Indonesia, Malaysia blame and accuse Israel – Asian Media Report

Oct 21, 2023
Flags of Israel and Palestine behind the barbed wire.

In Asian media this week: War is ‘against the Palestinian people’. Plus: Voice defeat ‘undercuts regional stance’; Indian court rejects same-sex marriage; Xi marks BRI anniversary with new funding; Democracy ‘put to the test’; Gaol and caning for rape.

Indonesia and Malaysia, the Muslim-majority countries in the region, support the Palestinians in the Israel-Gaza war, while others are more neutral or nuanced. India supports Israel.

Malaysia’s The Star said of the bombing of the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza: “Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim condemned the attack made by Israel and described the recent attack as madness.”

The Jakarta Post said the Indonesian Government condemned the explosion at the hospital, saying it was caused by an Israeli air strike. It quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying: “The attack clearly violates the international humanitarian law.”

The Post ran two strongly worded commentaries on the war. One said Israel had declared its intention to commit genocide in Gaza.

“We are witnessing horrific violence being perpetrated against civilians, including war refugees, women, children and elderly people, in Myanmar, Ukraine, Israel and Israel-occupied Gaza, primarily by state actors,” it said. “What we don’t see on social media platforms and TV broadcasts is the silent demolition of international law.”

Another, by senior editor Kornelius Purba, carried the headline: “This war is not against Hamas but against the Palestinian people.” Indonesian Muslims regularly prayed for the people of Gaza in their Friday prayers, he said. “They must now pray for the Palestinians who now have to face Israel’s reprisals.”

Singapore’s The Straits Times said Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim had rejected Western pressure to condemn Hamas and Indonesia had said the root of the conflict was Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.

The Philippines said it understood Israel’s right to defend itself but did not name Hamas. Singapore and Thailand adopted a more balanced stance.

A commentary in The Japan Times noted China deliberately refrained from condemning Hamas. Japan had issued a cautious statement which did not mention the brutality of Hamas or Israel’s right to self-defence. Under pressure from Israel, Japan had reversed that position.

India’s Narendra Modi had expressed solidarity with Israel “at this difficult hour”.

The article, by former diplomat Kuni Miyake, also said the Israel-Hamas war was becoming a US-Iran proxy war.

Indigenous Australians pay the price of defeat

As articles on the Israel-Gaza war dominate the opinion and analysis sections of Asian newspapers at the moment, the defeat of Australia’s referendum on The Voice attracted little immediate comment.

Many newspapers reported the result on their news pages but few carried opinion pieces. Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post and The Japan Times, however, published commentaries – and they were stinging.

The analysis in the Post said the defeat spoke volumes about a country that could not get to grips with its violent settler history.

The article, written by Stephen Minas, a legal academic at Peking University, said comparisons with Brexit referendum were inevitable. “Here, too, expert opinion and major institutions have been overwhelmingly on one side, with populist rabble-rousing and ‘alternative’ facts on the other,” Minas said…

“Internationally, the referendum result undercuts the government’s efforts to present a more diverse and reconciled face to the region. “People in neighbouring countries will continue to see Australia as a country that has not come to terms with its brutal colonial history.”

The article in The Japan Times said: “At best, the result showcases Australia’s ignorance; at worst, it is racist.”

The commentary was written by Lucy Dayman, a freelance writer who lives between New York, Tokyo and Australia. She said the campaign was filled with hate and Indigenous Australians now had to pay the price of the defeat.

“Australian historian Barbara Miller famously titled her book “White Australia Has a Black History’,” Dayman said. “And, it seems, will continue to do so.”

Judges leave same-sex marriage to lawmakers

India’s Supreme Court has upheld, by a three-to-two majority, traditional heterosexual marriage and ruled that same-sex couples cannot claim an unqualified right to marry.

The Chief Justice, D.Y. Chandrachud, who seemed sympathetic during the case to arguments for change, was in the minority.

The Hindu newspaper said all five judges agreed that homosexuality was neither an urban nor elitist concept.

But the majority held that it was the role of the legislature, not the court, to grant legal status to same-sex relationships.

The court also denied adoption rights to same-sex couples, The Statesman newspaper said. The Chief Justice said in delivering the decision the law could not assume only heterosexual couples could be good parents. But the court decided against adoption rights by the same 3:2 majority.

