TIME Cambodia

Has Australia’s Plan to Resettle Asylum Seekers in Cambodia Already Ended in Failure?

A man rides a motorcycle past a house that is used to temporarily house asylum seekers sent from a South Pacific detention centre, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia August 31, 2015.
Pring Samrang—Reuters A man rides a motorcycle past a house that is used to temporarily house asylum seekers sent from a South Pacific detention centre, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia August 31, 2015.

Just four people have been resettled under the plan

Cambodia said Monday that the country had no plans to accept any more refugees living on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru.

Just four detainees—an Iranian couple, a Rohingya man from Burma (formally known as Myanmar) and another Iranian man—have moved to the Southeast Asian nation under a $39 million controversial deal with Canberra, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. The group were transferred in June and are reportedly living in villas in the capital Phnom Penh.

“We don’t have any plans to import more refugees from Nauru to Cambodia,” Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak told local paper the Cambodia Daily. “I think the less we receive the better.”

Australian immigration officials also failed to sign any more Nauru detainees up for the resettlement program in June, July and August.

However, speaking to reporters in Sydney, Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop denied the pact had collapsed, saying Cambodia was committed to the resettlement deal, reports Reuters.

Under the pact, which was signed last September, Cambodia is meant to accept an unlimited number of the asylum seekers currently being held on Nauru in exchange for $28.5 million in development aid from Australia. A further $11 million was to be used for healthcare, housing, education and training for the new arrivals.

Human rights groups and opposition leaders in Cambodia and Australia have slammed the deal for sending vulnerable people to an impoverished country that itself has a long history of abuses against asylum seekers.

Australia has repeatedly vowed that no asylum seeker trying to reach its shores by boat would ever be resettled in the country. Instead, such arrivals are sent to offshore processing camps on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

[SMH]

TIME global health

Amnesty International Votes to Recommend Decriminalizing Sex Work

FILE - In this Friday, May 16, 2014 file photo, a discarded bra lies on the ground outside an informal bar that allegedly employed sex workers after a government raid on the illegal mining camp in La Pampa in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. Amnesty International approved a controversial policy Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015 to endorse the de-criminalization of the sex trade, rejecting complaints by women’s rights groups who say it is tantamount to advocating the legalization of pimping and brothel owning. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File)
Rodrigo Abd—AP A discarded bra lies on the ground outside an informal bar that allegedly employed sex workers after a government raid in La Pampa, Peru, on May 16, 2014.

Argues that laws that stigmatize sex workers violate human rights

In a landmark decision Tuesday, Amnesty International voted to recommend the full decriminalization of sex work and prostitution in order to protect the human rights of sex workers.

The resolution recommends a policy that would decriminalize all aspects of adult, consensual sex work, while still classifying coercion into sex work or having sex with a minor as a major human rights violation. The resolution is intended to protect adult sex workers from stigma and abuse by decriminalizing aspects of sex work including buying sex, pimping and operating a brothel.

“Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups in the world who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse,” said Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty in a statement. “Our global movement paved the way for adopting a policy for the protection of the human rights of sex workers which will help shape Amnesty International’s future work on this important issue.”

Amnesty International doesn’t have the power to make or enforce laws, but as an international human rights organization Amnesty has been influential on some issues like lobbying against the death penalty and getting political prisoners released.

Amnesty says the new policy on sex work was based on research from the World Health Organization, UNAIDS and UN Women.

But some are not happy with the idea of decriminalizing all aspects of the sex trade, arguing that the move would expand the sex industry, and sex trafficking would grow with it. Critics agree with Amnesty that sex workers themselves shouldn’t face legal consequences, but argue that pimps and sex buyers should.

“By calling for the decriminalization of all facets of commercial sex, including sex- buying, pimping, and brothel-owning, Amnesty is saying they value the rights of exploiters over the exploited,” says Ian Kitterman, policy specialist for Demand Abolition, a group that aims to abolish sex trafficking by ending the demand for paid sex, in a statement. “I fully agree with their belief that more must be done to protect those sold in the sex trade, but it’s equally critical to hold accountable sex buyers, pimps, and traffickers who perpetuate this predatory industry.” He added that many people in sex trade are not there by choice, but by manipulation, coercion or lack of options.

Former President Jimmy Carter sent Amnesty delegates a personal letter urging them to reject the proposal on these grounds, and feminists including Lena Dunham, Meryl Streep and Gloria Steinem signed a letter to the same effect.

TIME Foreign Policy

U.S. Removes Cuba, Malaysia From Human Trafficking List

US-TRAFFICKING-PEOPLE-RIGHTS
Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during the release of the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report" on July 27, 2015 at the State Department in Washington, DC.

An estimated 20 million people worldwide are working under forced and illegal conditions

The U.S. State Department removed Cuba and Malaysia from its human trafficking blacklist on Monday as part of an annual update to its contentious Trafficking in Persons report.

