Welcome to the jungle: how Malaysia won me over

It’s approaching 6 p.m. at the Datai on Langkawi island, the tropical sun is still warm but no longer burny, and through my binoculars from my poolside lounger I’m watching the hornbills swooping down from the tall tree opposite and the sunbirds delving their long curved beaks in to some sort of exotic, colourful flora. By my side is a barely read copy of a classic work of literature and a half-drunk cocktail. I’m not sure that life gets much better than this. And that’s perhaps the main problem with staying in arguably Malaysia’s loveliest hotel. It’s so perfect – the service, the outrageously exclusive rainforest location next to Langkawi’s

Why did North Korea fire a missile over Japan?

It was a new dawn, a new day, and a new North Korean missile test. The land of the morning calm – as South Korea is affectionately-nicknamed – awoke to the launch of the fifth North Korean ballistic missile in ten days. Over the past ten months, the international community has become accustomed to a growing number of North Korean missile launches, of an increasingly diverse range of missiles. Kim Jong-un’s determination for North Korea to become a nuclear state, and be recognised as such is only heightening. Russia and China are now more reticent than ever to side with the West and support sanctions on North Korea Last night’s

Isis is wreaking havoc in Afghanistan

The bomb tore through an examination hall in Kabul on Friday, where students – mostly minority Hazara, mostly young women – were sitting a practice test in preparation for university. Thirty-five were killed, dozens more injured. An unspeakable human tragedy. We don’t formally know who did it, but we can guess. Under the Taliban’s leadership, Afghanistan is a haven for terrorists. And the terrorists compete. The Taliban is, in my judgement, indistinguishable from al-Qaeda. Its eyes are still firmly placed on international terrorism: a campaign of domestic terror within Afghanistan against ‘enemies within’ – be they former members of the internationally-recognised Afghan government, or religious minorities, or campaigners for liberty

The anger behind Shinzo Abe’s state funeral

Tokyo While not quite on the scale of Her Majesty’s service, Tuesday’s state funeral of Japan’s longest serving PM Shinzo Abe, gunned down while campaigning on the streets of Nara in July, will be an extravagant affair. The ceremony will take place at the Nippon Budokan in central Tokyo with approximately 6,000 attendees including the US Vice President Kamala Harris, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, and Australian PM Anthony Albanese. Theresa May will represent the UK. It will cost 1.6 billion yen (10.5 million pounds). The event has become mired in controversy. Many in Japan are fiercely opposed to the decision, made by current PM Fumio Kishida, to grant a

Japan’s cult of safetyism

The Japanese government has launched an initiative to encourage young people to drink more alcohol. Yes, really. The national tax agency’s ‘Sake Viva’ campaign is an appeal for ideas to get youngsters boozing after taxes on alcohol products, which accounted for 5 per cent of total revenue back in the hard-drinking 1980s, fell to just 1.7 per cent in 2020. So, at a time of economic hardship, Japan’s youth are being asked to do their patriotic duty and get hammered. The falloff in social drinking is being attributed in part to the pandemic. Japan didn’t have a full-blown lockdown imposed from above, but the more subtle bottom-up lockdown that demonised

Pakistan is on the brink

On Tuesday I speculated that Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan, now the opposition leader, was so popular that he might have to be shot by his enemies to prevent him from coming back to power. This was not a throwaway statement. After Sri Lanka and Lebanon, whose political murder rate since the second world war has been off the charts, Pakistan with 44 political murders comes a clear third, not including the peripheral hundreds if not thousands who have died in bombings. As if in sync with my warning, Tuesday afternoon saw another political murder in Pakistan. Majid Satti, the leader of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party in

Will the bad luck of the Philippines ever turn?

The Philippines is the odd man out in Asia, a predominantly Catholic country colonised first by Spain, then the United States. An archipelago with more than 2,000 inhabited islands on the cusp of the Indian and Pacific oceans, its strategic location is obvious. Yet it receives scant coverage in the British media beyond its natural disasters, the flamboyance of its leaders, whether Imelda Marcos or Rodrigo Duterte, and its long-running Marxist and Muslim insurrections. On a more mundane level, our encounter with its people will most likely be through the care they provide within the NHS. Philip Bowring, a former editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review, for many years

Turkmenistan may emerge as a global powerbroker

While the world is watching Ukraine, there is another former Soviet republic that has quietly undergone regime change. Turkmenistan’s 65-year-old former president, known, in the manner of a comic book superhero, as ‘The Protector’, stepped down in February. With Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s departure, the Mejlis Assembly duly called for elections on 12 March. As regime changes go this one was hardly revolutionary. The Protector’s son, having just turned 40 (the minimum age at which a candidate can stand for the presidency) won the election at a canter. The only surprise was that Serdar, ‘The Son of the Nation’, won just 73 per cent of the vote compared to his father’s 97 per cent winning

What’s happening in Kazakhstan?

Since the start of the new year, riots have spread throughout Kazakhstan. In the former capital of Almaty, the airport has been taken over and the mayor’s office stormed. Dozens of security forces and civilians have been killed in violent clashes while hundreds have been wounded. Is this Kazakhstan’s Tiananmen Square moment, in which the government is shaken to its roots but survives? Or will it be like the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine in which a pro-Russian ruler was overthrown by the mob? The main cause of the uprising is not dissimilar to Tiananmen Square. It is not a demand for democracy, which some inept journalists at the BBC and CNN ascribed as the

Britain must learn from Asia’s pandemic response

Across Europe, more and more states are imposing stricter and stricter restrictions to try and slow coronavirus’s spread. The Irish, despite having initially rejected the advice of their scientists to move to the highest level of restrictions, have now done so. Emmanuel Macron set himself against another national lockdown, but then announced one on Wednesday night, albeit with schools staying open. But, as I say in the Times this morning, life in Asia continues to return to normal. Case numbers are pancake-like in Japan, China, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore, while Taiwan has gone 200 days without a locally transmitted case. There are, rightly, limits to what the UK

Sea change: China has its sights on the Bay of Bengal

Pangong Lake is the most unlikely of places for a naval conflict between two of the world’s nuclear-powers, India and China, with a third, Pakistan, looking on with not a little interest. Lying some 280 miles east of Islamabad, 360 miles north of New Delhi and 2,170 miles west of Beijing, Pangong Lake is in the remote northern Himalayas. In 1905, the explorer Ellsworth Huntington said that its beauty could ‘rival, or even excel, the most famous lakes of Italy or Switzerland’. It is a harsh world, frozen in winter, inhabited by a sparse indigenous population of hardy goat herders. And it’s situated in the southernmost spur of the Aksai

Taiwan’s balancing act is becoming ever more precarious

After a landslide victory in January’s election, Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen was re-inaugurated on Wednesday at a scaled-down ceremony in Taipei. As ever, Taiwan’s relationship with China was the central issue of the election. This year, though, a greater sense of urgency surrounded the vote, primarily because of the instability in Hong Kong.  Now, polling day feels like it belongs to a distant past, taking place amid rumblings of a new virus infecting residents of Wuhan across the Taiwan Strait. Although Taiwan has rightly received much praise for its response to coronavirus, the past few months have not been without significant difficulties. Above all, coronavirus has reinvigorated discussion of Taiwan’s position on the