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China’s aid: the image boost

Mounting accusations of Chinese debt traps, trade imbalances, and neocolonialism in Africa made for a heady backdrop to this month’s meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. China’s Xi Jinping made clear he was having none of it. In his keynote speech to African leaders gathered in

Belt and Road: more than just a brand

For all of its grandiose ambition, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an enigma. The debate about Beijing’s intentions continues. Is it a grand strategy? Or merely a clever repackaging of commercial activity, aimed at internal audiences? In light of increasingly apparent

The Sino-Russian entente

Russia’s Vostok-18 exercises have received significant attention, thanks mainly to the Kremlin’s grand announcements about their scale. If Russia’s defence ministry is to be believed, up to 300,000 military personnel from all services will take part. Notably, they will

Where next, Jack Ma?

On the morning of Monday 10 September, China’s most famous billionaire announced plans to step down as head of the company he founded. Jack Ma (马云) revealed he would leave his role as executive chairman of Alibaba Group, the e-commerce and internet behemoth that he has led for its entire

China’s Muslim ban

At first, Chinese authorities in her village in Xinjiang removed the crescents from the mosque, Auken told me. Then the imam and the boy responsible for the call to prayers disappeared into custody. Authorities began requiring everyone in the village to gather for the weekly Chinese flag-raising

PNG: new friend versus old, APEC and polio 

The condemnation of China last week by Nauru’s President Baron Waqa at the Pacific Island Forum leaders’ meeting may have been bolstered by Taiwan’s substantial investment in that tiny Pacific nation of 13,000 people. Nauru is one of six Pacific countries to have diplomatic relations with

China’s trans-Himalayan tango with Nepal

Crossing the China-Nepal border via Tibet and the Himalayas is as formidable as it has been for centuries. To drive from Tibet’s capital city Lhasa to the Gyirong checkpoint bordering Nepal’s Rasuwa takes at least 15 hours – if weather condition allows. That is why, during my meeting with

Political blackmail in the Taiwan-China contest

Last month, El Salvador announced it will establish diplomatic relations with China. Under the “one China” policy, this meant El Salvador had to break official diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The end of the 47-year relationship marks a disturbing trend with the excuse countries have used to break

China’s tech bubble

In the four decades that have followed China’s initial stage of post-Mao “Reform and Opening Up”, the world has learned to expect great things from the Middle Kingdom’s centrally-planned economy. It has established itself as the low-end “factory of the world” and orchestrated an

The threat within: Pakistan’s ties to China

Last month, a suicide bomber in Pakistan’s Balochistan province attacked a passenger bus transporting 18 Chinese engineers from Saindak town in the southwest to Dalbandin Airport. The engineers were on their way home for a holiday after working on the Saindak Copper-Gold project.

Lies, damn lies, and Chinese statistics

Lies, damn lies, and statistics, and of course to that list should be added Chinese statistics. After reporting three quarters of 6.8% GDP growth – even though the economy and corporate sector has been shaken by deleveraging, trade wars, and an ever more volatile exchange rate – the official

Will Solomon Islands abandon Taiwan?

Over the last couple of years Taiwan has been steadily haemorrhaging diplomatic allies. Countries from Africa, Central America and the Caribbean have switched allegiance to Beijing, leaving just 17 countries maintaining formal relations with Taipei. The largest bloc of such countries is in the

Chinese “birth tourism” shows citizenship evolves

Several years ago, while living in Southern California and pregnant with my twin sons, I began hearing news reports about maternity hotels. Baffled neighbours were asking why so many pregnant Chinese women were coming and going into homes east of Los Angeles, why the garbage cans were piled high

Belt and Road: China’s biggest brand

Most public discussion of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) tends to paint it as a coherent strategy of the Chinese Communist Party. One school argues that this strategy is largely economic in focus, the other major approach focuses on the political drivers. What both need to consider is

Huawei in Australia: the 5G fear

The Australian government has officially blocked Chinese telecommunications firms, most notably Huawei, from providing equipment to Australia’s new 5G mobile phone networks, citing concerns over national security. While the issue in question regards some of the world’s most sophisticated