The 2015 report separates 188 nations into three tiers based on their efforts to combat human trafficking. The lowest tier nations face the threat of diplomatic repercussions at the discretion of the U.S. President. Cuba and Malaysia’s ratings were watched closely this year in light of both nations’ growing economic ties with the U.S.

Human rights activists warned that a premature upgrade would hint at political favoritism and damage efforts to hold governments accountable. An estimated 20 million people worldwide are believed to be victims of human trafficking, working in industries ranging from the sex trade to fishing and mining.

TIME Thailand

Courtroom at Koh Tao Backpacker Murder Trial Hears of More Thai Police Blunders

Police admit that key CCTV cameras were not checked

Police investigating the murder of a pair of British backpackers on an idyllic Thai beach have revealed that they didn’t check key CCTV cameras — the latest troubling admission in a case deemed an acid test for Thailand’s justice system.

Burmese migrant workers Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin, both 22, are currently on trial for the murder of David Miller, 24, and the rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, on the Thai Gulf island of Koh Tao.

The tourists’ bodies were discovered on Sept. 15 last year by rocks on Koh Tao’s popular Sairee Beach.

Both defendants deny the allegations, claiming they are scapegoats who were tortured into confessing by police seeking to safeguard the coral-fringed island’s vital tourism industry. Police deny any mistreatment.

Human-rights groups have also raised concerns that the defendants are being railroaded because of their vulnerable status as migrant workers.

Friday marked two-thirds of the way through the 18-day trial, which is split into three equal parts on Koh Tao’s neighboring island of Koh Samui, and proceedings so far have offered little to suggest that Thailand’s reputation for fumbling justice is undeserved.

On Wednesday, Police Colonel Cherdpong Chiewpreecha told the court that nobody examined CCTV footage of a boat leaving the island around an hour after the presumed time of the murders. “We have the footage, but we never checked it,” he said, according to Sky News.

Cherdpong also conceded that officers never investigated rumors of an altercation between Witheridge and a young Thai man in the AC Bar, a late-night drinking hole where both she and Miller were last seen prior to the discovery of their bodies. The defense maintains this same man may have committed the crime before fleeing the island on the boat.

Additionally, no fingerprints or DNA tests were performed on the suspected murder weapons — a wooden club and garden hoe found near the bodies — as investigators did not believe such tests would be useful following a cursory examination of the objects with a magnifying glass. (The items of evidence were brought into court in a supermarket shopping trolley, reports the Guardian.)

The revelations were met by gasps in the courtroom, where both representatives of the victims’ and defendants’ families were present. The prosecution case hinges on DNA samples from the defendants that purportedly match those retrieved from Witheridge’s corpse.

On Friday, the bench finally permitted defense lawyers to request independent retesting of all DNA evidence. However, police have already said that key DNA evidence collected from the victims had been “used up.”

Given that Thailand welcomes 25 million tourists each year, the case has unfurled in the full media glare, with foreign press outnumbering domestic. Coverage has still been spotty, though, not least because, as is common in Thailand, reporters have been barred from taking notes inside the courtroom.

According to Andrew Drummond, a British journalist who covered court cases in Thailand for 25 years, this is because any “note-taking will invariably differ with the official version.” However, in Thailand the judge takes the notes himself rather than using a designated court transcriber. “The system is open to all sorts of abuse and misuse,” adds Drummond.

Several international media outlets have also complained of being unable to find translators as prospective candidates have been scared off by local thugs, adding weight to the theory that the murders have a criminal connection.

During the initial six-day segment of the trial, a Burmese man was brought in to act as court translator. However, the defendants protested, alleging he was among those who assaulted them during interrogation. Zaw Lin said the translator was present when police “put the bags on us and punched us,” reported the Bangkok Post. “I remember his voice.”

The translator was finally dismissed after the defense complained that he was also included on the prosecution’s list of witnesses. (He declined to comment on the allegations of abuse when contacted by TIME prior to the trial.)

Fears of mistreatment were not eased when the defendants complained that they were forced to sleep in their shackles following an earlier court appearance, as no official was around to remove the chains.

“The police are terrible and unjust,” Wai Phyo told TIME in Koh Samui Prison prior to the trial. “And the judge will just act to try and protect his country.”

NOW READ: This Septic Isle: Backpackers, Bloodshed and the Secretive World of Koh Tao

TIME Singapore

Exclusive: Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong Speaks Candidly with TIME

Lee Hsien Loong
Terence Tan—AP Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addresses the nation about the passing of his father, Singapore's founder Lee Kuan Yew, during a live broadcast on Monday, March 23, 2015, in Singapore

On Aug. 9, 1965, Singapore became an independent state. A half-century of unparalleled prosperity later, this Asian trading hub faces very different challenges

As Singapore gears up to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its independence, the city-state once dismissed as a “little red dot” at the midpoint of regional maps now serves as the epicenter of Asian-style development. By combining Confucian values with state-sponsored capitalism, Singapore in little more than a generation moved “from third world to first,” as a memoir of founding father Lee Kuan Yew puts it.

