- By Isaac Stone FishIsaac Stone Fish is Asia Editor. A Mandarin speaker, he lived in China for seven years before moving to Washington DC. 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."