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Weekend catch-up: Singaporean politics, Wenchuan earthquake, and an Antarctic runway

The week that was on The Interpreter.

Wenchuan Earthquake Memorial Museum in Beichuan, China (Photo: VCG/Getty)
Wenchuan Earthquake Memorial Museum in Beichuan, China (Photo: VCG/Getty)
Published 2 Jun 2018   Follow @lowyinstitute

The week that was on The Interpreter.

Mahathir Mohamad’s surprise victory in the recent Malaysian election spurred Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party to recalibrate their tone. Kirsten Han:

More promises to consult with the people have also been forthcoming. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced a new discussion series to listen to Singaporeans with ‘humility and respect’. The PAP appears eager once again to prove they are not out of touch with the citizenry.

Graeme Smith argues that the Wenchuan earthquake of 2008 was a key moment in China’s illiberal turn: 

A threat to the Chinese Communist Party’s chosen role of saviour was emerging, as it became clear that school buildings had crumbled to rubble while government offices remained standing. Was there a man-made element to this disaster? Having spent four years working in a county government in Anhui, ‘yes’ was the obvious answer to me. Part of the remit of our agency involved irrigation and school infrastructure, and the words ‘tofu dreg construction’ (dofu za gongcheng) were in daily use.

China’s investments in smaller countries have been portrayed as “debt trap diplomacy”. Wenyuan Wu:

Far from helpless victims of exploitation, developing countries and their leaders have learned to use China to service domestic political agendas and mitigate policy pressure from Western counterparts. Not that China is acting out of altruistic benevolence; Beijing has enabled illiberal regimes with its principle of non-interference.

Stephen Joske on Beijing’s challenges with economic policy:

Reintroducing one-man rule in China is not only creating political tensions, but also leading to bad macroeconomic policy. While China has been blessed with experienced economic policy advisers, I have observed them being sidelined on important issues. After decades of macroeconomic stability, with strong growth and low structural inflation, China now faces something outside its recent experience.

Andrew Forrest takes stock of Australia’s relationship with China:

China’s power is growing much faster than we anticipated, and we are rightly concerned about how it is being used. All indications are that an aggressive and autocratic China will in time undermine Australian democracy and Australia’s interests.

Increasing numbers of Indonesian students are studying in China, which has led to accusations of communist indoctrination. Aisyah Llewellyn:

According to data from the Chinese Government, some 14,000 Indonesian students are now enrolled in study in China, and almost 200 scholarships were handed out to Indonesians by China in the last year alone. But allegations of communist indoctrination, such as appeared in Republika, could lead some students to reassess their decision to study in China, putting opportunities to enhance cross-cultural engagement at risk.

Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy has called on Cambodians to boycott the upcoming election if the Cambodia National Rescue Party is not reinstated. Darren Touch:

The act of casting a ballot empowers the citizenry and connects them to the political process. It reminds politicians that their mandate derives from the ‘will of the people’. The risk Cambodia faces in the erosion of these democratic norms is the legitimacy of its entire governance system. Rainsy is doing more harm than good. 

Madeleine Randell on how Australia could help Indonesia to reduce its tobacco use:

There is an opportunity to expand investments in Indonesia and design programs aimed at targeting the wide range of factors that negatively impact health in the country. Health is unfortunately the lowest priority in Australia’s aid program to Indonesia, accounting for a paltry 2% of the total spent, which does not make for a good start. Australia does, however, allocate 33% of its aid spending in Indonesia to education, and it is perhaps here the contribution might be best placed.

While not receiving the same level of attention as China’s Belt and Road projects, Japan’s port investments show how active Tokyo has been in the Indian Ocean region. David Brewster:

Japanese projects involving the development of connectivity between the Pacific and Africa have now been rolled into its Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy. Japan’s regional strategy is essentially about providing alternative responses to China’s growing economic role in the Indian Ocean region.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has reached the halfway mark of her first term in office. Lauren Dickey:

Governing Taiwan is no easy task. Tsai stepped into office having inherited the socioeconomic problems left unresolved by her predecessors. Her approach to managing Taiwan’s relationship with China immediately set the two sides of the Strait at odds with one another. Though it is easy to focus on cross-Strait relations as a central component in assessing Tsai’s leadership or future implications, dynamics in the Taiwan Strait are not the only factor that matters to Taiwanese voters.

The Australian Government has announced budget support for Australia’s first paved runway in its Antarctic territory. Julia Jabour:

The announcement is in response to a recommendation in the 20-year strategic plan for Antarctica that details strategies for Australia to bolster its flagging leadership in Antarctica through enhanced logistics capabilities. Science is the currency of credibility in Antarctica, yet scientific budgets have been cut in recent years.

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