- By Isaac Stone FishIsaac Stone Fish is Asia editor at Foreign Policy, where he edits, reports, and writes stories from across the region. Previously a Beijing correspondent for Newsweek, Isaac wrote stories on such subjects as the Dalai Lama’s effect on international trade, China’s love affair with rogue states, and crystal meth in North Korea, a country he has visited twice. A fluent Mandarin speaker, Isaac spent seven years living in China prior to joining FP; he has traveled widely in the region and in China. His articles have also appeared in the New York Times, the Economist, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, and he has appeared as a commentator on MSNBC, BBC, NPR, Al-Jazeera, and PRI, among others.
So, this happened: "For three weeks," the Financial Times reported on Monday, "Malaysian forces have been facing off against 180 followers of the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu, from a remote island in the southwest Philippines. More than 20 people have been reported killed in clashes over the past few days, in the worst violence on Malaysian territory for decades."
The three Southeast Asian island nations of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia (which doesn’t figure into the violence), who collectively have a population of more than 350 million people, are arguably the countries most ignored by Americans relative to their importance. They’re all just poor and stable and democratic enough to slide mostly under the radar, unless they’re quarreling with China or hosting Obama. To their credit, most major media outlets have picked up on the violence. But I can’t imagine a water-cooler conversation, even in Washington, D.C., about "the situation in Malaysia." Let me know in the comments section if you disagree.
As an aside: I assume I’m not the only who thinks this story reads like a bad fantasy novel: "The group’s leader in Manila, Jamalul Kiram III, one of several claimants to the title of sultan of Sulu, remained defiant," the New York Times reported on Tuesday. He added that "Filipino fighters in Borneo, including his son, whom he identified as the prince of Sulu, would continue the fight."