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The Interpreter's best of 2015: Top posts this year

The Interpreter's best of 2015: Top posts this year
Published 24 Dec 2015 

Throughout the Christmas-New Year break, The Interpreter will be featuring some of its best pieces from 2015. More to come between now and January 4 when The Interpreter will be back for 2016. These four posts, in no particular order, received the most traffic this past year,

Why South Korea is so obsessed with Japan, by Robert E. Kelly, 4 June. 

One obvious explanation for the sheer intensity of feeling is that South Korea's disputes with Japan have graduatedfrom politics to identity. As Cha notes, South Korea's nationalism is negative, defined very much against Japan and, importantly, not against North Korea. The reason, I hypothesize, is that North Korea so successfully manipulates Korean nationalist discourse that South Korea cannot define itself against North Korea in the same way West Germany did against East Germany. So South Korea uses a third party against which to prove its nationalist bona fides in its national legitimacy competition with the North.

It is now widely accepted that North Korea's real ideology is not socialism but a race-based Korean nationalism in which the DRPK is defending the Korean race (the minjok) against foreign depredation. The 'Yankee Colony' South Korea — with its internationalised economy, American military presence, cultural Westernisation, resident foreign population, and so on — cannot compete with this racial purity narrative.

This would not matter if South Korea's political identity were democratic and post-racial, but it isn't. The minjokmyth is in fact deeply resonant. South Korean education teaches it (the resultant racism is a huge problem); government media campaigns and commercials stress it; my students write about it in glowing terms; until a few years ago the national pledge of allegiance was to the minjok, not to the democratic state. Nor does South Korea's democracy provide a strong legitimacy competitor to race-nationalism. Corruptionilliberalism, and an elitistpolitical-opportunity structure have generated a robust street protest culture, a strong sign that elections are weak vessels of legitimacy.

Al Jazeera poll shows alarming levels of support for ISIS, by Anneliese Mcauliffe, 26 May.

What, if anything, does this tell us about support for ISIS in the Arab world?

Most of Al Jazeera Arabic's audience comes from the Sunni Muslim world, withhigh viewerships in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Al Jazeera Arabic is owned by the Qatar Government and, despite claims of independence, follows Doha's foreign policy diktats closely.

The Government of Qatar has an ambiguous record when it comes to supporting ISIS. The official line is that Qatar supports the moderate (Sunni) Islamist opposition, and Qatar hasjoined the US-led coalition against the Islamic State. But concerns have been raised that funding from loosely defined 'private donors' from Qatar (along with UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) has beenfunnelled to Sunni militants including Jabhat al Nusra, the al Qaeda-affiliated opposition force, as well as ISIS.

Al Jazeera Arabic has operated as an unofficial mouthpiece for various Sunni opposition voices, much more so than its arch-rival, the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya. It is perhaps no coincidence that President Obama earlier this month snubbed Al Jazeera Arabic and instead gave hissecond interview to Al Arabiya.

Things look bad for Indonesia's economy, but don't expect rapid reform, by Matthew Busch, 19 August.

The original 'bad time' was 1965, with Indonesia facing bankruptcy and runaway inflation as a result of Sukarno's 'extreme statist adventures'. By the time the New Order Government came to power virtually every foreign investor (save a troika of US oil companies) had been nationalised. New foreign investment was prohibited by law. Indonesia had over 1000 state-owned enterprises, mostly nationalised companies poorly run by military officers. The New Order, consolidating power amid an episode of wrenching political and social change, immediately redefined its relationship to the economy. Its first legislation (Law No. 1/1967) allowed foreign investment, while late-1966 provisional decrees liberalised policy and rationalised state control.

Was India's special-forces raid into Myanmar a signal to China and Pakistan?, by Sashank Joshi, 11 June.

Finally, India's foreign and security policy machinery needs to get better at handling these things. The Indian Army's own spokesman, perhaps hoping to avoid embarrassing Myanmar, assiduously avoided any suggestion that India had crossed the border. His effort was quickly undone by bombastic tweets from a junior minister in charge of broadcasting, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who gleefully tweeted that Indian forces had gone 'deep into another country', promised that 'we will strike at a place and at a time of out choosing', and declared the raid 'a message for all countries, including Pakistan'. For good measure, he threw in the off-message hashtag #ManipurRevenge. Handling public diplomacy to an over-caffeinated and tone-deaf minister is rather amateurish signaling – the substitution of quiet professionalism with jingoistic hyperbole.

As the dust settles, the Indian Government would do well to take stock of the various lessons – both encouraging and cautionary – that might be drawn from the past few days.

Photo by Mintaha Neslihan Eroglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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