The Interpreter is about to go on hiatus until 8 January, but between now and then, we'll publish occasional posts reviewing our very best material from 2017. To kick us off, a countdown of our ten most popular posts of the year.
We've covered all the big foreign policy stories in 2017, including the Trump administration and Australia’s place in the world. But our most popular posts for 2017 reflect The Interpreter’s strong focus on Asia. Southeast Asia expert Sidney Jones had two pieces in our top 10. There were also two top-10 pieces on the China-India clash over Doklam, and two more on the China-India relationship. But our most read article in 2017 was from one of 2017’s most popular online personalities, a long-time Interpreter contributor and one of the sharpest Korea analysts around. Here's the whole list:
10. Has Marawi killed the Philippines peace process?, by Sidney Jones:
Duterte's war on drugs has been as much of a disaster for Mindanao as the Maute brothers. In Marawi, it may have sent some dealers into the arms of the extremists for protection, though there is no evidence to support Duterte's assertion that the Mautes themselves were long involved in the drug trade. It has undercut any efforts to fix the dysfunctional criminal justice system, encouraging vigilante killings and planted evidence. With most of the victims from poor neighbourhoods, it has reportedly led to a spike in recruitment for the Communist New People's Army (NPA), which in any case is taking full advantage of the massive deployment of military forces to Marawi and the Sulu archipelago. And it is diverting the attention of the president and his advisers from moving forward on Bangsamoro autonomy. If the President is not careful, his legacy to the Philippines will be two newly revitalised insurgencies, not just one.
9. India feeling the heat on Belt and Road, by Dhruva Jaishankar:
A case could be made that BRI's hype and flaws mean that it should not be a cause for concern for New Delhi. But national security policy has to account for a variety of scenarios. Given that BRI directly impinges upon India's neighbourhood policy, counter-terrorism objectives, desire for a stable balance of power in Asia, and ability to shape global institutions and norms, it arguably presents the greatest single challenge to India's foreign policy.
8. South China Sea: Beijing raises the temperature again, by Euan Graham:
China’s ongoing maritime activity around Thitu is worrisome in its own right because it is coercive in nature. However, if the objective of the operation is to occupy Sandy Cay, that would mean a significant escalation in tension in the South China Sea. Asia has acquired yet another flashpoint it could well do without. Moreover, it appears to be one that China has deliberately picked at a time and location of its choosing.
7. Two decisions that leave Indonesia more polarised than ever, by Sidney Jones:
Two back-to-back decisions have left Indonesia more religiously polarised than ever. One was politically inept, the second deeply unjust. Both may come back to haunt the Jokowi government.
6. Doklam: Paths ahead for India and China, by Shashank Joshi:
I am sceptical that China can, or intends to, use force to expel Indian forces directly. The geography of Doklam, the proximity of several Indian mountain divisions, and broad improvements in India's military position in the northeast in recent years mean that any Chinese attack would not be guaranteed to succeed, forcing Beijing into a choice between humiliating defeat and major escalation. India's own assessment is that there have been no unusual military movements in Tibet for two months, and at least one Indian general has noted that 'there is no military mobilisation by China'. India would detect any large-scale troop movement across the Tsangpo, so it would be difficult for the PLA to achieve both surprise and mass. But even if it could do so, it is no exaggeration to say that a wider war...would be devastating for China's strategic objectives in Asia and the world.
5. Singapore’s informative family feud, by Michael Barr:
During the 13 years that Lee Hsien Loong has been prime minister, government in Singapore has been unambiguously ordinary. There have been large anti-government rallies, the worse election result for the government since independence, and a series of spectacular administrative failures. He famously saved the 2011 General Elections for the government by apologising for all the things the government had done wrong. This is definitely not the way to enhance a brand nor the way to build a dynasty. It is not even a good way to run a country.
4. How China snubbed Singapore at the Belt and Road summit, by Angela Han:
China’s snub is yet another example of the narrowing diplomatic space that small states like Singapore have in which to manoeuvre. Relying on its hard-nosed pragmatism has, for half a decade, served Singapore well. But with most of its ASEAN neighbours increasingly willing to set aside the South China Sea disputes in return for a massive influx of Chinese investment, it is increasingly difficult for Singapore to both protect its national interest and maintain an independent foreign policy of not picking sides.
3. Why India is buying the world’s emptiest airport, by David Brewster:
The Chinese takeover of Hambantota port only increases New Delhi's worries that it will become an Indian Ocean hub for the Chinese navy. But, in fact, Hambantota has never been feasible as a full blown Chinese naval base. Its proximity to India would make it highly vulnerable to air attack in the event of conflict between the two countries. But short of war, Hambantota would make a fine logistics point for an expanded Chinese naval presence. Although Colombo has repeatedly claimed that no Chinese naval facility will be permitted in Sri Lanka, New Delhi worries that China's influence will one day reach a point where the Sri Lankan government simply cannot say no. This is where the world's emptiest airport comes in.
2. Doklam: Who won?, by Rory Medcalf:
India was first to announce the withdrawal of its forces, and China did not take long to claim that its road-building was not necessarily over but could eventually resume when the weather is right. Such points reinforce the superficial reading, which some Western media were surprisingly quick to accept, that China had essentially forced India into a somewhat humiliating backdown. This is actually quite unconvincing, as a straightforward review of the evolution of the dispute would suggest.
1. North Korea: Why the West freaks out but South Korea doesn’t, by Robert Kelly:
As I have pointed out a few times during the recent hype, South Koreans are barely paying attention. The South Korean president and then foreign minister both went on vacation (yes, really) in early August, at the peak of the Kim Jong Un-Donald Trump war of words. The big political issues here this summer have been the prosecution of the Samsung dauphin and the continuing drama around impeached former president Park Geun Hye.
Photo by Flickr user frederik_rowing.