Thursday 20 Jan 2022 | 13:29 | SYDNEY
What's happening on


Japan’s low-tech world

Japan is a high-tech country, right? It is, after all, the home of bullet trains, robots, computer games and all sorts of gadgets. But there is another side of the story: low-tech Japan. Most of the world now communicates by email, but our Japanese friends are still hooked on fax machines. While

Mongolia suffers under China’s zero Covid policy

Food shortages, inflation, hundreds of thousands of people without an income, and thousands of shipping containers stuck on the border, not to mention rising Covid-19 cases, job losses, closed businesses, a crippled export sector, and a decimated tourism industry: this has been the situation in

South Korea’s embrace of Australia goes beyond China

The elevation of a “comprehensive strategic partnership” between South Korea and Australia during South Korean President Moon Jae-In’s state visit last month has left analysts torn about its impetus. Is South Korea simply seeking to expand economic ties? Or are we witnessing a “quiet

Who cares about the Australia-China relationship?

Having a deep interest in power politics is still not the norm in Australia. Yet, an increasing number of its population appears genuinely concerned about what a more aggressive and autocratic China means for Australia and for themselves. Intensifying media coverage of the friction in bilateral

Whoever controls the spice, controls the universe

In the science-fiction classic Dune, the natural resource of “spice” represents the most valuable commodity in the universe, found only on the desert planet of Arrakis. Spice serves various purposes in Dune, but in both movie adaptations of the novel, Baron Harkonnen, former ruler of Arrakis,

Japan and Australia ties blossom

Japan and Australia this month formally signed a “landmark” Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA), establishing a defence cooperation framework that will allow the stationing of troops in each other’s countries along with the staging of joint training exercises and disaster support. The long-

Fear, loathing and infighting in Kazakhstan

Over the course of barely a week, the normally placid Kazakhstan, best known in the West for being the unwilling object of humour in the Borat films (and perhaps also for being home to approximately 15 per cent of all Bitcoin mining), has endured a maelstrom. Events began on 2 January with


A rare spate of headlines out of Laos last month trilled about a new bullet train that runs from the capital Vientiane to China, with the government heavily in debt after the exercise. But the country was also recently included in a less than auspicious list. The International Monetary Fund ranked

Koreas: A tale of two Olympics

The presidency of South Korea’s Moon Jae-in will be bookended by Winter Olympics – one defined by hope, the other despair. North Korea has confirmed it will not participate in the Beijing Winter Olympics because of the coronavirus and what it calls the “hostile policies” of the United States

Indian Ocean step-up

Like Australia in the Pacific, India has been pursuing its own Indian Ocean island step-up, largely driven by concerns about China’s growing influence in the region. This has included increased bilateral aid, investment, and security assistance to the island states. India is also trying to develop

Taliban takeover – Best of The Interpreter 2021

US forces and their allies debated the same question with varying intensity for 20 years after the 9/11 attacks. Afghanistan: To leave or not to leave? Syed Fazl-e-Haider: The Taliban has already warned the US-led forces against extending their presence and demanded they stick to the Doha

Myths that stir trouble in the South China Sea

US officials regularly present China as an aggressive and expansionist military power while Chinese state sources criticise the United States in similar terms. The verbal sparring has only increased concern about the prospect of a future war between China and the United States, with Australia as a

Pakistan and China: An unhappy union in Gwadar

A couple of months back, 70-year-old housewife Masi Zainab asked a charismatic local political leader, Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman Baloch, to help mount a protest for the rights of the citizens of Gwadar, a port city in southwestern Pakistan. Within weeks, Masi Zainab was marching with thousands of

India remains divided about AUKUS

The jury in New Delhi is still out on AUKUS, the new trilateral security agreement between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. Three months after its announcement, the issue continues to split India’s security experts, with little consensus over whether it benefits New Delhi or is

India’s beauty and the beast

It has been a tumultuous 2021 for India: floods, fires, plague and pollution, but also healthy economic growth figures, a successful vaccination campaign, a UN Security Council non-permanent seat, and more visibility on the world stage in non-political ways. India also had an eleventh-hour soft

Hun Sen’s all-encompassing rule of Cambodia

While Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has kept the artifice of democracy in the country, with local commune elections to be held next year, his rule has been defined by illustrations of just how easily he can seize an opportunity to further secure and solidify his family’s power. On 2

China, Australia, and the Internet of Things

The world is being transformed by the Internet of Things (the IoT) as ever more devices and activities are linked through the internet and endowed with computing power. This transformation brings an exponential rise in the security challenges inherent in digital connections, especially connections

Australia’s “China” blinders on South Korea

Moon Jae-in’s visit to Australia brought out a troubling fact – amid the China threat hullabaloo, the ability to objectively analyse other diplomatic relationships has declined. Reported in Australia, the visit predominantly concerned strategy. The purchase of Hanwha’s K-9 howitzer and

