Wednesday 23 Sep 2020 | 08:24 | SYDNEY
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Asia

The future ain’t what it used to be

What do the East Timorese defence force, “clean coal”, women’s empowerment, and Kevin Rudd’s first-term government have in common? The answer is the year 2020. Back when 2020 felt like a halcyon time far-far away, this was the year that, respectively, the Government of Timor-Leste, the

Australia-Philippines: Prolonged partners

The announcement by the Duterte administration last month that it will terminate the 1998 Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement will likely also raise questions about the future of the Australia-Philippines political and security relationship. Australia and the US are the only two countries that

The Belt and Rebranding Initiative

China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI) continues to defy simple explanations. Initially used as a means to promote and frame the country’s key foreign policy initiatives, it has now morphed into somewhat of an umbrella term for all sorts of Chinese overseas activities. Is this development

Covid-19 will kill Moon Jae-in’s Korea détente

South Korea has become the country worst hit by the novel coronavirus outside of China, with numbers of confirmed Covid-19 cases now more than 7500 and deaths more than 50. South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has faced severe criticism in recent weeks for his handling of the virus ­– an online

Book review: Contest for the Indo-Pacific

Book Review: Rory Medcalf Contest for the Indo-Pacific: Why China Won't Map the Future (La Trobe University Press, 2020) The first point that emerges from Rory Medcalf’s Contest for the Indo-Pacific is that in its origins, the Indo-Pacific concept was essentially a descriptive device – a “

On the Mekong, Khon Pi rapids saved – for now

Just over a year ago, I reported on the uncertain future of the Khon Pi rapids, located near the Thai town of Chiang Khong and lying in the riverbed between Thailand and Laos. At issue was the desire of a Chinese company to blast the rapids and thus open the course of the Mekong for commercial

The curious case of the US Sri Lanka sanctions

In February, the United States imposed individual sanctions against Sri Lankan military chief Shavendra Silva, who is presently both the Acting Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of the Sri Lanka Army. The move essentially means that Silva and his family cannot enter the United States “due to

Who will be the 21st century’s rule maker?

Mike Mazarr and I are debating the way Asia will be “governed” in future. That term needs to be placed in quote marks because international affairs aren’t analogous to domestic politics – there is no supreme sovereign authority with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, so states

Philippines: When democracies hit midlife crisis

Democracy in the Philippines turned 34 last week. The nation commemorated the peaceful mass demonstration that ousted the dictator Ferdinand Marcos from power. A group of protesters wore facemasks to protect themselves from the “Duterte virus” infecting the majority of Filipinos who

Malaysia is now in uncharted waters

As Malaysians reeled from the sudden downfall of Mahathir Mohamad, the appointment of Muhyiddin Yassin as Prime Minister, and the return of the former ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, of equal significance is the entry of the Islamist Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) into the government. PAS

Stirring hatreds ahead of Myanmar elections

Ethnic and religious nationalism has increasingly gripped Myanmar since intercommunal violence broke out between Burmese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in 2012. Viral disinformation, including videos of alleged terrorist attacks and anti-Rohingya propaganda linked to military accounts, has spread on

India’s reckless rush to ruin

On a cold winter’s morning in November 1984, after travelling nearly 48 hours from the south of India, I stepped off a train in New Delhi. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had been assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards, and the capital had become the epicentre of one of the most violent pogroms in

In Afghanistan, peace or fragmentation?

A sense of déjà vu prevails in Afghanistan – it’s 2014 again. Only this time, a possible lasting peace is at stake. Hot on the heels of a US-Taliban agreement to trial a seven-day “reduction in violence”, Afghanistan’s political order faces its worst political and constitutional crisis

South Korea’s struggle with coronavirus

South Korea now has the second worst coronavirus outbreak in the world, surpassed only by China. More than 1100 people are infected, and seven have died. Unsurprisingly the political fallout is widening. The media coverage is getting sensational. Everyone has watched too many movies, and even South

Singapore: Hedging with hope

Geography has been kind to Singapore. The city state is perched on the edge of Eurasia’s vast landmass, with a commanding view over the opening to the Strait of Malacca, one of the global economy’s pulsing arteries. Today visitors to its shoreline will see a flotilla of container ships and oil

Maluku: Obscure and notorious

We were 45 metres up, precariously perched on a platform in the rainforest canopy, looking north towards West Papua as the early morning mist cleared to reveal the shimmering coastline. “They arrested him near the waterfall, just on the other side of the valley over there,” said Pak Johan. He

Japan: Article 9 conundrum rears its head again

The last day in September in 2021 will mark the end of the current term for Abe Shinzo as President of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and Prime Minister of Japan. Due to LDP policy that a president cannot serve more than three consecutive terms, the next 18 months will most likely be Abe’s

A US-Taliban deal: What price for peace?

