TIME Burma

Burmese President Removes Party Chief in Major Purge Before Landmark Elections

Shwe Mann
Aung Shine Oo—AP In this Wednesday, Aug 12, 2015, photo, Burma's Parliament speaker Shwe Mann leaves after a press conference at the Union Solidarity and Development Party headquarters in Naypyitaw.

It's the greatest shake-up in the ruling party since the end of military dictatorship in 2011

The head of Burma’s military-backed ruling party has been removed from his position, in what appears to be a purge of a key political rival by President Thein Sein before new elections slated for Nov. 8.

Former general Shwe Mann was considered one of the three most powerful figures in the Southeast Asian nation’s nominally civilian government, and also served as speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, a post he seems to have retained for the time being.

Confirmation of his ousting came after a phalanx of security personnel were seen entering the headquarters of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and Thein Sein announced he was calling an emergency meeting.

“As far as I know, no arrests have been made,” Zaw Htay, the director of the President’s Office, told the Thailand-based Democratic Voice of Burma—a nonprofit media organization that reports on Burma (formally known as Myanmar) and its rulers. “What I do know is that the president has transferred the position of joint-chairmanship [of the party] to U Htay Oo.”

Shwe Mann is considered one of the most reform-minded members of Burma’s former ruling junta, and even made conciliatory overtures to democracy icon and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, who currently heads the main opposition National League for Democracy party.

It is believed that Shwe Mann’s willingness to form ties with Suu Kyi irked many hardline and conservative figures in the USDP, as well as former dictator Senior-General Than Shwe, who, despite his retirement, is known to keep a keen eye on political developments amid the impoverished nation’s reemergence from a half-century of military rule.

However, there were signs that the relationship between Shwe Mann and Suu Kyi had soured following the government’s decision not to amend constitutional provisions that barred Suu Kyi from becoming president, owing to her marriage to a foreign national and sons who hold foreign citizenship.

This has led to speculation that the current upheaval, by far the most significant to shake the USDP since the junta ceded power to a nominally civilian government in 2011, was sparked by a leadership battle. Shwe Mann has been a presidential hopeful in the past, Reuters reports, but despite Thein Sein earlier insisting that he wouldn’t serve a second term, the president now appears to want to remain in office.

Shwe Mann’s removal is just the latest turmoil to roil the USDP in recent days, after two leading figures reportedly quit the party as they were apparently refused “safe seats” in the upcoming polls. Aung Min, the president’s chief peace negotiator with ethnic rebel groups, and Soe Thein, a former minister for industry who has been hugely influential in spearheading economic reform, will now both reportedly stand as independent candidates.

TIME Thailand

A Top Thai Tattoo Artist Who Said His Tattoos Conferred Invincibility Has Been Murdered

Khachon Cherdchoo was a leading practitioner of sak yant, which associates tattooing with spiritual powers

A tattoo artist who told his customers his work would protect them from harm was fatally gunned down in southern Thailand early Monday morning, a local media outlet reported.

Authorities said that the victim, 40-year-old Khachon Cherdchoo, was a celebrated local practitioner of sak yant, a Southeast Asian custom that ascribes spiritual power to body art.

“He has many disciples and followers,” local police colonel Chalaermwuth Wongwiangchan said. “He has traveled to apply the yant to many celebrities around the country and has also traveled [to meet his customers] abroad.”

Local media reports that the perpetrator shot the artist four times as he walked home in Prachuap Khiri Khan province. Police have arrested three men on suspicion of involvement with the crime, but the assailant remains at large.

What prompted the murder remains unknown, though police said that Khachon had a “dispute” with others in his community.

TIME Malaysia

Malaysia’s Anti-Graft Agency Says the Millions in Prime Minister Najib’s Accounts Are ‘Donations’

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak attends a presentation for government interns at the Prime Minster's office in Putrajaya, Malaysia
Olivia Harris—Reuters Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak attends a presentation for government interns at the Prime Minister's Office in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on July 8, 2015

However, it did not say who donated the funds or what their purpose was

Malaysia’s embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak has been effectively absolved of misconduct in an ongoing corruption scandal, after the country’s anticorruption agency ruled that the almost $700 million found in his personal bank accounts were legitimate “donations.”

However, the agency did not reveal who donated the funds or their purpose.

A Wall Street Journal report early last month alleged that Najib received the funds from 1Malaysia Development Bhd, or 1MBD, a state investment fund set up by his government in 2009 that is currently wallowing in $11 billion of debt.

Najib, who acted as chairman of 1MBD’s board of advisers, and is also Finance Minister, strongly denies any malfeasance and has threatened legal action against the newspaper. The Journal stands by its story.

Some analysts believe that the scandal could bring down the Southeast Asian nation’s government. Najib has been in office since 2009 but some of his strongest erstwhile backers, including longtime former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, have recently withdrawn their support.