Common prosperity meets the Belt and Road

China’s President Xi Jinping’s concept of “common prosperity” is slowly being internationalised. The most obvious manifestation of this came last month when Xi framed the Belt and Road (BRI) as a vehicle for achieving global common prosperity. While it is far from clear at this stage how

Crisis stability as a priority in US-China relations

Prospects for US-China arms control run hot and cold. China continues to vociferously oppose the recent Australia-UK-US agreement to cooperate on Australia’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines. And over the past six months there have been three significant revelations by open-source

Lights! Camera! Action! A new Hollywood

In 2016, the live-action film adaptation of the popular videogame Warcraft took a dismal $24 million in its opening weekend in the United States, revenue that dropped a further 73 per cent the next weekend to a meagre $6.5 million for a film that cost $160 million to make. It was a widespread flop,

Duterte is playing both sides

The Philippines national election looms in May 2022. Sitting President Rodrigo Duterte is running to become a senator, while his daughter is campaigning to be vice-president to Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, the offspring of another strongman. Current senator and Duterte’s closest ally

Europe is finally getting serious about China

On 1 December, the European Commission unveiled its Global Gateway Strategy, a new scheme which will mobilise “up to €300 billion” in investments between 2021 and 2027. At first glance, the Global Gateway looks like another entry in an increasingly crowded field of competitors to China’s

Myanmar’s annus horribilis

It has been just over a year since Myanmar emphatically re-elected Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy as the dominant partner in the country’s quasi-civilian government. Next February, it will be a year since the armed forces, or Tatmadaw, ignored that result and seized power

Taming the “grey zone”

Unease about so-called “grey zone” tactics is increasingly in vogue. From a position of relative obscurity, the term has surged onto the official agenda. There was no mention of “grey zone” in Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper, but it appears 11 times in the 2020 Defence Strategic

Covid in Asia: the immediate payoff of donating vaccines

Covid-19 has loomed large over everything again this year and the new Omicron variant is a warning that there is still plenty of fight left in the virus. But the pandemic is ultimately an economic and geopolitical story as well as a health threat. Donations of vaccines and the economic impacts of

Twenty years of BRICS

It is 20 years since Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill invented the BRIC economic grouping – Brazil, Russia, India and China – with South Africa added later to make up the BRICS. He celebrated this anniversary with a self-congratulatory article in the Financial Times, expressing his

Economic diplomacy: Free trade vs economic resilience

Santa clauses The value of global goods trade during the biggest pandemic in a century last year dropped about a third less than it did during the biggest financial crisis in a generation in 2008. But internet searches about “economic resilience” are running more than twice as high these days

Russia, more than China, leaves India with a dilemma

Ukraine and Taiwan are now the major focal points in the geopolitical arena, testing the diplomacy of the United States but also other nations – India as much as any. Where India-China relations have soured in recent years, in some ways making India’s response to the Taiwan issue more

Honouring the dead on the path to Korean peace

Almost 70 years on, the Korean war is still not formally over. The United States and South Korea are in the final stages of drafting an end-of-war declaration text. Since his address at the United Nations General Assembly in September, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has made the declaration

Increasingly illiberal Thailand

The Thai state is increasingly intolerant of dissenting voices. But, instead of ending opposition, the government’s tightening restrictions will drive contrarian voices underground. The administration would be better advised to provide space for alternative points of view to be expressed, and to

The Doha accord and Taliban legitimacy

Under the 2020 Doha Agreement, the US withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan was conditional on Taliban security assurances that Afghan territory would not be used as a launch pad by al-Qaeda or Islamic State for attacks against the United States. Similar accords seeking security promises from

Trouble on the Mekong

Two reports released last month by The Mekong River Commission (MRC), an inter-governmental organisation that works with the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam to jointly manage the river’s resources, serve as a crucial health check on the state of Southeast Asia’s longest

North Korea: Law, but not as we know it

For years, North Korea’s human rights situation has been in the spotlight of activists who pile voluminous report upon report, while the North Korean government repeatedly rejects the criticism as political, based on lies or lacking understanding of realities on the ground. Pyongyang

India, China cop finger pointing in climate politics

Two weeks of negotiations in Glasgow meant that COP26 resulted in a resolution – of sorts. Nations agreed to resume next year with stronger 2030 emissions reduction targets in a global bid to try to alleviate the worst consequences of the climate disaster. It wasn’t the achievement that was

Maldives: India first or India out?

Recent protests in Maldives against India’s influence in the country calling for “Indian military out” has led the Maldives government to respond by reiterating its “India First” policy. This has highlighted the difficulties that both countries face in building a stable strategic