In truth, Singapore — a mix of majority Chinese and smaller Malay and Indian communities — wasn’t quite as backward upon independence as its boosters claim. The city-state’s economic development was unmatched by individual political liberties. The nanny state admirably manicured Singapore but it had little patience for dissonant voices. Still, as TIME’s anniversary special on Singapore reports in this week’s magazine, the “little red dot” claims outsized geopolitical influence in the region and is a magnet for migrants worldwide.

“You don’t always agree with your parents, but I never had long hair or wore bell-bottoms”The rapid influx of foreigners into Singapore, though, has frustrated the electorate, which punished the ruling People’s Action Party in 2011 polls. (The party, now headed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew’s son, still garnered a majority of votes.) The government was trying to make up for a precipitous decline in Singaporean fertility by importing more than 1 million people into a nation that now has a current population of roughly 5.5 million. Yet there was a sense that the flood of foreigners, particularly mainland Chinese, was straining the city-state’s much-vaunted public works, pushing up property prices and diluting the national character. “We are all sons and daughters of immigrants,” says Manu Bhaskaran, an economist whose forebears came from southern India. “But this immigration policy has made us addicted to cheap labor, and it was done without providing enough infrastructure to cope.”

Over the centuries Singapore has proven a master of reinvention. As a British colony, the island grew rich from a trade in rubber and tin. After independence, the country’s port — now the world’s second-largest by certain measures — again proved invaluable as a waystation for the products being churned out by East Asia’s export-led economies. To move up the value-added chain, Singapore also began focusing on developing its own oil-refining and IT industries, as well as luring foreign banks and other global companies to its shores. The city-state has reclaimed acres of land to provide space for the regional headquarters of these multinationals, as well as for a casino meant to lure deep-pocketed Chinese tourists.

Singapore’s latest round of reinvention will require the island to yet again leverage its geography, at a time when tensions are growing between the U.S. and China — both friends to the city-state. But Singapore’s greatest feat at age 50 will be to unleash the potential of its biggest asset: its people. Highly educated and boasting some of the world’s highest per-capita incomes, Singaporeans may no longer be quite so obedient. If the nation is to fulfill its ambition to transform into an innovation hub, perhaps that’s just as well. The question is whether the ruling party, the longest serving in the developed world, also sees it that way. On July 10, TIME spoke with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong about the nation at the half-century mark, his reading of regional geopolitics and whether the son of Singapore’s founding father was ever a rebellious teenager. Excerpts below:

What is the single-biggest challenge Singapore faces?

If you are looking at 10 years, getting the economy to the next level is a very big challenge. If we don’t get to the next level then we will have malaise and angst and even disillusionment, which you see in many developed countries. And in 25 years, if we can’t get our demography balance between our births and immigration of foreign workers, then we will be in a very tight spot like the Japanese are. If you take a 50-year timeframe, then the most important thing is the sense of national identity, because before you can make any policies and get people to say “I want to do this or the other,” people must feel that we are Singaporeans and we want to be together and we are different from others and we are special. Keeping that sense of unity and specialness over the long term is critical.

What do you mean by the next economic level?

We are at 30% students going through our universities and we are going to push that up to 40%. A lot of people go to university outside of our state system — they may do part-time courses, they go to Australia or Britain, all kinds of degrees. When they come back they expect to have PMET jobs — Professional, Managers, Executives, Technical. [We need] an economy that can generate that quality of jobs and uplift those who didn’t go to university so you don’t have a wide gap between the tertiary-educated and the rest, which has happened in America where a college degree now makes a big difference compared to a high-school leaver. You cannot do that without growth and you cannot get growth just by expansion with bodies because I don’t have that many more bodies and I can’t bring in a lot more bodies without bursting at the seams. So I need qualitatively different jobs, qualitatively a more efficient overall economy. My infrastructure must run brilliantly. My whole system must be different from what you can get anywhere else in Asia. The others are catching up. So even as the others step into where we are, we have to be at the next level.

People overseas talk a lot about the Singapore model of development…

I don’t think there is a model but there is an approach that we have applied in Singapore. A government that is pragmatic—it looks for solutions that work, rather than starting out from any ideological presumptions. It depends to a considerable degree on the free market because markets make economies efficient. But at the same time, the government is not shy to play a very active role — in public housing, education, healthcare, infrastructure. You are talking about a society and a political system where we are trying to work toward a middle ground rather than division between economic interest groups or racial groups or rich and poor or left- and right-wing. Basically most people benefit from the system and uphold the system … We have come these 50 years and we have kept our mission substantially intact. That’s quite an achievement.

Can this Singapore approach be emulated by other countries?

