set out from Indonesian waters. He declined to confirm or comment on the most-recent boat incident, which was detailed in conflicting Indonesian media reports.

The Jakarta Post, citing the police chief in the eastern city of Kupang, reported the boat ran aground Monday, while other media reports said the accident occurred last month.

Australia declined to comment on whether its navy had recently turned back an Indonesian boat. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said Tuesday it was the policy of Australia's conservative government to refrain from giving details of its operations or plans as this could provide intelligence to people smugglers.

Ties between the two nations hit a nadir in recent months in a row over alleged spying by Canberra on top Indonesian officials. Jakarta has previously also expressed reservations about Australia's policy of blocking boats carrying asylum seekers and sending them back to Indonesia, which is a frequent staging post for refugees from places including Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka.
Indonesia jails extremist over Myanmar embassy plot
He was found guilty of possessing explosive materials, a charge under tough anti-terror laws that can carry the death penalty in the most serious cases.

According to his indictment, he was part of an extremist group called Negara Islam Indonesia (the Islamic State of Indonesia).

Prosecutors said the planned attack was aimed at putting pressure on the government in Myanmar to do more to stop attacks on the Rohingya.

There have been a string of attacks on minority Muslims in Myanmar since 2012, mostly in the Rohingya's western home state of Rakhine. Hundreds have been killed and tens of thousands made homeless.
Rights should be part of US ‘pivot’ to Asia
Rumakabu told her story this year before a Biak Massacre Citizens Tribunal organized by the University of Sydney. The tribunal cast fresh light on one of Asia’s worst — and least recognized — atrocities of recent decades. The United States had backed Indonesia’s takeover of West Papua in the 1960s, after which an American company helped start the world’s biggest gold mine and third-largest copper mine there. Many West Papuans have joined the struggle for independence since. Now, more than 15 years since the massacre in the city of Biak, the United States is turning a blind eye toward human rights abuses in West Papua as it strengthens ties to Indonesia’s military.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in August that he welcomed “the progress Indonesia has made in improving transparency and the protection of human rights” as he signed a $500 million deal selling eight Apache attack helicopters. The sale, which is part of the US foreign policy “pivot” to Asia, went ahead despite the objections of some 90 human rights groups who argued that the aircraft could be used to further suppress the people of West Papua. US-supplied arms to Indonesia have been used in cracking down on resistance movements in West Papua and East Timor. The United States restored ties with Indonesian military in 2010 after cutting them in 1999 for Indonesian abuses in East Timor.

It was strange to hear Hagel’s claim that human rights protection in Indonesia has improved, when those responsible for massacres in West Papua and East Timor enjoy impunity while members of unarmed resistance groups face arbitrary detention and killings. Armed rebels in West Papua do exist in the form of the Free Papua Movement army. However, Indonesia has been indiscriminate in suppressing any kind of resistance movements. A month before the sale of the Apaches, United Nations high commissioner Navi Pillay expressed serious concerns about the human rights situation in Indonesia after police reportedly shot and killed two protestors preparing to mark the 50th anniversary of the annexation of West Papua.

By strengthening military ties, the United States is furthering a culture of impunity that fuels continuous human rights violations. Officers involved in abuses continue to rise in the ranks. Generals who were in command during alleged massacres are free to test their political ambitions. Former military chief Wiranto and former special forces unit chief Prabowo Subianto, both allegedly involved in abuses in East Timor and Papua, are running for Indonesia’s president in next year’s elections.
Small-scale gold mining pollutes Indonesian lands
Yuyun Ismawati, an environmental campaigner based in Britain, says the scope of the problem is evident in the amount of mercury being exported from around the world to Indonesia, her home country. Most of it, she says, is brought in illegally.

According to the Indonesian Ministry of Trade, the country imported slightly less than one metric ton of mercury in 2012 through two local companies, primarily for commercial manufacturing, including the production of light bulbs and batteries, and for use in hospital equipment. According to United Nations trade statistics, however, 368 metric tons of mercury, about 810,000 pounds, were legally exported to Indonesia in 2012 from countries that included Singapore, the United States, Japan and Thailand.

The yawning gap between what Indonesia officially reported as receiving and what was actually exported to it is not an anomaly. In 2011, the country officially imported 7.8 metric tons of mercury, while the United Nations reported that 286 metric tons was exported to Indonesia. The same disparity is evident for numerous other recent years.

In fact, the only data that added up for Ms. Yuyun, 49, a graduate school alumna of Oxford, was not about mercury but global gold prices, which nearly doubled from an average of $872 an ounce in 2008 to $1,669 in 2012. Gold ended 2013 at just over $1,200 an ounce.
Back from Indonesia, Emanuel talks weather response
The mayor, who vacationed in the equatorial Asian archipelago over the holidays with his wife and three children, shrugged when asked whether opponents who have dubbed him “Mayor 1%” for his wealth and pro-business policies will make political hay out of his absence. “Whether it’s the weather or not, I’m sure people will always find reasons to raise some questions,” he said.

Asked why he didn’t return to Chicago sooner in light of the harsh forecast, the mayor told reporters his Indonesian trip wasn’t all nature hikes and family fun. “I think every one of the commissioners know and would report I’ve been in contact with them on a regular basis, and with my chief of staff multiple times on a daily basis,” he said. “Communication equipment, be that text, cell phone, e-mail, allows you to stay in contact on a regular basis. My family would think that I wasn’t much on vacation, given all the communication I was in with them.”

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