Monday 19 Mar 2018 | 05:36 | SYDNEY
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What DFAT really thinks of Australia joining ASEAN

Ahead of Malcolm Turnbull’s weekend confab for South East Asian leaders, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo reportedly thought it would be a “good idea” if Australia joined ASEAN. Lowy’s Aaron Connelly is dubious. Reality check: Australia has not been invited to join ASEAN, and will not

Australia, Asia, and the “Wealth of Nations”

How does Australia’s economy align with those of our Asian neighbours? What are the development challenges facing nearby South East Asian countries? And just how large is China’s economy? These questions are of particular interest this week as the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit is held in Sydney

Russian pragmatism on display in South East Asia

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Myanmar recently in a clear display of Moscow’s pragmatism. Many Western observers, especially from the US, present Vladimir Putin as either a Machiavellian mixer with almost superhuman abilities – he who put Donald Trump in the White House and

The patchy results of China’s soft power efforts

Chinese media has reported that the Chinese Ministry of Culture is set to be merged with the National Tourism Association. So what? Well, as Xinhua points out, this is no mere bureaucratic reshuffle. Rather, this is about trying to further build China’s soft power: [T]he move is aimed at

Australia–Indonesia: strangers next door

At the weekend, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will meet with President of Indonesia Joko Widodo (Jokowi) on the margins of the Australia-ASEAN Special Summit. Although Turnbull seems to have built the positive personal relationship with Jokowi that eluded Tony Abbott, managing the bilateral

ASEAN is not South East Asia

The upcoming ASEAN-Australia Special Summit has led to a surge in analysis of the Association of South East Asian Nations and Australia-ASEAN relations in Australia. In February, ASPI released a special report by Graeme Dobell recommending Australia seek ASEAN membership claiming that ASEAN

Countering youth radicalisation in Indonesia

A group of ten Muslim students gathered in the shady courtyard of central Jakarta’s Roman Catholic Cathedral are reluctant to pass through its neo-Gothic doorways. Some argue that entering the cathedral would contravene their devotion to Islam and equate to an abandonment of faith.

The myth of Chinese containment

The great debate on the meaning of China’s rise is coming to a close. Where academics once argued over whether the Asian power would be a status quo or systemic challenger, there is growing consensus that China intends to reshape the global system in its image. From its criticism of the US

Surmounting Indonesia’s education problems

Although the recent Lowy Institute report by Andrew Rosser, “Beyond Access: Making Indonesia’s Education System Work”, reveals an Indonesian education system buckling under its own deficiencies, it can be read largely optimistically. The weaknesses Rosser outlines are all redeemable 

Timor Gap: a boundary, yet disputes linger

The signing of a treaty between Australia and Timor-Leste marking maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea represents a huge step forward in resolving the two states’ long-standing disputes. The conciliation process that led to the agreement was groundbreaking for being the first time such an approach

Beijing’s welcome mat for overseas Chinese

China has opened new doors for overseas Chinese through changes to its visa program. Beijing’s latest policy announcement allows foreign citizens with Chinese heritage to apply for a special multiple-entry visa granting a residency period of up to five years. This extends the existing policy

The Timor Trough – two separate shelves

In her article “How Australia crossed a line in the Timor Sea”, Kim McGrath claims that Australia had evidence supporting Indonesia’s claim in maritime boundary negotiations – but buried it. This serious charge is not substantiated by the 1970 report from then Bureau of

Xi Jinping and the grip of the party

Xi Jinping’s leadership of China has been notable on numerous levels of foreign policy, domestic affairs, and economic management. Since taking over from Hu Jintao in late 2012, Xi has centralised decision-making in his personal office; purged a legion of once-powerful comrades

North Korea’s time-buying strategy

Now that the PyeongChang Winter Olympics is over, both South and North Korea can be satisfied with what they gained from the sporting event. South Korea’s Moon Jae-in administration scored a major diplomatic victory with the attendance of Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, at the&

China’s loans and the debt dilemma

It’s no fun being in debt. Creditors want to chase you, the debts increase as you procrastinate about paying them, and you literally feel “indebted” and guilty, especially if those creditors are friends or family. There are studies about the effects of debt on personal well-being. Micro

Quality over quantity: Indonesia’s education challenge

Two enduring ideological themes have informed Indonesian education policy almost since the Repulic was founded. The first has been an “education for all” approach, and the second has been to use the education system to promote a sense of an “Indonesian identity”. Largely absent from

The danger of might without power

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that the Pentagon is “considering plans to send heavily armed, versatile Marine Corps Expeditionary Units to East Asia … as it repositions forces in response to growing Chinese influence”. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Shrugging Indonesia’s inferiority complex

Under President Joko (Jokowi) Widodo, Indonesia has been accused of lacking a coherent foreign policy, particularly when compared to the overtly internationalist outlook of previous president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Despite bold early claims to set up Indonesia as a “global maritime fulcrum”,

Philippine troops to China?