What we can do in Singapore may not be doable elsewhere. Some things you know you need, you want efficient government, you want clean government, you want to do away with corruption, you must educate your people. You want to get housing and so on. All these are not such secrets, not so special to Singapore. But how you can do it is very difficult and very different. For example, we have worked very hard to bring together our government, our unions and our employers. We call it a tripartite relationship. It’s a bit of an ungainly term, but it means something valuable to us. We bargain, we discuss, in the end there is a significant amount of give-and-take and mutual confidence and trust built up over many bargainings and many experiences shared — ups and downs. And so, we have the trust to move forward.

Moving forward, the Singapore approach naturally will evolve. How do you see that change happening?

When we started out, backs were to the wall. Today, our backs are not to the wall, so it does not appear to be a life-and-death matter and yet, in fact, it continues to be an act of will to be where we are. The tactics we were able to use in the 1960s, 1970s — let’s have a campaign, mobilize everybody and, therefore, social pressure — stop littering, or stop spitting, or be courteous to one another: I am not sure that kind of approach will work anymore. Secondly, there are more interests and preoccupations. If you look at the young people today, they are passionate about all kinds of courses. We have dog-lovers, nature-lovers, those who are pursuing arts, we have quite many who are involved in religious activities through their church. Even the Buddhist groups are active. So there is a much more variegated society and to find that common ground to stand together and make unity in diversity more than a slogan; that’s quite a challenge. The conventional wisdom in the West is that you let a hundred flowers bloom and everything will be happiness and sweetness and light. We don’t quite believe that. You have to tend the garden to make it flower and the challenge will be how we can do that while having a greater degree of free play and yet not have things end up in a bad outcome.

You have said that the politics will change. But the government has also been criticized for being paternalistic, for stressing society and family over the individual…

That’s the standard liberal line.

It is. You say you are aware of the changing needs and aspirations particularly of the youth. At the same time, very recently, the courts have convicted a 16-year-old for a video and a blogger for a post. How do you reconcile this?

There is always a balance between freedom and the rule of law; freedom is never totally unlimited. It operates within certain constraints. In our society, which is multiracial and multi-religious, giving offense to another religious or ethnic group, race, language or religion, is always a very serious matter. In this case, he’s a 16-year-old, so you have to deal with it appropriately because he’s of a young age. But even in the recent couple of years, we have seen many cases where one Internet post injudiciously can overnight cause a humongous row, everybody gets offended because they said something bad about Christians, said something about the Buddhists, some Chinese said something about the Malays. It can be a very big problem. So we have to take this seriously. With the Internet, it’s harder because it’s easier to give offense and easier to take offense and if we get agitated every time somebody gives offense, then we’ll spend our lives very agitated. And yet, it is necessary with the Internet to be more restrained and to learn where the limits are.

On the other case of defamation, you have freedom of speech, you can criticize the government as much as you like on policy, on substance, on competence. But if you make a defamatory allegation that the Prime Minister is guilty of criminal misappropriation of pension funds of Singaporeans, that’s a very serious matter. If it’s true, the Prime Minister should be charged and jailed. If it’s not true, the matter must be clarified and the best way to do that is by settling in court. If it’s untrue, it will be shown so. If it’s true, the Prime Minster will be destroyed. Somebody says very bad things about me, I don’t clear my name — do I deserve to be here or not? In an Asian society, particularly, if the leader can’t maintain his standing, he doesn’t deserve to be there. He will soon be gone.

You’ve got a big immigrant population that has helped the economy, that has probably enriched society, but that has also created resentment. How do you strike a balance between the local and immigrant population? What are the pitfalls of too much immigration?

It’s a big challenge, it’s very difficult to do. Ideally, no, not only ideally, but essentially, we must have a Singapore core in the society because if you don’t have that Singapore core, you can top up the numbers, but you are no longer Singapore. It doesn’t feel Singapore, it isn’t Singapore. So you really need a solid core of Singaporeans with quite deep roots here, born here or spent many years here and you need enough children born from Singaporeans here, Singaporean-born so that in the next generation it can continue and people know the society, do National Service here, school, work and so on. And then we can top up with immigrants in a controlled number. We can complement it with foreign workers who are not immigrants but come here, they work, their job is done, they go home.

Yet you have been quite successful in forging a national identity…

It is not so simple. If you are Japanese, there’s no doubt that you’re Japanese, you speak Japanese, you speak English with an accent most of the time and you will feel most comfortable in Japan. If you’ve grown up elsewhere as a Japanese, you go home, it doesn’t fit. Many Japanese diplomats have that problem with their children … In Singapore, we have race, language and religion to add to the mix. Language may be less, although the language identity of the Malays, or for that matter, of the Indians, will still be there and of a significant proportion of the Chinese population, that they want to keep that part of them even if their working language is English. The religion is a stronger motivator than ever before. It’s not just in Singapore, but all over the word, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, people take their religions very, very seriously. You can have other divisions. It can be values — LGBT issues can become a divisive issue. It can be based on ethnic and external relations. We are mostly Chinese, China becomes a great power, what is the impact on our people’s thinking and perspectives on the world and how does that impact on the Malays and the Indians who are non-Chinese? How will they feel if you find yourself tilted toward China? Will that not cause tensions at least? Divisions, we hope not. You cannot assume that people will automatically say “I am a Singaporean” and there’s no further sub-division or sub-classification that matters.

