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ASEAN muddles through on Myanmar

Diplomacy is messy. Officials, politicians and (dare I say) think-tank analysts relish the highfalutin talk of rules, treaties, norms, values and principles. But, more often than not, it all comes down to realpolitik and the art of possible. A case in point is the unprecedented decision by the

If pushed far enough, would Myanmar leave ASEAN?

The decision by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations not to invite Myanmar’s military leader to two related summits in Brunei on 26–28 October raises an intriguing question: if pushed far enough, would the junta in Naypyidaw take Myanmar out of the regional grouping? Myanmar’s military

AUKUS and the CPTPP: It’s all about China

China’s application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) just hours after announcement of the new tripartite AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom and United States) security partnership may – or may not – have been coincidental.

UK’s Indo-Pacific tilt – not just for the good times

The United Kingdom’s proposed “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific was met with plenty of scepticism, including from this author, when it was unveiled in March as part of a broader Integrated Review of defence and foreign policy. Politicians and foreign policy analysts tend to obsess about

US-China rivalries: What matters for ASEAN

An interesting discussion about how Australia should respond to US President Joe Biden’s call for closer alignment and cooperation among democratic states has featured in a recent series of articles on The Interpreter. Between them, Susannah Patton and Ashley Townshend,  Michael Green, Ben

Myanmar pushes ASEAN to the brink

There is an anxious wait for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to effectively intervene in Myanmar’s political crisis caused by the February 1 military coup. The Myanmar state is functionally failing. The country is spiralling into chaos with rising urban armed violence, civil war, a

Is Southeast Asia ready for a US-China tech decoupling?

Recent developments suggest that both China and the United States are taking steps towards unravelling or “decoupling” their technology ecosystems. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the semiconductor industry, which manufactures the chips allowing everything from smartphones to cars to

Myanmar is not the next Syria

The deteriorating situation in Myanmar has led some observers to issue warnings of a “new Syria”. The two scenarios are not without broad similarities. In mid-April, civilians in Myanmar were being killed at a higher rate than in 2011 Syria, when a crackdown on protests sparked a brutal civil

ASEAN’s huge gamble on Myanmar

It has been a month since the ASEAN Leaders met with Myanmar junta Leader Min Aung Hlaing on 24 April in Jakarta to discuss the situation in Myanmar. The meeting itself and the outcome of it – the Five-Point Consensus – has been applauded by some as a rare win for ASEAN, given its limitations in

Guiding Myanmar away from ruin

On 4 January 2012, at the beginning of what was commonly assumed to be Myanmar’s transition to democracy, the government-run New Light of Myanmar published an editorial that contrasted “the violent conflicts, protests and bloodshed” that mark other countries’ transitions to democracy with

Indonesia raises ASEAN’s bar on Myanmar

For much of his presidency, Indonesia’s Joko Widodo has taken a mercantilist view of foreign policy, pushing the country’s diplomats to promote trade and investment while keeping their heads below the parapet on most thorny international issues. Indonesia’s inward-looking approach compounded

Indonesia gambles on special ASEAN summit on Myanmar

In a bid to resolve Myanmar’s political crisis sparked by the February military coup, Indonesia will host a leaders’ summit for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Jakarta on 24 April. Myanmar’s coup leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, is expected to attend,

The Quad’s uneasy place in Southeast Asia

Last month, the leaders of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – the United States, Japan, India and Australia – met for the first time. Promising to strive for a region that is “free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion”, the Quad

A new “concert” to govern the Indo-Pacific

The joint statement issued following the weekend meeting of the four “Quad” leaders was titled “The Spirit of the Quad”. This title could be read as either self-affirmation or self-praise. The Quad’s first summit of leaders was a somewhat informal affair, held virtually amid a global

Washington’s warped Asia policy debate

US President-elect Joe Biden’s decision to select retired Army General Lloyd Austin to be his Secretary of Defense triggered a somewhat predictable set of hot takes among US academics and commentators. Aside from questions about what his appointment would mean for civil-military relations, a major

What RCEP can tell us about geopolitics in Asia

Much of the economic gains from the newly signed mega trade deal known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership will come from mitigating what is called the Asian “noodle bowl effect”. The deal will harmonise what have to date been separate rules of origin across the region into

Economic diplomacy: A call to syringes, not arms

Going out or staying in With Australia experiencing its first recession in a generation, potential differences are emerging over whether future prosperity will come from more business integration with high-growth Asia or from preserving capital for economic sovereignty at home. These, of course,

Brookings Report: Historical tensions and contemporary governance challenges in Southeast Asia: The case of Indonesia

In this report published by the Brookings Institution, Ben Bland explains why Western nations need to engage with Indonesia in its own right, not as a part of plan to counterbalance China. To do so successfully, they need to develop a much better understanding of the long-running (and ongoing)

Brunei, ASEAN and the South China Sea

On 20 July, after a long period silence on the issue, the Brunei Darussalam Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement declaring that it “maintains its two-step approach in addressing the South China Sea”. As bland as this statement sounds, it represents a critical development in the tiny

After ASEAN summit, little change on the South China Sea

On 26 June, the leaders of the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) held their 36th annual summit by video conference, after the in-person summit scheduled for April was postponed because of Covid-19. The pandemic was the main topic of discussions.  Also high on the

US regional leadership: A shot across the bow

For years at the Shangri-La Dialogue, the pre-eminent meeting of defence ministers held in Singapore, successive secretaries of defence from the United States have repeated ad nauseam that Washington is a “resident power” in the region.It is becoming increasingly evident that the Covid-19

ASEAN: Perceptions of power and security

The State of Southeast Asia: 2020 Survey Report, produced by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute of Singapore, has confirmed the power rivalry between China and United States is one of the primary concerns of Southeast Asian states. The survey of professionals from the business sector, public service,

Forging consensus in the South China Sea

Analysis as to how Hanoi might resolve its South China Sea disputes with other claimants has been overshadowed by a near exclusive depiction of its competition with Beijing. Hanoi’s current maritime disputes with Beijing have presented few opportunities for strategic progress. Comparatively, the

Why the US and its allies should keep ASEAN at the centre

Southeast Asia is a region crucial to China, the geography creating what is known as the “Malacca Strait dilemma” – a strategic chokepoint located between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra, it provides China with its shortest maritime access to Europe, Africa, and the

The Indo-Pacific is the New Asia

It’s official. We live in the Indo-Pacific. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations released a joint statement this week in Bangkok during its annual summit called the “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific”. It defines the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions as a single interconnected region

Economic diplomacy: ASEAN trade, BRI deals and ageing Asia

When the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry surveyed its members last year about their use of trade agreements, the ASEAN-Australia New Zealand Free Trade Agreement surprisingly emerged as the third best known and used of 14 available trade concession frameworks. So, it is appropriate

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