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The East Asia Program

The East Asia Program conducts research on the politics and foreign policies of the countries of East Asia, with a focus on how domestic politics in these countries shape external behaviour. Researchers focus on China, Indonesia, and Myanmar, and commission work by other scholars on the broader region. The program also holds a robust series of dialogues and events on the politics of the region, independently and in partnership with other organisations.

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Latest Publications

South China Sea: ASEAN Summit showdown looms

There is a good chance that history will repeat itself at this weekend's ASEAN Summit in Naypyidaw, Myanmar. This could be bad for ASEAN claims of unity and centrality, and for the fraying credibility of the ASEAN-brokered 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea as an

The China-Vietnam standoff: Three key factors

So, another maritime incident between China and one of its neighbours. There are reports from officials in Hanoi that Chinese and Vietnamese vessels collided on at least two separate occasions in the South China Sea on Sunday, in waters 120nm off the Vietnamese coast. The dispute began last

Inequality in Hong Kong: The divorce factor

Hong Kong is famously unequal. The measured Gini coefficient is among the world's highest. It is praised for 'economic freedom' yet also criticised for 'crony capitalism.'  It's well known in political science that, worldwide, folks care less about wealth inequality per se than lack of opportunity

Obama in Asia: Let the spin begin

Later today US President Barack Obama will begin a short tour through Asia, to Japan and South Korea in the north, and to Malaysia and the Philippines in the south. The punditry will be overwhelming and almost entirely self serving. Elites and interests of every stripe will tell Obama what to say,

Is Indonesia shifting its South China Sea policy?

A Jakarta think-tank intellectual was once asked whether Beijing listens when Jakarta speaks. He responded emphatically: 'Oh yes! The problem is we don't say enough'. In the post-authoritarian era, Indonesian officials, like many of their Southeast Asian counterparts, have tended to self-censor

Mekong Summit Declaration dodges reference to Lao dams

As previewed last Friday, the Second Mekong Summit, held in Ho Chi Minh City on 5 April, concluded with a Declaration that did not directly address the contentious issue of the two dams Laos is constructing on the Mekong River at Xayaburi and Don Sahong (Xayaburi has been reported by the Lao

Another false dawn in Cambodia?

As the National Assembly resumed sittings in Phnom Penh this week, with only members of the CPP government in attendance because of the continuing boycott by elected members of Sam Rainsy's CNRP, there have been suggestions that a compromise may finally be in sight that would end the CNRP boycott of

Mekong summit unlikely to halt Lao dams

The second Mekong River Commission Summit will take place in Ho Chi Minh City on 5 April, with the participation of the prime ministers of the four member states (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam) and representatives from China and Myanmar. The summit will be preceded by an international

Crimea referendum stirs old insecurities in China

China's Central Propaganda Department issued a directive on Monday ordering mainland media not to link the Crimea referendum to the country's own separatist hot spots. China Digital Times obtained the leaked text and published it in full: Central Propaganda Department: All media must refrain

How Jokowi got his start in politics

Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo is the man of the moment in Indonesian politics. A furniture retailer by trade, two years ago he was a little known small town mayor in central Java. Today he is streets ahead of his nearest competitor in the opinion polls for July's presidential election. To understand Jokowi

'The Act of Killing' in a democratic Indonesia

In the Western press, critics have responded with almost unanimous enthusiasm to the documentary film The Act of Killing, which could win an Academy Award on Sunday. One notable voice against the trend is the BBC's documentary editor Nick Fraser, who in The Guardian last weekend dismissed it as '

Indonesia: Punching below its weight

In a new Lowy Institute Analysis paper launched today, Dr Dave McRae argues that Indonesia is unlikely to become a significantly more influential international actor in the medium term, despite its size, strategic location and economic potential. Titled More Talk than Walk: Indonesia as a Foreign

US position hardens on China's nine-dashed line

In January 2013, senior US Navy intelligence officer Captain James Fanell described China's maritime strategy and ambitions as 'hegemonic' and aggressive, and said China 'bullies adversaries'. This unusually blunt assessment made news around the world. Sam Roggeveen, who broke the story for The

Meet Indonesia's middle class (part 3): Votes and voices

This is the third in a four-part series on Indonesia's growing middle class. Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here. In Indonesia, the word for 'vote' is the same as the word for 'voice'. The urban middle class is vocal on Twitter but said to be apathetic at the ballot box, until the right candidate

Meet Indonesia's middle class

This is the first post in a four-part series on Indonesia's growing middle class. It's 6:15am on a Sunday morning, and waves of people are breaking over the Sudirman traffic artery in central Jakarta. Hundreds of thousands of cars traverse Sudirman through the week, slowing almost to standstill

New year, old quarrels in China-Japan relations

Sino-Japanese relations got off to a rocky start in January.  Chinese Ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming kicked off a tit for tat diplomatic spat on the first day of the year. In the first paragraph of an op-ed published in The Telegraph, Liu likened Japanese militarism to Lord Voldemort, of

No circuit breaker in sight in East China Sea

In my concluding thoughts on a report compiling four workshop papers about tensions in the East China Sea, published by the Lowy Institute on 7 January, I note that it is impossible to predict the consequences of the vicious tit-for-tat cycle which Beijing and Tokyo have fallen into over the past 16

Phnom Penh violence: A turning point for Cambodia?

It's too early to say whether the violence resulting in at least four deaths that occurred in Phnom Penh on 3 January, as police and military dispersed protesters in the city's 'Freedom Park', represents a turning point in the long stand-off that has followed last July's disputed national elections

Spying on Kristiani Herawati: A loss of judgement

The Weekend Australian carried a ‘well-sourced’ article defending our listening in on Kristiani Herawati, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's wife. Quoting the usual ‘well-connected insider who asked not to be named’, it argues that she was a legitimate target because she was

New foreign policy actors in China

This Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Policy Paper, entitled ‘New foreign policy actors in China’, is based on groundbreaking findings on the changing nature of Chinese foreign policy formulation. Authors Linda Jakobson and Dean Knox have drawn from the research

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