Could a non-Chinese be Prime Minister?

It could be, it depends on the person. You must have the right person — you must have the politics worked out, you must be able to connect both with the Chinese as well as the non-Chinese population. With the new generation, the chances are better. With the present generation, even today, if you go to the constituencies and you talk on the ground, you mingle, most of the time you would be speaking some Chinese. Even with the younger ones, a significant proportion of them would be more comfortable speaking in Mandarin because that’s their home conversational language. I have young people who write to me in Chinese. I am quite surprised, but they still exist. So, on the ground, if you cannot communicate in Mandarin and if they feel you cannot communicate in Mandarin, that’s a minus. That’s the ground reality.

You mentioned the increase in religiosity not just in Singapore but also in the rest of the world. What are the ramifications?

You could say it’s because of the stresses of modern living. You could also say it’s because these are global trends that have grown elsewhere and our people are influenced by that. If you look at our Christian churches, the Protestants particularly, they have very close links with Protestant churches elsewhere in America, even in Africa. And if you look at the Muslims, that’s worldwide. Maybe it’s Saudi Arabia, maybe it’s Iran, maybe it’s the madrassahs in Pakistan, but it’s worldwide, it’s a very, very strong Muslim revival.

Overall, religion is a good thing. If we were a godless society, we would have many other problems. Religion is a good thing provided we are able to bridge the differences between our different faiths, provided there’s give-and-take, provided we are able to get along together and not offend one another by aggressive proselytization, by denigrating other faiths, by being separate and, therefore, having suspicions of one another, which can easily happen. So you have to make an extra effort to develop that trust and to work together, which we have been doing.

Islam — you have an extra dimension because of the…

Because of the jihadist problem.

There’s a growing militancy in the Middle East and many of your neighbors are either Muslim-majority or have sizable Muslim populations. There have been cases of Indonesians, also Malaysians, going to fight for ISIS…

Singaporeans too.

So do you worry about a jihadist foothold in Southeast Asia?

We are very concerned about the jihadist terrorist threat. We had to take it very, very seriously since around 9/11 when we first discovered the Jemaah Islamiyah [JI] group here, which was intending to set off six or seven truck bombs and had got quite far advanced before we intervened and broke them up. The problem is endemic in the region. The Malaysians are having people getting converted and going and they’ve just arrested another couple of people. The Indonesians have hundreds who have gone and they are not just fighters going but families migrating to live under an ideal Islamic caliphate and they come back and when they come back, they are a problem. The ISIS objective is to set up a wilayat — a province of the worldwide Islamic caliphate — in Southeast Asia. I think that’s ridiculous. But there are a lot of corners of Southeast Asia where the government doesn’t run very strongly — in southern Thailand, southern Philippines, corners of Indonesia — and it’s not so far-fetched if they establish a foothold in one of these areas, as JI had a foothold in the southern Philippines. And if they have a little base there, you have a training camp there and then you claim that you are master of some territory and then people start to make their way there — that’s a different level of threat.

You can control within your own borders. But are you satisfied with the efforts made by neighboring governments to combat this potential threat?

We can control within our borders as long as we know we have information. We cooperate with our neighbors, we cooperate with other governments and security agencies, they share their information with us and us with them, and it’s very helpful. But when somebody radicalizes himself, we may not know because there is no network, there’s no trail. It’s between him and his computer and some video on the other end, or perhaps a contact he has established on the other end. If we are lucky, we may find out. If we are not lucky, well, he can get quite far. That’s a problem. Our neighbors have a much harder problem because they are much bigger countries. One police chief of one of my neighbors came to visit Singapore and we had a conference and he said to me, our difficulty is that 90% of our population is Muslim. And, therefore, it is very difficult for them to act against the terrorists without antagonizing the 90% who are Muslims. Not that the 90% of Muslims are terrorists, but how do you winkle this part out without causing collateral damage and political difficulty?

Lee Kuan Yew once told us that what China’s leaders called their nation’s “peaceful rise” was a contradiction in terms. Since then, China has become even more powerful and influential. Is the Chinese leadership overreaching? Is it, through its growing power, growing might, alienating its neighbors? Is it forfeiting its goodwill?

Every year the Chinese Premier attends the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting. He comes with a very carefully thought-out set of things which he wants to do with ASEAN and he makes sure that there’s a little Christmas present for everybody and everybody sees that this is a relationship from which they can benefit. So the Chinese want their neighbors to be their friends. At the same time, on something like the South China Sea, they want their interests to prevail. [But] if they push too hard, there’ll be a pushback and even if you can’t resist the pressure because one country is big and the other is small, over the long term dominance based on just overwhelming power is not really an adequate basis for influence, much less soft power.