Albert Einstein warned humanity to beware of rotten compromises. Philosopher Avishai Margalit sought to explain this warning in an entire book. With the US and the Taliban poised to sign a peace agreement, now more than ever is the time to be wary of a “rotten compromise” on Afghanistan.

China’s counteroffensive in the war of ideas

From Beijing's perspective, political influence operations are at least as important as military operations, if not more so. Although the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) military modernisation programs have been at the centre of attention for decades, China's influence operations have only

China-Japan-US triangle: Abe’s balancing act

The legacy for Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo will be defined by how skilfully he navigates fluid geostrategic and geo-economic variables in the US-Japan-China triangle, at a time when regional order is fragmented and global governance is heavily contested. And of those points, China poses a

Power and legitimacy go hand in hand

I was delighted to read Sam Roggeveen’s thoughtful reply to The Interpreter article by Ali Wyne and myself about the relative qualities of US and Chinese power. Roggeveen makes good points; I agree, for example, that US military power has been critical to the post-war order. But I remain convinced

If a tree falls in Nepal, will anyone care?

For all its natural attributes, Nepal is considered a country that provides a template for what not to do, ecologically. Officials from neighbouring states will quietly admit to looking at Nepal in horror, as a country that has blithely sacrificed its environment in favour of rampant

Pushing the Philippines‑US alliance over the cliff

The termination of the 1998 Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) initiated by the Duterte administration will mark a historic disruption of American power projection in the Asia-Pacific, and deal a serious blow to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea–based maritime order

Japan–South Korea tensions show little sign of easing

2019 saw a rapid deterioration of Japan–South Korea relations on several fronts. In a culmination of the reoccurring spats over nationalist issues such as reparations for Korean comfort women and protests over the Dokdo/Takeshima islands that have characterised the bilateral relationship in recent

Bad news for the BJP as Delhi turns its back on Modi

In this month’s election to the Delhi Legislative Assembly, Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Adami Party (AAP or the Common Man Party) won another landslide victory, claiming 62 of the 70 seats. This left only eight for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that currently rules India under Prime Minister

Economic diplomacy: Indonesian trade deals and real deals

Moving on It is notable that while the three old Cs (curry, cricket, and the Commonwealth) still reappear at Australia-India gatherings, this week’s Indonesian summitry occurred with little reference to the parallel three Bs (boats, beef, and Bali). These two strange neighbours seem

In Africa, the US plays catch-up with China

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced his first trip to Africa, 15–19 February, with stops in Senegal, Ethiopia, and Angola. The choice of these three countries demonstrates that the US remains focused on security and economic investment issues in Africa, and, in the case of Angola, is

Singapore’s quarrel over colonialism

If you take an early evening stroll through Singapore’s old civic heart, the ghosts of Empire loom all around. You might start your walk at the celebrated Raffles Hotel, where – as tourists are endlessly reminded – English literary giants like Rudyard Kipling and Noel Coward once languidly

Australia-Indonesia: Building trust

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi highlighted the importance of developing what she called “strategic trust” in Australia-Indonesia relations, just ahead of the visit to Canberra this week by President Joko Widodo (“Jokowi”). Retno declared a more trusting Australia-Indonesia

Jokowi’s Canberra trip: A step ahead on a long road

In any relationship, it’s never a great sign when both parties have to reassure each other constantly about the strength of their bond. The more you feel the need to say it, the less true it tends to be. So it was revealing that both Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Indonesian

Five urgent issues for Indonesia’s president

On 10 February, Indonesian President Joko Widodo (“Jokowi”) will address Australia’s parliament. Indonesia is often referred to as the democratic success story of Southeast Asia and a model of Muslim democracy, yet it has been responsible for significant backsliding on human rights in recent

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