Asian Insider Dec 10: Should tourists have been near the volcano in NZ?, Hong Kong, Myanmar’s ICJ case

Asian Insider brings you insights into a fast-changing region from our network of correspondents.


In today's bulletin: Questions are raised over whether tourists should have been on New Zealand's White Island when the volcano erupted; Hong Kong police defuse two bombs; Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi heads to the Hague to defend her country against charges of genocide; and more...

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As graphic eyewitness accounts emerged today about what it was like when the volcano on New Zealand's White Island erupted, questions are being raised about why tourists were allowed on the island at all that day. Authorities say 47 people were on White Island when it blew, with many others in boats nearby. This despite bulletins being issued in the weeks leading up to the eruption of "moderate volcanic unrest". Tour operators had been alerted but the island was not closed. Tourists were allowed to make their own decisions about whether to visit. As of today, five died, 31 others have been hospitalised and eight are missing. Three others were hospitalised and released.

Read the key stories on the White Island volcano today:

Eyewitness accounts: 'It looked like a nuclear bomb going off', leaving no signs of life

In Pictures: Volcanic eruption in New Zealand

Police open probe into deaths; at least 5 killed

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern: "To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your unfathomable grief and in your sorrow."


Thai massage, a 2,000-year-old practice that is now ubiquitous across the country, is hoping it will this week be recognised in Unesco's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The body that decides is currently meeting in Bogota, Colombia and will consider Thai massage alongside 41 other nominations, including several from Asia. Singapore has nominated its hawker culture for inscription though that nomination only comes up for consideration next year. Unesco's recognition is much sought after more so for its prestige than anything else and though the list does not ascribe ownership of a tradition (several countries can nominate similar things), there has been in recent years a tendency to view it as an arbiter of who owns a particular bit of human history. The nominations this year include duelling Malaysian and Indonesian ones for a martial arts form known as silat.

Read the story: No pain, no fame: Thai massage could get Unesco status

See the full list: Nomination for inscription in 2019


A day after announcing they seized a handgun and more than 100 rounds of ammunition, Hong Kong police today said they defused two homemade nail bombs discovered in a school. Police do not believe the school, Wah Yan College, was the intended target but rather the bombs were hidden there for use later. It is also unclear if the explosives are linked to the months of unrest. If linked, they would appear to suggest that the violence in Hong Kong could be on the verge of being taken to the next level. Until the two announcements, there had been a drop off in the number of violent clashes.

Find out what you need to know about Hong Kong today:

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam again rules out any concessions to protesters

Hong Kong set for 'worst ever' wave of layoffs, store closures

Analysis: To buoy or not to buoy Hong Kong's post-protest economy?


A closely-watched case at the Hague on whether Myanmar committed genocide against the Rohingya begins today, with Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi leading her country's legal team. The case was brought by the small African state of Gambia, backed by the 57-member Organisation for Islamic Cooperation. The politics of this case are complex. It is unclear how much any of it is about the final ruling, which would be difficult to enforce anyway. The case focuses international scrutiny once again on the treatment of the Rohingya though it plays quite differently in Myanmar. There, thousands have rallied in support of Aung San Suu Kyi and most consider the ICJ case politically beneficial for the government, heading into elections next year.

Don't miss the background reading:

The Lady and The Hague: Suu Kyi courts home audience

All eyes on Rohingya genocide case against Myanmar at ICJ


Malaysia's 94-year-old Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad reiterated his promise to handover the reins to Mr Anwar Ibrahim, though he said that it would not happen before Malaysia hosts the Apec Summit in November next year. The promise, made in an interview with Reuters, was clear and unqualified, with the PM noting that he will pass the baton regardless of allegations or public support. It remains to be seen if his comments can quell the power struggle that caused havoc at the PKR party congress this past weekend. On Monday, Mr Anwar's former staff member submitted a statement to police accusing him of sexual assault.

Catch up on the drama of the weekend

Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim risks top job with PKR disunity


IMPEACHMENT: House Democrats are poised to unveil two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump - abuse of power and obstruction of Congress - with an announcement expected early on Tuesday (Dec 10).

INDIA'S CITIZENSHIP BILL: Protesters in north-east India set fire to tyres and cut down trees to block roads on Tuesday (Dec 10) in a shutdown across the region hours after lawmakers approved the government's new citizenship Bill. The legislation, set to go before the Upper House on Wednesday, will fast-track citizenship claims from refugees from three neighbouring countries - but not if they are Muslim.

NORTH KOREA: South Korea's Defence Minister said on Tuesday (Dec 10) that North Korea's recent unspecified weapons test was of a rocket engine, amid speculation the North was making preliminary steps towards a prohibited long-range rocket launch.

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