In the case of South China Sea, you do not have a claim…

We don’t have a claim, but we have an interest in seeing it managed and settled peacefully and in accordance to international law and UNCLOS [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea]; we also have an interest in freedom of navigation and overflight.

So what are you telling the Chinese?

We’re telling the Chinese that you have your rights, you are entitled to assert your rights, but at the same time, you have to look at the broader relationship and calculate that how you handle the South China Sea issue will be seen as one marker of how a powerful China will assert its place in the world.

Do they get it?

I do not know, but I’ve said that to them … There’s some internal dynamics involved. The PLA [People’s Liberation Army] will have a harder line; it is influential in their deliberations. I don’t know where in their system a soft line will come, but I think the Chinese population, if you ask them instinctively, I don’t think their instincts would be to say “let’s take a gentle approach because this will help us be seen as a benign panda.” I think that’s the mood in China now because the country has done well, it has prospered, it’s stronger, it has got an aircraft carrier. They think it’s time to stand up and assert their rights. They have been humiliated for too long.

The building, the expansion of reefs into full-fledged islands — what does that do to the delicate balance?

It’s creating facts on the ground.

You have spoken in Beijing about the need not to underestimate the U.S, not to overestimate the U.S. decline. Does China understand that?

The Chinese understand that it would be very many years before they can catch up to the Americans in terms of level of technology or science or defense. But they may think that with American elections coming and the administration approaching its last phase, that there’s a window of opportunity when the Americans are distracted elsewhere, that they will have greater freedom of maneuver. These are tactical calculations.

And what advice are you giving the Americans about what they should be doing in Asia and how committed they should be?

You have a lot of friends here, you have a lot of investments here, you have a lot of interests here and it’s foolish of you not to look to them. When you make decisions, you have to think about that, and not just your congressional district.

Do you get heat from Beijing that Singapore is too pro-U.S. or reflects too much the American point of view?

Every country would like their friends to stand closer to them on policies and issues, but I think they understand the reason why we take the stand we do. As a small country, we have to have our own independent stand, otherwise nobody will take us seriously.

You’ve talked a lot about the philosophy and character of Singapore. So much of that was shaped by Lee Kuan Yew. How much of your own thinking on politics, culture, world affairs, life itself, is influenced by him?

A great deal. I mean, he’s my father, I grew up learning from him, I worked under him when he was Prime Minister, with him in the Cabinet these last 30 years until he died. So it’s bound to be a very deep influence. Yet at the same time, it’s a different world and he knew that and he was very good at preparing for Singapore to move on and not be stuck in the Lee Kuan Yew mode. Only very rarely did he assert a strong view and asked us to please rethink something. But otherwise, he allowed an evolution to take place so that Singapore would carry on beyond him. And if you watch what happened when he died, we had an enormous outpouring of sorrow, but Singapore carried on. The stock market didn’t crash, investors didn’t panic, confidence was maintained.

Were you a rebellious teenager?

In my generation we didn’t think in those terms. You don’t always agree with your parents, but I never had long hair or wore bell-bottoms.

Besides Lee Kuan Yew, when you look at the pantheon of world leaders, both current and past, who are the other great men and women whom you admired?

Lula [Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva] in Brazil was remarkable — very little education, left-wing firebrand, mobilized a nation, became President and was able to not only to get people to support him, but actually pursue very sensible policies that promoted growth and development and improve people’s lives. He was able to make that transition from being a firebrand and a revolutionary to somebody who can cause growth and development. I thought it was remarkable. I met him and I was very impressed. Then you look at Angela Merkel; she’s a very careful politician. She’s got many constraints, but she’s well-established in her home base and deeply respected outside of Germany and not only in Europe. And if you talk to her, I mean, she’s not somebody aloof and overbearing. Very personable frau, but a very capable and steady woman. She will not cause a revolution, but she knows what she needs to do as Bundeskanzler [Chancellor of Germany].

You’ve mentioned two leaders from liberal democratic nations.

I only met King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia once and he was already in his late 80s. I was quite impressed because you think of this as a society where people scrape and bow and I’ve seen some other Arab monarchs where people literally scrape and bow and prostate themselves. But I called on him and he had his ministers in attendance and we had a conversation, him with me and then he brought the ministers into the conversation. I watched them, and the ministers addressed him, at most primus inter pares. It was a very easy, confident, relaxed relationship. There’s a conversation, there’s a respectful response. He made reforms within what’s possible in the society. To do that at the age of 80-something, that’s not easy.

What is your sense of Xi Jinping?

I have met him quite a number of times. I have chatted with him before he became President and then even after, called on him, just talked to him sometimes over dinner. He masters his brief, he knows what he wants, and he will discuss many things with you. When people think of a Communist country with a leader, you will think of somebody like Brezhnev or Tito. [Xi] is not like that. He’s not a pushover at all. He knows what he wants, and there is a curiosity about the world.