Last week, Najib sacked his deputy and Malaysia’s attorney general in an apparent attempt to shore up his beleaguered administration.

TIME Cambodia

This Country Just Made It Legal for Cops to Keep 70% of All the Traffic Fines They Collect

A Cambodian traffic police drives a car
Tang Chhin Sothy—AFP/Getty Images A Cambodian traffic police officer drives a car during a ceremony in Phnom Penh on Feb. 14, 2012

Officials do not foresee a rash of spurious fines being handed out as a consequence

Drivers in Cambodia have a lot to contend with: cavernous potholes, weaving motorcycles kicking up clouds of choking dust and noodle hawkers trundling down the “fast” lane. Now motorists may find their pockets as ravaged as their nerves, after officials announced a fivefold bump in traffic fines and gave permission for issuing officers to keep 70% of all cash collected.

The new rules, coming into force in January, are an attempt to curb corruption, reports the Phnom Penh Post. Currently, traffic cops keep half of much smaller penalties, meaning that many supplement their meager salaries by soliciting bribes.

The current $1.25 official penalty for not wearing a car seat belt, for example, will rise to $6.25, with the officer allowed to keep $4.38. Of the remaining 30%, some 25% will go to the station where the officer is based, with the final 5% sent to the Ministry of Finance.

“We plan to issue an edict in the future to encourage and promote this measure,” Ti Long, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s Public Order Department, said at a press conference on Monday.

Local road-safety analyst Chariya Ear, for one, applauded the move. “It will be a good idea to give more incentives to the officers who are doing their jobs,” he told the Post.

However, not all drivers agree, fearing that, in a nation ranked 156 out of 175 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, officers will hand out spurious punishments to feather their nests.

Phnom Penh resident Gary Morrison, 49, says he already pays traffic fines on a regular basis, ostensibly for “being a foreigner,” even though he has all the correct documentation for his vehicle. “So,” he says sardonically, “it’s nice to know they are encouraging the police to fine me even more.”

TIME Malaysia

5 Reasons Why Obama Should Steer Clear of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak

U.S. President Barack Obama and Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak walk off 18th hole while playing a round of golf at the Clipper Golf course in Hawaii
Hugh Gentry—Reuters U.S. President Barack Obama and Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak walk off 18th hole while playing a round of golf at the Clipper Golf course on Marine Corps Base Hawaii during Obama's Christmas holiday vacation in Kaneohe, Hawaii, on Dec. 24, 2014

Washington is having serious trouble finding dependable allies in Southeast Asia

The U.S.’s “rebalancing” toward Asia has two main pillars: being a counterweight to China and securing a free-trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If Washington is to succeed on both fronts, it needs as many friends in the region as it can win. The U.S.’s newest ally is Malaysia, this year’s chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Nation, collectively a growing market, and, on the surface, a modern, democratic, Muslim country. In April 2014 U.S. President Barack Obama paid an official visit to Malaysia, the first sitting President to do so in decades, and, later in the year, played golf with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak when both were on holiday in Honolulu. This November, Kuala Lumpur will host the next East Asia Summit and Obama is due to attend.

But recently, all the news coming out of Malaysia is negative. After becoming embroiled in a corruption scandal, Najib on Tuesday sacked his deputy and Malaysia’s attorney general in an apparent purge of critics. British Prime Minister David Cameron is facing a domestic backlash for pushing forward with a visit to Kuala Lumpur this week despite the snowballing controversy. Here are five reasons why Obama might want to break from Cameron by giving Najib a wide berth.

