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Weekend catch-up: Documentaries in Asia, women's rights, death penalty in Indonesia, India-US, EU reform and more

Weekend catch-up: Documentaries in Asia, women's rights, death penalty in Indonesia, India-US, EU reform and more
Published 14 Mar 2015   Follow @BrendanTN_

Bringing together the best longer Interpreter articles you were too busy to read this week.

Over the last couple weeks, two documentaries, one in India (India's Daughter) and the other in China (Under the Dome), have stirred debate about climate change, sexual assault and censorship in Asia. But, as Danielle Cave argued this week, the format of the debate, and the way the documentaries have been distributed, has shown how the internet and digital platforms are fundamentally changing politics in Asia.

Historically, politics has been the domain of the elite, with only a chosen few given access to decision-making. Information flows were also predominantly unidirectional and trapped within rigid hierarchies. But the internet has decimated the geographical and economic nature of how power is distributed and decisions were made. Under the Dome and India's Daughter are both incredibly compelling documentaries, but the online reaction they have stimulated is even more powerful. And this is a timely reminder for Australia that the internet's ability to provide the world's 3 billion web users with unprecedented access to information is a global game changer.

The Australian Director of Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson, wrote on the status of women's rights in Asia:

Twenty years ago, women activists gathered in Beijing for a historic conference to develop an agenda for women's empowerment – the 'Beijing Platform for Action.' Women across the Asia-Pacific region have made great strides in those two decades, achieving greater gender equality in employment, education and politics, progress in addressing domestic violence and a new treaty extending protections to domestic workers. Yet they still face multiple challenges of discrimination and violence.

The region's women are standing up for their rights in larger numbers than ever before, yet they they struggle against backward-thinking governments, religious authorities and extremist groups. They need support from governments such as Australia's to speak out when their rights are under threat. 

Catriona Croft-Cusworth explored the groups in Indonesia that are speaking out against the death penalty: [fold]

The National Commission on Human Rights has shown its independence by criticising the president's decision to pursue executions. Commissioner Sandrayati Moniaga has commented that the right to life cannot be reduced under any circumstances. She has further questioned the impact of executing foreign drug smugglers on disrupting drug distribution networks, as well as the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent for drug-related crimes.

Other popular figures who have spoken out against the death penalty include senior actor Roy Marten, novelistLaksmi Pamuntjak and Alissa Wahid, an activist and daughter of former president Abdurrahman Wahid. Meanwhile, social media campaigns have struggled to find a popular support base, including among Indonesian youth.

Continuing a debate over the potential consequences of the growing US-India strategic partnership, Shashank Joshi thinks that India would provide limited support to the US in any future conflict between America and China:

China's heft works both ways: it dissuades middle powers from exposing themselves to a US-China fight, but if that fight is consequential enough – and in Hugh's framework, it would be – then it also means that they have a stake in supporting the US, a status quo power, against what would be a dramatic shift in the perceived Asian balance of power.

Hugh White responded:

I agree with Shashank that very important issues for India would be at stake in a US-China clash. But deciding to support America against China would be much harder than joining the coalition against Iraq. In every way China is both a much more valuable partner and a much more dangerous adversary. The key question for India, and for America's other friends in Asia, is what would have to be at stake for them to make that decision? 

So it boils down to this: would India go to war with China to help America preserve the current order based on US primacy? If the answer is no, then I don't think the new warmth between America and India matters much to the future of Asia, and America's position in Asia is rather weaker than most people assume.

Daniel Woker on the future of European Union reform:

The EU is many things, a Democratic Union it is not. Yet it will have to go down this institutional path too, as the European future will be determined in the last instance by its citizens. Now of course there is already a European Parliament with limited yet increasing clout. But former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer recently made an interesting proposal. He sees a democratic way forward by having EU affairs discussed and decided by a specially designated part of national parliaments.

Australia is set to send more troops to Iraq to assist in training Iraqi security forces. Jim Molan argued that now that we are there, we need to execute the mission properly:

I am prepared to acknowledge that the invasion of Iraq may not have been a strategically brilliant move. But it occurred and the occupation followed. After 11 years and 100,000-plus lives lost in Iraq, I wonder: if we had concluded the war in a shorter period, or even concluded it more effectively, would ISIS even have arisen? As I said here, there is nothing more stupid than getting yourself into the wrong war and then bungling it. Our current tepid response runs the risk of seeing Iranian control and influence from the northern Arabian Gulf to the Mediterranean shore. 

Elliot Brennan wrote a very interesting piece drawing out the similarities between the Khmer Rouge and ISIS:

Anti-progress movements (whether religious or ideologically driven) are nothing revolutionary. The very nature of progress gives birth to counter-movements – the Luddites, for example, destroyed machinery during the 19th Century Industrial Revolution. These groups thrive in periods of change, such as the incredible social and technological upheaval that has marked this new century.

Stephen Grenville wrote on the IMF extending another loan to Ukraine:

In all of this, the Fund has to preserve some semblance of its principles: that it only lends where it has good prospects of being repaid, and that it doesn't lend new money to bail out old creditors. It does this by rose-tinted optimism about how things will work out. In the process, its reputation for professional economic advice gets chipped away. And in order to preserve some modicum of its traditional function, the Fund imposes a standard reform agenda on Kiev that may well be inappropriate for a country with its back to the wall.

South Korean President Park Guen-Hyes administration is drifting, argued Robert E Kelly:

With a coalition like this, it would have been amazing had Park pushed through modernising changes. She has occasionally tried to make the right noises. For example, she has called on Korea to become a 'creative economy', in recognition that the industrial chaebol represent a manufacturing past increasingly out of step with an information economy future. But unsurprisingly, she has sought to stimulate this the old-fashioned way – with state-led monies for approved firms. This is hardly the way to create Silicon Valley in Korea; no one ever created a cool new gadget with a government bureaucrat looking over their shoulder.

Mike Callaghan says that we are living through an economic experiment with negative interest rates:

…In a prolonged period of low interest rates, both investors and lenders may not adequately take into account the inherent risk of the investment, and both will be caught out when rates eventually head north. 

We are living through an economic experiment, and this alone imposes significant uncertainty as to the outlook for the global economy. If history is our guide to the future, then we are flying blind.

Is SOE reform the next step in President Xi Jinping's economic plan? And what does that mean for China's economy? Julian Snelder took a look:

Overlooking this reality, central planners are reaching back to their Soviet roots in seeking the unicorn of 'efficient monopolism.' They like the outcomes of capitalism, but they are still grasping for state-centric relevance. They arejealous of multinational companies and the dominant positions they hold globally. They admire the unexpected dominance of local private companies in new sectors like the internet. And they know that SOEs don't play well together and gorge on capital to over-build. In some cases, like steel, SOEs have openly defied orders to consolidate. The planners are frustrated that truly private actors are actually more coordinated. These bureaucrats, determined to cure the self-harm of overcapacity, are reaching for their shotguns to reverse years of competitive separation.

Finally, Shaivalini Parmar on human rights abuses on Laos:

Disappearances remain a very serious concern. It has been more than two years since Lao police were last seen detaining prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone - and the government has come no closer to providing answers about his case.

Somphone, a highly respected community development practitioner who was awarded the prestigious 2005 Magsaysay Award, was stopped and taken away from a police checkpoint on a busy thoroughfare in Vientiane in 2012. The entire incident was caught on security camera film, a copy of which was provided to his family by local police officers. Those officers have now been transferred to posts unknown. Senior government and parliamentary officials have repeatedly denied official involvement in Sombath's disappearance, and some are now spinning absurd theories of Thai mafia involvement.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Dr EG.

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