The Statesman said in a separate story the court had asked the government to set up a high-level committee to examine all aspects of same-sex marriage.

It quoted lawyer and MP Mahesh Jethmalani as saying the court had closed one door but had opened another through its request to the government.

But The Hindu said in an editorial the decision was a huge legal setback to what it called the queer community.

“The LGBTQIA+ community may now have to take heart from the court’s direction that the government should form a committee to decide the rights and entitlements of queer couples,” the paper said. “The community, however, still has quite a struggle ahead before the law catches up with its yearning for equality.”

Xi promises greater access to China market

Chinese President Xi Jinping marked the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative by holding a two-day forum in Beijing, announcing two financing facilities totally $A150 billion to support BRI projects.

China Daily, an official newspaper, said the funding would be provided through two banks: the China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China.

Xi called for deepening high-quality Belt and Road co-operation to build an open, inclusive and interconnected world, the paper said. He warned against unilateral sanctions, economic coercion, decoupling and supply-chain disruption.

Representatives from more than 130 countries, mainly from the Global South, attended the forum. They included 20 heads of state or government.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attended – as did Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Korea Herald focused on a promise by Xi to allow greater access to China’s market for international companies.

“We will comprehensively remove restrictions on foreign investment access in the manufacturing sector,” Xi said.

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post said science and technology were key features of China’s new action plan. Xi suggested his BRI vision could offer a pathway to overcome a growing list Western countries’ export curbs on vital technologies.

One part of the plan, Xi said, was to double, to about 100, over the next five years the number of joint scientific laboratories set up between China and belt-and-road countries. The laboratories specialise such fields as health, new energy and agriculture, the paper said.

Singapore’s The Straits Times the BRI had experienced some bumps over the past decade but Xi had sent a clear signal he intended to stay the course.

“In an apparent response to critics who had said the BRI was running out of steam, Mr Xi announced eight measures to give it a needed boost,” the paper said. “He sent an unequivocal message that the BRI is here to stay.”

The Jakarta Post published an opinion piece saying the BRI marked a defining moment in China’s global involvement.

“It has ushered in a transformative era, leaving an indelible imprint on the global terrain,” the commentary said.

Global Times, also an official newspaper, said Xi announced eight major steps to support the pursuit of high-quality BRI co-operation. They covered such areas as digital economy, technological innovation, green development and livelihood improvement.

“All of [these] are the focal points of efforts by countries worldwide,” the paper said. “They are closely intertwined with future development.”

Top court ‘becoming family court’

Indonesia’s Constitutional Court has cleared the way for the eldest son of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to run as a vice-presidential candidate in next year’s national elections – and The Jakarta Post, for one, is firmly opposed.

Gibran Rakabuming Raka, Jokowi’s son has been paired as a running mate with Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto. Gibran is 36 and the minimum age had been set at 40. But the court ruled he could stand.

The Post said the ruling was an unexpected turn of events.

Even before the ruling, the paper ran a commentary saying the court is not an impartial arbiter as the Chief Justice, Anwar Usman, is Jokowi’s brother-in-law.

After the ruling, the Post published two critical editorials. The first said that, once again, Indonesian democracy was being out to the test.

“We must raise a red flag over the probity of the upcoming election,” it said. “The game appears to be rigged to give certain players the upper hand.”

The second editorial said the court had had its ups and downs but it had maintained a certain level of public legitimacy as the sole interpreter of the constitution.

“That is no longer the case,” the editorial said.

“…The court is now at the nadir of its credibility…[It] is now becoming little more than a Mahkamah Keluarga (family court).”

Gaol term and 18 strokes for statutory rape

Singapore still carries out sentences of caning, although they are not always covered by the media. According to Wikipedia, sentences of three to six strokes are common and get little or no coverage.

But The Straits Times reported the case of Muhammad Hudri Ahmad prominently on its website. Hudri, 44, pleaded guilty to three charges of statutory rape of a 12-year-old girl.

The High Court sentenced him to 19 years’ goal and 18 strokes of the cane.

Hudri befriended the girl on Instagram, telling her he was 16. They met and had sex. The rapes came to light during a session with the victim’s school counsellor.

The prosecutor asked for a sentence of 20 years in goal and 24 strokes of the cane. The public defender argued 18 years’ goal and 12 strokes would have a deterrent effect.

The paper said the offences took place soon after Hudri had been released from prison for having sex with a 13-year-old girl.

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