Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Weekend catch-up: Malaysian election, Iran deal, and The Phnom Penh Post

The week that was on The Interpreter.

A supporter speaking on stage at a rally to celebrate Pakatan Harapan’s election win. (Photo:Faris Hadziq/Getty)
A supporter speaking on stage at a rally to celebrate Pakatan Harapan’s election win. (Photo:Faris Hadziq/Getty)
Published 12 May 2018   Follow @lowyinstitute

The week that was on The Interpreter.

Malaysia went to the polls this week amid a slow-burning controversy over perceived gerrymandering. Simon Roughneen:

The opposition is expecting to do well in urban areas, especially among the 25% of Malaysians who are of Chinese descent, but with allegations of gerrymandering, they cannot win outright unless Mahathir’s appeal draws enough Muslim Malays away from the government.

Greg Earl on the election result:

Both Mahathir and Anwar were activist figures in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the past, and that key regional group lacks leadership today. Under outgoing Prime Minister Najib Razak, Malaysia has been an important gateway for China into the region.

US President Donald Trump announced the reimposition of nuclear-related sanctions on Iran this week, violating the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Dina Esfandiary:

Why is Trump doing this? Aside from his personal dislike of anything linked to Obama, he, along with many others, have concerns about certain aspects of the deal, or more accurately what it doesn’t cover – Iran’s regional activities and missiles, and what happens after the deal ends. While legitimate, these concerns won’t be resolved with the death of the deal. Rather, there will no longer be avenues to discuss them, and it is possible Iran will once again go full throttle on its nuclear program.

John Carlson on Trump’s Iran deal decision:

Calm heads must prevail – no one will gain from a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. But this issue cannot be addressed by isolating and confronting Iran. Concerns about nuclear developments in the Middle East can be addressed most effectively by working towards a nuclear weapons–free zone. Iran should be encouraged to think in these terms, and this requires the US and others to engage with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other countries in the region.

Lavina Lee argues that in withdrawing from the Iran deal, Trump is setting himself up to drive a hard bargain with North Korea:

US leverage in the North Korea negotiations would be considerably weakened by the fact that Iran’s ballistic missile program is untouched by the nuclear deal. 

The summit between Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un looks likely to take place in late May or early June. Euan Graham:

Trump has said that numerous countries are being considered for the upcoming ‘MEETING’ with Kim, but hinted at his personal preference for the Freedom House at Panmunjom as a ‘more Representative, Important and Lasting site’. The fact he expressed his thoughts publicly suggests his advisers may prefer a ‘third-country’ alternative.

In Cambodia, the last surviving major independent newspaper, The Phnom Penh Post, was sold to owners who quickly asserted themselves on the paper’s editorial independence. Erin Handley:

What we saw yesterday was a scene of mourning, not only for those who are no longer with the Post, but also for the paper’s editorial independence and, more broadly, for press freedom in Cambodia.

Milton Osborne also commented on the sad demise of the Post:

Until now, the Post has been a revered institution. Much changed from its early beginnings, in terms of frequency of publication and its size, and the paper’s survival made it a remarkable example of the type of journalism sadly lacking in the rest of Southeast Asia.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held an informal summit in Wuhan, China, last week. Dhruva Jaishankar:

Rather than a reset, the Wuhan summit was primarily the product of a more fluid geopolitical landscape, in which both sides saw an interest in hitting the pause button on a steadily more competitive relationship. In that sense, it is not dissimilar to Japan’s ongoing ‘thaw’ with China.

Pictures of an American teenage girl wearing a red Chinese cheongsam to her prom sparked an online debate about cultural appropriation. Vivienne Chow:

People in the US have called her racist, but some in China applauded her choice of fashion. This could be a golden opportunity for China to finally export its soft power successfully.

Despite electoral reform, Papua New Guinea’s most recent election saw no women elected to parliament. Kerryn Baker:

Barriers to women’s equal participation as voters and candidates in Papua New Guinea elections are deep-seated and pervasive; electoral system reform is not and never will be a panacea.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited New Caledonia this week, ahead of the November referendum. Denise Fisher:

Reaffirming that he would not take a position on the outcome of the independence referendum, Macron said that, with the world watching, France would hold an ‘incontestable’ referendum.

Anna Powles, Jose Sousa-Santos, and Tess Newton Cain on collaborating with Chinese development efforts in the Pacific:

Chinese aid is here to stay. Although Chinese aid lacks transparency, research indicates that it is the third-largest donor to the region, and in some Pacific countries is the most significant donor. In light of Australia’s so-called ‘step up’ and New Zealand’s ‘reset’ towards the Pacific, it is timely to consider the risks and opportunities for greater coordination and collaboration with China in the region.

You may also be interested in