READ MORE: Singapore’s Next Story

TIME North Korea

North Korea Has Banned Foreign Envoys From Having Media Critical of Kim Jong Un

South Korea Korean War Anniversary
Lee Jin-man—AP An effigy of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set up by South Korean conservative activists in Seoul on June 25, 2015, during a rally against the North to mark the 65th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War

But isn't that pretty much everything?

Foreign diplomats are no longer allowed to keep content critical of the North Korean regime or supreme leader Kim Jong Un, according to a new ordinance.

Anything considered slanderous to the Hermit Kingdom or Kim, which could include photographs, movies, literature or files saved on phones or computers, can no longer be kept by foreign embassies or international organizations in the capital Pyongyang, reports UPI.

The U.K. has decried the ban as a violation of international standards of human rights. The ordinance, issued June 26, comes on the heels of a U.K. Foreign Office report on human rights and democracy, which classified North Korea as a “human-rights concern” for reasons including its limits on freedom of expression.

North Korea has a long history of censorship and is considered one of the world’s most repressive regimes. Late last year, U.S. envoy to the U.N. Samantha Power accused Pyongyang of the cyberattack on Sony Pictures, apparently in retaliation for the release of the studio’s The Interview, a movie parodying Kim and the regime.

Compared with the general population, diplomats live in relative comfort. But the ban is another in a long list of inconveniences, which includes frequent blackouts due to power shortages.

[UPI]

TIME China

Alleged Confessions From Detained Chinese Lawyers Prompt Fears of an Unfair Trial

China Crackdown on Lawyers
Mark Schiefelbein—AP A delivery cart and cyclist ride past a building housing the Fengrui Law Firm in Beijing on July 17, 2015

Experts say such admissions are often extracted under torture or duress

Concerns that several activists and human-rights lawyers detained by China may not be given a fair trial have mounted following the publication of their apparent confessions in Chinese state media on Sunday.

The state-run People’s Daily newspaper said Zhou Shifeng, director of the Beijing-based Fengrui Law Firm, which was the government’s primary target, admitted in custody that the firm was engaged in “criminal activities,” the South China Morning Post reported.

“I condoned and encouraged these unlawful activities … and these have an impact on social stability,” Zhou allegedly told his interrogators. “I have unshirkable responsibilities.”

Zhou is among 14 human-rights lawyers and advocates that remain in custody, after more than 200 were swept up in a sudden crackdown last week. Six others are missing.

The Chinese government accused the detainees of conspiring with “a major criminal gang” in order to “draw attention to sensitive cases, seriously disturbing social order.”

Editorials in various Chinese dailies slammed the “radical lawyers” on Monday; the People’s Daily said that “the confessions of several of the [lawyers] outline how they abused their influence to hype a legal case into a public or mass incident.”

However, legal analysts and experts said these confessions are often extracted under coercion and torture. William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International, told the Post he was concerned the detainees had been forced to confess.

Whether forced or not, Nee added that the confessions, coupled with the Chinese media’s portrayal of the lawyers as criminals, “calls into question whether they can get fair trials.”

TIME China

China Arrested More Than 100 Human-Rights Lawyers and Activists Over the Weekend

State media framed the move as a crackdown on a "major criminal gang"

Chinese law-enforcement officials detained more than a hundred lawyers and political activists over the weekend in what appears to be a state crackdown on amplifying public dissent in the country.

State media outlets have framed the mass arrests as an effort to “smash a major criminal gang” that had supposedly manipulated a Beijing law firm to “draw attention to sensitive cases, seriously disturbing social order,” the South China Morning Post reported on Monday morning local time.

One of the first lawyers arrested was Wang Yu, a prominent Beijing civil rights attorney. She went missing early Thursday morning after she returned home from dropping her family at the airport to find her electricity and wi-fi shut off.

“Everyone knows that they have detained Wang Yu because she is an outstanding example of … a human-rights lawyer in China,” attorney Chen Jianggang told Radio Free Asia.

Wang is an attorney at Beijing Fengrui law firm, which appears to be the focal target of the police. Also among the detained is Fengrui lawyer Zhou Shifeng, former counsel to the journalist Zhang Miao, who was imprisoned for nearly nine months after covering Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement for Die Zeit.

The Post reports that as of Monday morning, police had released 82 of the 106 detainees, though several attorneys were rearrested.

TIME Thailand

Thailand Defends Its Decision to Forcibly Return Uighur Migrants to China

The move has been condemned by the U.N., Washington and human-rights groups

Thailand’s junta government has defended the forcible return of more than 100 Uighur migrants to China despite their fears of persecution.

“Thailand has worked with China and Turkey to solve the Uighur Muslim problem,” Colonel Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, deputy spokesman for the Thai government, told reporters Thursday. “We have sent them back to China after verifying their nationality.”

The move has been condemned by the U.N., Washington and human-rights groups, and led to violent scenes in Turkey when pro-Uighur protesters attacked the Thai consulate in Istanbul with clubs and rocks.

