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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

A breakthrough in Chinese climate policy? Not likely

I argued back in April that China's 'synthetic natural gas' (syngas or SNG, which is gas made from coal) is 'bad economics, bad science and an environmental catastrophe'. I also said that 'what is striking is the ambition of Chinese plans versus the widespread scepticism of SNG worldwide and

What Beijing fears most: Intra-Asian balancing

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a rising China, in possession of a modernising military, must be in want of a non-militarised Japan. So is Beijing being foolish by acting assertively in the East China Sea, thereby helping to fuel Japan's evolution into a full-fledged military rival

China's strategy to sow distrust of Japan

Promoting mutual distrust in the Asia Pacific now appears central to Chinese strategy. As Hugh White has argued persuasively, China seeks greater influence in Asia through weakening the faith of America's regional allies and partners in US resolve to remain engaged in the region. This will be

China: Economic war and the humbling of multinationals

'I really worry about China. I am not sure that in the end they want any of us to win', confided GE boss Jeff Immelt to a group of fellow multinational business-people dining in Shanghai in 2010. So far, GE has mostly stayed out of trouble in China. But many other Fortune 500 companies have been

The limits of Indonesia's anti-corruption campaign

'Fight corruption!' A Corruption Eradication Commission event in Bandung in 2009. (Flickr/Ikhlasul Amal.) Indonesia's reputation for corruption in not in doubt: it comes 114th out of 177 in Transparency International's ranking. For more than a decade, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK)

China: Climate wrecker or climate leader?

Lisa Williams is author of the new Lowy Institute Analysis, China's Climate Change Policies: Actors and Drivers. The views expressed here are her own and do not reflect the views of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet or the Australian Government. As the world prepares to fight for (

Abe's Canberra speech: Dispelling doubts

Prime Minister Abe's carefully crafted speech to the Australian parliament gave credence to Prime Minister Abbott's much tut-tutted claim that Japan is Australia's best friend in Asia. The historic speech also clearly helped dispel one doubt about Prime Minister Abe: that he was unwilling to

Occupy Central and the battle for Hong Kong's soul

'We hope young people can raise their understanding of the rule of law, and make themselves the vanguard of preserving Hong Kong's prosperity and stability', thundered Li Yunchao, China's powerful vice president. China is alarmed by the mobilisation of the Hong Kong public in recent weeks,

A conservative clean sweep in Asia?

If Prabowo Subianto does win tomorrow's presidential election in Indonesia, most if not all of Asia's elected democracies will be led by realist conservatives who triumphed over candidates less associated with this political position. From Netanyahu and Modi in West Asia to Park, Abe and Ma (less

Japanese collective self-defence: Abe's changes won't help

Clearly Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has deep personal and political motives for wanting to change Japan's strategic posture, 'escape from the postwar regime' and make Japan a normal country. But he has only been able to push this week's changes through because many Japanese who reject Abe's

Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi and the constitution

Myanmar's Constitutional Amendment Implementation Committee recently voted down a bid to change Article 59(f) of Myanmar's 2008 Constitution, which prevents Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK) from running for  president because of her 'allegiance to a foreign power' (she was married to a British citizen and

Mekong: Laos makes an empty concession

The possibility, indeed probability, that Laos will build its controversial 32m-high dam at Don Sahong on the Mekong River just above the Lao-Cambodia border has strengthened following the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Council meeting in Bangkok on 26-27 June. This is despite an apparent

Will Aung San Suu Kyi be president? Odds are lengthening

A year ago, a Lowy Institute panel was asked whether Aung San Suu Kyi would become president of Burma (Myanmar). The question was also raised on The Interpreter. The answer on both occasions was that such an outcome was far from certain. Powerful forces in Burma were working hard to prevent it. Few

Indonesian election: More on the Prabowo surge

The Interpreter has been flooded with traffic since we published Aaron Connelly's analysis of the Indonesian presidential race on Tuesday afternoon. Aaron said Prabowo Subianto was now favourite to win the Indonesian presidential election, an unthinkable prospect just a month ago in the race

Indonesian election: Prabowo now the favourite

New polling data on Indonesia's presidential election — and the lack of it from certain critical quarters — suggests that Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo's 38-point lead of three months ago has evaporated. He and his opponent, former military commander Prabowo Subianto, may be locked in a dead

China: Why Pu Zhiqiang's arrest matters for all of us

It took me about a month in Beijing, and my first investigative story in the adjacent hills, to realise that the question of 'human rights in China' was not a concern only for trouble-making dissidents and well-meaning Western NGOs. Rather, it was a core concern to every single one of China's 1.3

Australia will miss SBY. America won't.

