When I am in Southeast Asia, it always strikes me how far away and how small Europe is, and how little Europe dominates the daily news. Presently the most important (and probably only) European news relate to the current refugee situation.
SE Asian news are dominated by the enormous forest fires on Sumatra and Kalimantan, which are extremely difficult to control and will take weeks, if not months to extinguish. Several countries are now helping Indonesia to fight the fires, still there is no ending insight. Smoke from these fires blows into Singapore, where pollution levels were today again in the unhealthy range. If it is unhealthy to do physical exercises here, one can only imagine how the situation is on Sumatra and Kalimantan for those who live there, who have to inhale the dangerous smoke, and who have not seen the sun for weeks on end. Prognoses for a really strong El Nino event, which brings drought to SE Asia, do not make the situation for the coming weeks/months much brighter.
China’s dominance in the South China Sea are another recurrent news feature. China has been accused of occupying strategic islands, which are also claimed by other nations, such as for example the Philippines and Vietnam. Although much information about the so-called South China Sea Conundrum is being written, a good book to get an overview on the problem is Robert D. Kaplan’s book Asia’s Cauldron – The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific. I read this book earlier this year and can recommend it.
The upcoming elections in Myanmar are another of the top news. It will be the first time that Myanmar citizens can vote for a democratic government. Aung San Suu Kyi visited Rakhine State recently, a region where most of the Rohingya minorities live and where a few years ago fierce clashes took place between Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Burmese. Aung San Suu Kyi was of course immediately accused for siding with the Muslim minority. However, the Rohingyas are not even allowed to vote, because they are not regarded as Myanmar citizens, thus they will have little chance of being represented in the new regional government. Earlier this year Myanmar had passed a law allowing the more than one million Rohingyas to vote, but after protest storms, the government revoked the right to vote again. Because of their difficult situation in Myanmar many Rohingya have been and are fleeing from Myanmar and try to relocate to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
I really liked what Ang San Suu Kyi said during her visit to Rakhine State: “Religion and ethnicity are not the same”. Maybe one should also add the often used term ‘culture’. Thus, culture, ethnicity and religion are not the same, and neither culture or ethnicity should be confounded with religion. And on a very personal note, I think that religion and religious beliefs should remain each person’s personal issue and that religion must in no way be imposed on other people or made part of a political system. Many religions are interpreted by men, who take their liberty and status to decide what is good or bad for women. How different would the world look if it were women who would interpret the so-called wise words written down in religious books? My guess is that the world would be more peaceful than what it currently is.