  1. 1MDB — A Wall Street Journal report has alleged that Najib’s personal bank accounts received nearly $700 million in March 2013 from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a government-owned development fund. Najib has protested his innocence and threatened legal action against the Journal. “I am not a thief,” Najib told Malaysian media on July 5. “I am not a traitor and will not betray Malaysians.” The police, the local anticorruption agency, the attorney general’s office and the central bank are investigating the allegations. On July 8, the police raided 1MDB’s office in Kuala Lumpur and took away documents. Even before the latest news, 1MDB was an embarrassment for Najib, who chaired the fund’s advisory board as debts of $11.6 billion were accrued. Such are the suspicions of malfeasance that former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who ran the country from 1981 to 2003 and has long been considered Najib’s mentor, has repeatedly called for his protégé’s resignation over 1MDB’s alleged mishandling.
  1. Anwar Ibrahim — Najib’s main political rival is once again in prison for a sodomy conviction. Human Rights Watch deemed his five-year sentence handed down Feb. 10 to be “politically motivated proceedings under an abusive and archaic law.” This is the second time Anwar has been jailed for sodomy.
  1. Hudud — Stoning for adultery and amputation for theft are not the kind of punishments meted out by the progressive state that Malaysia purports to be. Yet Najib’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) is supporting attempts to introduce hudud Islamic law in the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party’s (PAS) heartland state of Kelantan, where nightclubs are forbidden and men and women are designated separate public benches. Why is UMNO supportive of recognizing hudud under federal law? Largely because PAS is part of a three-party Pakatan Rakyat coalition that is UNMO’s chief challenger. The other partners — Anwar’s Keadilan, or People’s Justice Party, supported by middle-class, urban Malays, and the Chinese Malaysian–backed Democratic Action Party (DAP) — are strongly against hudud. Many analysts accuse UMNO of cynically fostering a radical Islamic bent to widen rifts in its political opponents.
  1. Shaariibuugiin Altantuyaa — In 2002, when Najib was Defense Minister, a $1.25 billion contract was signed to purchase two Scorpène submarines from French firm DCNS. Altantuyaa was a Mongolian woman who, knowing French, facilitated negotiations as a translator, and then allegedly attempted to blackmail Abdul Razak Baginda, one of Najib’s aides with whom she was also having an affair, for $500,000 over “commission” payments he had allegedly received. Two policemen posted to Najib’s bodyguard detail were convicted of murdering Altantuyaa on Oct. 18, 2006. Najib denies any involvement.
  1. Prevention of Terrorism Act — Najib campaigned on scrapping the controversial Internal Security Act (ISA) but then immediately replaced it with the equally sweeping Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, or SOSMA. The POTA includes practically the same powers as ISA, including two-year detention without trial, and was dubbed a “legal zombie arising from the grave of the abusive [ISA]” by Human Rights Watch. Najib also vowed to repeal the similarly maligned Sedition Act but reneged after his election in 2013. In fact, in April his government extended the maximum jail term under the Sedition Act from three to 20 years.
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 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.”

TIME Cambodia

Cambodian Orphans Yearn for Answers 40 Years After Fleeing the Khmer Rouge

Young Cambodian child at a hospital in Phnom Penh, in March 1975.
Francoise Demulder—AFP/Getty Images Young Cambodian child at a hospital in Phnom Penh, in March 1975.

A daring orphan lift spared scores from the savage communist clique, but left children with no ties home

Here are the things Miika Thoeun Gove knows about her Cambodian origins: a woman claiming to be her grandmother said she couldn’t take care of her. An orphanage took her in. The U.S. embassy arranged for an airlift to California.

By the time the Khmer Rouge took control of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975, Miika had been safely shuttled out, but her identity remained trapped inside. In Cambodia, Pol Pot’s brutal regime set about systematically dismantling all existing systems — killing an estimated 1.7 million people in pursuit of a harebrained “year zero” agrarian utopia. In the process families, institutions and records were obliterated amid one of the worst genocides of the 20th century. In the U.S., doctors estimated Miika’s age by looking at her teeth; new parents assigned a birth date, they gave her a name.

“I don’t know how it worked, there’s virtually no details other than [me] arriving,” she tells TIME. “I don’t even know if that’s the true story.”

Forty years ago this and last month, a series of planes flew into Phnom Penh’s besieged Pochentong airport on a special sortie. The Fighting Tigers at the controls dove down into the tarmac to avoid Khmer Rouge gunfire and — barely cutting the engines — pulled up alongside cargo trucks. With little ceremony, those in the truck began to load the plane with box after box of babies.

“As this telegram is being dispatched,” read a U.S. embassy cable sent just hours after a March 17 airlift, “the orphans are not the only ones heaving a king size sigh of relief.”

At the time of the evacuations, the U.S.-backed Khmer Republic had all but crumbled under the weight of incompetence and corruption, while large-scale American bombing of the countryside sent hundreds of thousands fleeing to Phnom Penh for safety. Desperate parents — starving and fearing for their lives — overwhelmed the state-run orphanage; the babies would not stop coming.

Canadian sisters Eloise and Anna Charet arrived in the country just months before the fall to open a private orphanage, called Canada House. Eloise recalled taking babies and toddlers from a room in the state orphanage, “where the children were just left on mats and were left to die. The ants were crawling on them, the flies all around their eyes and mouth … the only thing you could see was the flickering of their eyes once in a while and this room was just packed with children left to die, they didn’t know what to do.”

On March 17, the sisters successfully evacuated all 43 of their charges — an unlikely feat that allowed for scores more to be pulled out in the following weeks by various private agencies and individuals. Most of the Cambodian children were initially sent to war-torn Saigon where they were thrown in with more than 3,000 Vietnamese children to be airlifted out to the U.S., Europe and Australia in the audacious and controversial “Operation Babylift.”

As the situation in Cambodia deteriorated, its envoys in Washington, D.C., begged the U.S. for assistance and arranged for a final group of 220 orphans to be pulled out and adopted. In Phnom Penh, the Minister for Refugees scrambled to process the children. On April 9, 28 flew out. They were to be the last.

