Indonesia’s 2019 elections: Not since ex-dictator Suharto’s New Order regime has a top military officer displayed such open political ambitions, John McBeth writes. Armed forces commander Gen Gatot Nurmantyo clearly feels a glittering political career awaits him beyond his mandatory retirement in March next year. But the general view suggests otherwise, as President Joko Widodo prepares to make a bid for a second term in April 2019, when presidential and legislative elections will be held on the same day. “He doesn’t have much in the way of personal charisma and he doesn’t have much political acumen,” says one Western military analyst. “He would be no competition for Widodo, so I can’t see any other party picking him as a presidential or vice-presidential candidate.”
Philippines reform challenge: One of the core commitments of President Rodrigo Duterte is to shepherd the transition of the Southeast Asian country to a federal form of government – an undertaking that requires a complete overhaul of the country’s constitution, Michael Yusingco writes. As part of his effort to fulfill this pledge, Duterte issued in December 2016 Executive Order No. 10 to organize the Consultative Committee on constitutional reform with the mandate to “study, conduct consultations, and review the provisions of the 1987 Constitution.” However, this advisory committee is still just a plan on paper as the president has yet to formally announce its members. Consequently, his constitutional reform project has yet to gain any significant traction.
China travel boom: Over the eight-day-long Golden Weekend holiday, China enjoyed a tourism boom with an incredible 705 million tourists traveling, Ben Kwok writes. That means one in 10 people in the world were on the move over the past week. Most of the travel was within the country. The China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) says the travelers spent some 583.6 billion yuan (US$88 billion). Another 6 million people traveled abroad – to 1,155 cities in 88 countries, up nearly 30%, the CNTA said. The number of mainland Chinese who went overseas was equivalent to the entire population leaving Miami or Berlin. Russia was the country most visited, followed by Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia.
Telecom espionage danger: Cellphone use by public officials poses a serious threat to national security and should be banned, Stephen Bryen writes. Hostile intelligence services can easily intercept data using tools like Stingray, which is known as an IMSI Catcher. This software acts like a cellular transmission tower and fools the phone into establishing a connection. Even if the phone’s voice and data lines are encrypted (rarely the case), the location of the user, the target in his conversation and other information can be tracked. Entire conversations can be recorded and there is no easy way for users to know this is happening. Phone to cell tower communications may be encrypted but these systems have been broken and all were designed with big backdoors to satisfy government requirements.
US-Saudi arms deal: The US State Department on Friday approved a possible US$15-billion sale of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems to Saudi Arabia, MK Bhadrakumar writes. US officials confirmed that the sale was part of the $110-billion package of defense equipment and services initially announced during US President Donald Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia in May. The timing of the US announcement is highly significant – it comes in the wake of claims by Russian officials that Saudi Arabia had shown interest in buying the S-400 missile defense system from Russia. This means the Saudis have successfully pressured the Trump administration to approve the sale of the THAAD system. And Washington has signaled that the US will not let Russia make an entry into the Saudi arms bazaar.
Asia Times app: Asia Times has launched an app for both iOS- and Android-based devices that delivers the publication’s regular daily news, commentary, blogs and live coverage while also bringing readers added functionality. As we report here, the app, launched on July 25, includes content notification, share and save functions and is free to download from both the Apple Store and Google Play