China takes on Hong Kong’s press club 

On Tuesday, the usually crowded Central district of Hong Kong, the very heart of the financial hub, experienced an unusual flare of tension. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club hosted an event featuring Andy Chan, the 27-year-old leader of a fringe party promoting Hong Kong independence from

Working with China on Pacific climate change

The recent release of the Lowy Institute’s Pacific Aid Map has relieved some “strategic anxiety” around China’s growing influence in the Pacific islands. Beijing committed only 8% of total aid to the region between 2011 and 2018. If we want to live in a more peaceful world,

CAC-handed: tensions in Chinese internet control

Facebook’s farcical entry into, and withdrawal from, the Chinese market in July appears to confirm a widely held view of the Chinese state’s power to police its online spaces. We like to think of China’s internet as not only bordered but also tightly controlled, subject to the

Disappearing Deng

It started as soon as Xi Jinping had secured power over the party-state of China. First he was selected to head the Communist Party in November 2012, and then, in what was a mere formality, he was endorsed the following March as President of China. Along the way, he also became Chairman of the

The Belt and Road’s difficult embrace

This article is based on episode 26 of the Little Red Podcast, featuring Peter Cai of the Lowy Institute, Dirk van der Kley of the Australian National University, and Louisa Lim from the Centre for Advancing Journalism at Melbourne University. Last year my most decorated PhD student Colonel

Indo-Pacific: where is the money coming from?

Such is the excitement about China’s role in Asia that the mere whiff of anything to do with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is enough to cause a media flurry in Canberra. It happened again a few days ago. Two pieces of news triggered headlines about the BRI in the Australia media. 

Beijing’s maritime gifts

China’s growing naval and paramilitary might receives daily attention. But what of China’s emerging role as a provider of capacity to coastal states in the Indo-Pacific? Improving their maritime domain awareness has traditionally been the preserve of the “Quad” countries: the US, Japan,

ASEAN might not be the way

Former senior Australian diplomat Geoff Raby’s substantial article written for the Asia Society and reproduced in the Australian Financial Review this week continues his “realist” approach to discussion of Australia’s foreign policy choices. It’s another piece

China: vaccines and rumours from Zhongnanhai

Last week, rumours began swirling around Beijing about possible factional infighting within the Chinese Government involving President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. The rumours seemed troubling, with Chinese commentator Li Yee saying:  Online reports last Friday night

Xi Jinping, Senegal, and China’s West Africa drive

Xi Jinping’s choice of Senegal for a state visit on 20–21 July, his first visit to West Africa, en route to the BRICS summit in South Africa, suggests that China seeks to deepen cooperation in a region that has seen comparatively less Chinese engagements than elsewhere in Africa. In using

Tit-for-tat-for-tit-for-tat

The US is moving quickly to follow through on Trump’s threats to further escalate his trade war with China (now is as good a time as any to say that the trade war has officially started). Last week the US imposed tariffs on US$34 billion worth of Chinese imports, with another US$16 billion to be

Assessing Duterte’s China investment drive

When President Rodrigo Duterte visited the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in October 2016, he came home with an agreement that earmarked US$24 billion worth of Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) and overseas development aid for the Philippines. Many of the deals were eventually

US Navy sails into Taiwan sunset

It’s inevitable that, when the US sails warships through the Taiwan Strait, it will be interpreted as a broader diplomatic statement or even a protest – in this case, perhaps about North Korea, or the US–China trade spat. But these transits are more common than you might think. According to

China business and China threats

China has loomed large in the Australian economy for two decades. Be it the demand for iron ore or coal, or the education, property, and tourism markets, the Australian economy has boomed with China’s wind in its sails. As China is now the world’s second largest economy, its global

Hambantota: “the Chinese port”

In early 2011, I was in Hambantota, southern Sri Lanka, looking for the new port. After hours of driving, from the southern beaches through kilometres of wetlands featuring water buffalo, ibises, and the odd elephant, through vivid green jungle as far you could see, the wilderness eventually