Imagine this. China builds a military base on the Australian continental shelf off, say, Cairns. Then, according to the Australian prime minister, China threatens a military response should Australia attempt to exercise its maritime rights in accordance with a unanimous international

Echoes of Mao as Xi Jinping ends term limits

Has Xi Jinping just made himself president for life? The announcement on Sunday that China will amend its state constitution to remove the two-term limit for the presidency has seemingly cleared the way for just that. Under the old constitutional provisions, Xi would have been required to step

Moon versus Abe and the contest for America’s ear

A battle is underway between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in over their differing approaches to North Korea. They are competing to shape the attitudes of US President Donald Trump, and this contest has been a compelling sideshow at the PyeongChang Winter

China and the military balance

The International Institute for Strategic Studies has launched the 2018 edition of The Military Balance, which tracks the development of military forces around the world. It contains a striking stat about China’s naval development: OK, this is an isolated factoid, but it illustrates a

How Australia crossed a line in the Timor Sea

The UN Compulsory Conciliation between Australia and Timor-Leste, which aims to set a boundary in the Timor Sea, appears to be inching towards resolution, with details emerging in the Portuguese media last week of a deal involving a median line boundary and a revenue-sharing arrangement

Indian Ocean base race: India responds

It seems that we are in the middle of a base race across the Indian Ocean. The latest move, reported on Tuesday, involves an agreement to give India access to naval facilities in Oman, close to the Strait of Hormuz. This may be the first step towards a greater Indian naval presence in the

Jonghyun and depression in South Korea

It was a difficult Christmas for the community dedicated to K-pop, the South Korean music genre that in recent years has become an international phenomenon. On 18 December 2017 the lead singer of influential K-pop band SHINee was found unconscious in a hotel, and was later declared dead in

The Monroe Doctrine revival

No other great powers will be allowed in Latin America, and liberal democracy is the only political system allowed in the region (or, in practice, no socialist or Marxist rule will be tolerated in the region). These are the two tenets of the Monroe Doctrine established by the US in 1823, a

Malaysia’s election – electric and exhausting

In media studios, food courts, street stalls, and offices, I watch Malaysian political observers and insiders perform the same routine. First, they sigh and look bored with the coming general election, due sometime before August. They talk of the lack of debate and point&

Olympic détente just another North Korean deceit

It is tempting to view North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics as an olive branch, a step back from the edge of nuclear brinkmanship. That’s certainly how much of the media is choosing to see it. Of course, it helps that the North Korean “unification” team is accompanied by

Sanction busting, North Korea–style

A recent report from the UN sanctions committee suggests that North Korea has been able to generate an estimated US$200 million from illicit dealings in the past year. Coal is being exported to China, Malaysia, Russia, and Vietnam in violation of current sanctions, and weapons (and materials

China’s cobalt conundrum in Congo

More than half of the cobalt that goes into phone batteries and electric vehicles worldwide – 66,000 of 123,000 tons produced in 2016 – is sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Global demand is expanding rapidly. But lawmakers in Kinshasa have decided to cash in, targeting Western

Review: Asia on a knife-edge

John West. Asian Century … on a Knife-edge: A 360 Degree Analysis of Asia’s Recent Development. Palgrave Macmillan. 2018. 335 pages. Kishore Mahbubani, the Singaporean diplomat and academic, is perhaps the most outspoken proponent of the notion that this is Asia’s century. In 2015 

Hong Kong: race-baiting the judiciary

The Hong Kong Government has long  “sold” the city’s common law system and rule of law as a way to attract foreign investment and connect mainland China to the rest of the world. These attributes are now seen, at least by some, as a liability. In January, retired policeman Frankly Chu