Tony Abbott's meeting earlier this month with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will likely be his last, with only four months left in SBY's second term. Reading the reactions to the meeting, I am struck by the high regard in which many Australian officials hold SBY, which is in sharp

Don Sahong Dam: A dim ray of hope

In a Bloomberg story published yesterday, the chief executive officer of the Mekong River Commission (MRC), Hans Guttman, is quoted as saying that 'there is still an opportunity for coming to an agreement' over issues connected to mitigating the impact on fisheries of the projected Don Sahong dam

Abbott and SBY mend their fences

As the sun set on the Indonesian resort island of Batam yesterday, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono waited patiently with two of his ministers to greet Tony Abbott for the first time since the intelligence row between the two countries erupted last November. Abbott was running a

China links: Tiananmen special

One PLA general refused orders to take Tiananmen Square by force, saying:  'I'd rather be beheaded than be a criminal in the eyes of history'. Stephen Mcdonell writes that Beijing deals with Tiananmen differently to other sensitive issues:   So now unlike Tibet, unlike Xinjiang, unlike Taiwan,

A parallel Chinese financial order

The Financial Times ran a front page piece last Monday claiming that China has ordered a ban on state-owned companies using Western management consulting companies. It is alleged by senior Chinese sources that 'foreigners use their consulting companies to find out everything they want about our

Lopsided economic growth in the Philippines

As one of the fastest growing economies in Asia, the Philippines formalised its new status as the toast of the town among global investors by hosting (on  21-23 May) the prestigious World Economic Forum on East Asia, which brought together leading businessmen, policy makers, and scholars from

China to America: Not in our backyard

Last week was a heckuva week for China's rising power: tussling with Vietnam in the South China Sea (all about America, supposedly), signing a US$400 billion gas deal with Russia (all about America, too), and sparring with the US over cyber-espionage. But less noticed was the curious forum 

How competitive is China's civil aviation industry?

Reports have surfaced that the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) C919 airliner program is struggling, with first deliveries pushed back to 2018, two years later than scheduled. Local newspapers have run positive stories about progress, but the tone is defensive. Aviation Week has

Weekend catch-up: Thailand special

Bringing together the best Thailand coverage from The Interpreter. A change of format this week. Usually we feature a range of our best writing from the previous week, but in light of the military coup in Bangkok, I thought I would highlight some of The Interpreter's best Thailand coverage, not

Thailand's coup: 'The army chief should know better'

The quote that heads this post is from a hard-hitting and critical editorial in today's Bangkok Post, which really says it all at the broad level of analysis. General Prayuth Chan-ocha was a leading figure in the 2006 coup that ousted the Thaksin Government, yet that coup and the events that

Martial law in Thailand: Not quite a coup?

The Thai military announced this morning that it was intervening to impose martial law throughout the country but insisting that its actions did not represent a coup. The statement, signed by the army chief, General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, referred to a 1914 law that, it said, gave the military the right

Indonesia bans Vimeo

Video-sharing website Vimeo became the latest casualty of Indonesia's Anti-Pornography Law this week, joining Reddit and Imgur on the country's list of blocked sites. Information and Communications Minister Tifatul Sembiring announced the ban on Monday, saying that 'negative or pornographic

Golkar to back Jokowi for president

On Tuesday evening, billionaire businessman Aburizal Bakrie visited Pasar Gembrong, a cramped traditional market in Central Jakarta. He was there to show his support for Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo to become the next president of Indonesia. The governor, better known as Jokowi, had arrived earlier

Why is Hong Kong unhappy?

Here in Hong Kong these days, you can't pick up a newspaper (metaphorically speaking) without seeing headlines on two topics: the people-to-people relationship between Hong Kong and mainland China, and Hong Kong's political decision-making process. The two issues appear to run at very different

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