“I messaged [Refugee Minister] Kong Orn … about the orphans’ situation. I also messaged other officials. But there was no answer from anyone. Clearly the subject of orphans was not on anyone’s mind at the time,” says Gaffar Peang-Meth, a diplomat based at the Cambodian embassy.

The chaos surrounding those final flights ensured that many orphans arrived with only the scantest of documentation. In a July 1975 internal report, the U.S. Agency for International Development recorded that half of the 108 orphans airlifted out of Phnom Penh “are experiencing legal problems regarding their adoptability and/or placements.”

CAMBODIA-US-WAR-KHMER ROUGE
Sjoberg / AFP / Getty ImagesThe young Khmer Rouge guerrilla soldiers enter Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975

“The placement of the orphans … in adoptive homes has been held up because of questions raised regarding their adoptability and/or prospective placement. Due to the emergency situation which existed at the time, the sponsoring agencies and the government did not obtain the proper releases or process other required documentation,” the report continued.

In California and elsewhere, lawsuits proliferated over whether the children were in fact orphans. Miika and scores of other children spent upwards of a year in foster homes while officials debated their status. Four decades later, some have yet to be naturalized.

“The children’s arrival was not all smooth and happy,” recalls Gaffar Peang-Meth, who became the point man for verifying many of their legal status. Some news media reports suggested that the children were not all orphans and openly questioned why they had been brought to the U.S. Gaffar Peang-Meth responded that there was no authority in Phnom Penh to answer such allegations.

Amid the mounting concern, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) ordered a temporary halt to the babylifts on April 16, just one day before the Khmer Rouge seized Phnom Penh. Then deputy commissioner of the INS, James Green, told the Washington Post that the agency would “launch a full investigation to determine what these children’s backgrounds are and how they got into the United States.”

By then, of course, the lines of communication had already been severed. With it went any hope of tracking down family ties.

Adoptees grew up oblivious to their roots, yet haunted by them.

“No matter how you grow up childhood always challenging, but not really having a mental foundation of how it started, that’s really challenging,” says Miika Thoeun Gove. “I can’t even reach out to anyone in the group that I flew out with, I have no information.”

A handful of the orphans have returned to Cambodia in search of more information, though such quests tend to be fruitless.

Kim Routhier-Filion, one of the Canada House babies, traveled to Cambodia in 2012 accompanied by Eloise and Anna Charet, and a film crew from the French-Canadian news station RDI. While there, the filmmakers captured Routhier-Filion looking through records and speaking with archivists, but he confessed scant faith in reconciliation.

“For me, my adoptive parents are my real parents,” he said. “I didn’t have any expectations of finding my biological parents in Cambodia. I assume they got killed. I don’t even know my biological mom’s name. I didn’t have any hope or expectations of that.”

Gove, whose documents carry neither the name of her parents nor birthplace, has similarly little anticipation of closure. It is something, however, she has come to accept.

“Imagine the children who didn’t get out of there,” she points out calmly. “I figure I’m doing O.K.”

TIME Cambodia

Cambodian Guards Drank Wine With Human Gallbladders, Says Genocide Survivor

Skulls are stacked on top of each other at a "Killing Fields" memorial in Batey district in Kampong Cham province
Chor Sokunthea—Reuters Skulls are stacked on top of each other at a Killing Fields memorial in Batey district in Kampong Cham province, 125 km (78 miles) east of Phnom Penh on March 28, 2009

Horrific testimony made at atrocity trial

In the 1970s, Khmer Rouge guards would drink wine infused with human gallbladders, according to a survivor of Cambodia’s infamous Killing Fields.

Former detainee Meas Sokha told the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia Khmer Rouge (ECCC) — a special tribunal created to investigate the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime — that guards at a prison in Takeo province would dry out the gallbladders of inmates and steep them in wine, reports the Cambodia Daily.

“Whenever there were killings, the guards would drink wine with a gallbladder. I could see gallbladders drying in the sun and I knew these were from human beings,” said Meas Sokha, who was imprisoned for three years in 1976. “There were so many [gallbladders] dried by the fence, it was put in wine for drinking and to make people brave.”

Sokha also told the U.N.-backed ECCC that he witnessed between 20 and 100 killings in a single day.

In some East Asian medical traditions, the use of animal bile in drinks — usually snake or bear bile — is thought to promote virility.

From 1975 until 1979, Cambodia experienced one of the most savage genocides of the 20th century, during which around 1.7 million people — a quarter of the national population — perished as the Khmer Rouge, the nation’s communist party led by the French-educated Pol Pot, pursued its agrarian utopia.

The court is currently investigating genocide charges against Khieu Samphan, 83, the regime’s head of state, and Nuon Chea, 88. Both were sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity in August.

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