Uighurs are a Muslim minority in China’s far-western region of Xinjiang, but they are ethnically, culturally and geographically closer to the Turkic peoples of Central Asia than to the Han — China’s dominant ethnic group. Thousands have fled the escalating violence and perceived abuses in Xinjiang in recent years.

Despite hosting hundreds of thousands of displaced people, mainly from Burma, within its borders, Thailand has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and still does not have functioning asylum procedures.

The 109 Uighurs returned Wednesday “self-identified as Turks, expressed fear of being sent to China and expressed the strong desire to go to Turkey,” Vivian Tan, Bangkok-based spokesperson for the U.N. refugee agency, tells TIME. Their forced return “violates international law,” she adds, notably prohibitions on “sending people back to a place where their lives and freedoms could be in danger.”

Washington echoed U.N. concerns about the deportations. “We strongly urge the government of Thailand, and other governments in countries where Uighurs have taken refuge, not to carry out further forced deportations of ethnic Uighurs,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

The reaction in Turkey was particularly fierce. Late last month, Thailand won approval in Turkey — but a stern rebuke from Beijing — by sending a group of 170 Uighurs there. Bangkok’s decision to send the present batch of Uighurs to Beijing is seen as kowtowing to the Chinese leadership, which is extremely sensitive to the Uighur issue.

“The international community needs to take a firm stand to guarantee the rights of Uighur refugees,” said Alim Seytoff, president of the Uyghur American Association, in a statement. “Governments and multilateral agencies must not permit China to disregard international human rights norms.”

Xinjiang is rich in natural resources, boasting China’s largest deposits of oil, natural gas and coal. It is also comparatively underdeveloped and sparsely populated, with its wide open spaces a tempting prospect to settlers from the rest of densely populated China.

An influx of Han Chinese has raised overall living standards, says Beijing, though Uighurs claim of marginalization and the erosion of their traditional culture. During the current Islamic holy month of Ramadan, for example, all students and state employees, among them many Muslim Uighurs, were forbidden from fasting.

Such grievances have spurred an insurgency, often targeting Chinese civilians (as was the case in March 2014, when 29 were killed during a bloody knife attack at Kunming’s train station in western China’s Yunnan province). Many Turks see themselves as having a cultural and spiritual bond with the Uighurs, and the unrest has strained relations with Beijing. The attack on the Thai consulate was preceded by fierce protests outside the Chinese consulate and badgering of Chinese tourists in Istanbul.

Thailand’s junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha warned Thursday that “we might temporarily have to close the embassy in Turkey” should the situation deteriorate. As Thailand currently holds another 50 Uighur migrants while “their nationalities are verified,” this fear is very real. Thai authorities must weigh Beijing’s ire, their international responsibilities and another backlash from Turkey. However, owing to close socioeconomic ties — China is Thailand’s second biggest trading partner — Beijing no doubt remains favorites in this ethnic tug of war.

TIME Thailand

Thai Junta Bans Launch of Vietnamese Rights Report Ahead of State Visit

The report's authors accuse the junta of "choosing to side with dictatorships"

Authorities in Bangkok abruptly canceled a press conference Friday during which a report on the plight of indigenous communities in central Vietnam was due to be launched.

The meeting, called to launch Persecuting ‘Evil Way’ Religion: Abuses Against Montagnards in Vietnam, a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), was deemed too “sensitive” to take place at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, Department of Information director general Sek Wannamethee told HRW, according to the rights group.

While many meetings to discuss the political situation in Thailand have been nixed, this is the first time a discussion of another country has been deemed too controversial. The decision, many believe, is because Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung is due to visit Thailand soon.

“This action today is just the latest indication that Thailand is choosing to side with dictatorships in ASEAN while further stepping up repression at home,” HRW said in a statement Friday.

The incident is the latest curbing of freedoms since Thailand’s military chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha seized power in a May 22, 2014, coup d’état and installed himself as Prime Minister. Hundreds of academics, journalists and activist have been summoned and arbitrarily detained for criticizing military rule. Even cryptic expressions of dissent such as publicly reading George Orwell’s 1984, or flashing the three-fingered salute from The Hunger Games, have been outlawed.

The relationship between Thailand’s military and press has also become more fractious. Winthai Suvaree, a spokesman the National Council for Peace and Order, as the junta euphemistically christened itself, revealed this week that 200 local and foreign journalists would be summoned to “create understanding” and be given instructions on how to “ask questions” that will not offend Prayuth, who is notoriously touchy. The 61-year-old despot went on a bizarre rant earlier this week, in which he seemed to accuse the entire media industry of a conspiracy against him.

“I am not angry at you, reporters, because I know that you were ordered to do this. If you write well, they won’t publish your stories,” he said, according to the English-language service of the Thai newspaper Khaosod. “We are working to fix everything, but the media keeps writing that I have not done any work at all, that I haven’t passed any reforms at all. I am sad, too. I am sad to be born in this country.”

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