The Huawei way

Recent months have seen controversy swirling around Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, the national security risk it may or may not pose to Australia, and its involvement with the nation’s legislators. Amid these concerns, it is important to consider the company in its

US-China trade: joke’s over

Once entertaining, the Trump administration is becoming unfunny. In less than a week the trade dispute between China and the US has escalated to cover what will quite likely be the entirety of US goods exports to China, and the greater part, if not the whole, of Chinese goods exports to the US

Australia and Germany should work together on China

Efforts by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to influence Australian politics have made headlines since 2017. In recent months, similar attempts have been at the centre of German debates. While geographically distant, Australia and Germany are well suited to address this challenge jointly, and

The China puzzle in Asia

China is rising! This remarkable event, which is hardly surprising because the process has been underway for at least forty years, is causing great excitement in Australia and elsewhere. In some circles, China’s strong economic growth and international activities have 

Time to denounce China’s Muslim gulag

One of the worst human rights abuses in recent times is occurring in China’s far-western region of Xinjiang. The Chinese Communist Party has rounded up possibly one million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities in purpose-built concentration camps where they are subjected to

China’s rising interests in Qatar

It has been a year since Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt severed diplomatic ties with Qatar. Saudi Arabia and the UAE led the boycott, instituting an economic and trade embargo that isolated Qatar by air, land, and sea from its neighbours, sternly restricting Qatari-bound

Trump-Kim summit: China smiles

As analysts and pundits rake through the breadcrumbs dropped after the Trump–Kim summit in Singapore, one thing is for certain: the People’s Republic of China (hereafter “China”) is happy. The relationship between China and North Korea has been described as “as close as lips and teeth

A primer for the Trump–Kim summit

Barely six months ago, Australia’s debate on North Korea featured Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speculating about invoking the ANZUS treaty in case of war, and discussion on The Interpreter between Hugh White and Rob Ayson about what conflict with a nuclear-armed

Name shame: China’s trouble with Taiwan

Beijing’s campaign to isolate Taiwan may be having unintended consequences that work in Taipei’s favour. Rather than weakening Taiwan’s ties with the world, China’s actions seem to be increasing sympathy for Taiwan and strengthening Taiwan’s unofficial ties in the Indo-Pacific. Since its

China eyes its next prize – the Mekong

Beijing’s islands-building in the South China Sea and their militarisation, replete with surface-to-air missiles, is near complete. With guile, threat, and coercion, China can now seize control of one of the main transport arteries of Southeast Asia, making a mockery of

A study in controversy: Chinese students in Australia

According to the caricature in the popular media, Chinese international students in Australia are devoted agents of the Chinese Government. They are “brainwashed from birth” and, in this compromised state, pose a threat to Australian universities and the values they espouse. In this context,

Has the PLA really overlooked its amphibious force?

It might surprise the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to learn they’ve short-changed themselves on amphibious capability. Sam Roggeveen wrote on The Interpreter recently (“Why China isn’t planning to storm Taiwan’s beaches”) that “China’s navy has grown dramatically over the past two

A stocktake of Australia’s China policy debate

Australia’s not-so-old tendency to avoid tension that could jeopardise our economic and trade relationship with China had the unfortunate effect of making China dismissive of Australia’s regional interests. For too long, too few of us thought hard, if at all, about what a region deterred by

Beyond the “Chinese debt trap”

As China’s commercial and military presence grows across Asia, Africa, and the Pacific, other major powers are growing increasingly alarmed about Beijing leading partner nations into “debt traps”. In response, at the recent Commonwealth meeting, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada

China’s looming financial crisis

Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia Philip Lowe’s speech last week highlighting the risks to the Chinese financial system from shadow banks – non-bank financial institutions often operating in more lightly regulated wholesale markets – has once again drawn attention to the

The Wenchuan earthquake, ten years on

This article is based on Episode 24 of the Little Red Podcast, focused on a panel at the Association for Asian Studies featuring Louisa Lim, Christian Sorace, Maria Repnikova, Xu Bin, and Yi Kang. Throughout our podcast series, we’ve asked many of our guests to nominate what

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