Sunday 25 Aug 2019 | 19:36 | SYDNEY
What's happening on

Asia

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,

Rohingya: UN takes a cautious step forward in Myanmar

For months, Myanmar has sought a deal with the United Nations, to validate its assertions that is prepared to facilitate the “safe, voluntary, and dignified return” of Rohingya refugees in camps in Bangladesh. In an arrangement struck late Thursday night, two UN agencies agreed to work with Aung

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

Singapore summit: the case for guarded optimism

Everybody is saying it: the big split between the US and North Korea as we head towards the 12 June leaders summit in Singapore (and yes, it looks like it is on again) is over the meaning of  “denuclearisation”. The maximalist American definition is that North Korea must dismantle

India: guiltless children in prison

More than 1800 children aged between one month and six years old languish in Indian jails, growing up with their imprisoned mothers. The plight of these guiltless children has long been known in India, but recent investigations by a human rights lawyer in the state of Odisha, on

Change in Malaysia, awkward questions for Singapore

In January this year, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong held a joint press conference with then prime minister of neighbouring Malaysia Najib Razak.  “I do not expect elections to change the nature of relations between our two countries,” Najib said in response to a question

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

South China Sea: Paracels in the spotlight

On Sunday, two US Navy warships sailed through and near the Paracel group of islands claimed and occupied by China in the South China Sea. This was Washington’s latest freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) to counter what it claims are Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation

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

Taiwan: Tsai Ing-wen at the halfway mark

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has reached the halfway mark of her first term in office, with mixed results. At home, Tsai has sought to boost feeble economic growth and prevent the collapse of the public pension system. In the near periphery, Taiwan’s relationship with China has grown

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

Cambodia: to vote or not to vote?

In less than three months’ time, Cambodians will head to the polls to cast their ballot in the national election. Already faced with the difficult choice of which party and candidate to vote for, Cambodians now have to decide whether they should vote at all. Cambodia’s former opposition and

Australia can help Indonesia kick the habit 

Australia is an undisputed world leader in tobacco control. From massive wins with plain packaging to widely enforced bans on smoking in public places, it is easy to see why. Australia is successfully creating a generational shift in tobacco use, with its youngest generation growing up in a

Summit cancelled: advantage Pyongyang

US President Donald Trump’s decision, conveyed in a personal letter to Kim Jong-un, to cancel the Singapore summit scheduled for 12 June is not unexpected. It will prompt relief and disappointment in equal measure, but the pessimists have been proved right. The gulf of expectation and

The Moon is still strategic

Decades after the Moon became covered in American flags and footprints, the nearest world in space is becoming strategic again. Recently, China launched a satellite to orbit the L2 Earth-Moon Lagrange point. This is an imaginary point in space hovering over the far side of the Moon (not the “

Will China finally end its one-child policy?

Recent media reports indicate Beijing may lift all restrictions on family size, possibly by the end of this year. Of course, there have been premature predictions about the end of the policy ever since China switched to a nationwide two-child policy two years ago. This misunderstanding

Quitting cigarettes in Indonesia

Nearly two-thirds of Indonesian males smoke. This is said to be the highest rate in the world, and includes the notorious case of the two-year-old with a forty-a-day habit. The government has enacted various anti-smoking measures, but the powerful tobacco lobby makes this effort

Shinzo Abe “outside the net”

What if you invited 10,000 of your closest acquaintances to a cherry blossom viewing party in Tokyo, only to find that the blossoms had peaked only days before? What if you flew halfway around the world to play golf with your buddy in Florida, only to have him undercut your deals? What if

Why China isn’t planning to storm Taiwan’s beaches

China’s navy has grown dramatically over the past two decades, but with one surprising exception: its amphibious forces. On Monday, the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre published my contribution to its Centre of Gravity essay series. The paper is titled&

Broad strokes: Indonesian art and 20 years of Reformasi

This month, Indonesia commemorates 20 years since the fall of strongman Suharto and two decades of the Reformasi era. Today, the strife of 1998 serves as inspiration for the country’s burgeoning contemporary arts. Suharto’s New Order period was marked by mass-centralisation of powers in

The prospect of North Korea’s economic reform

Amid the huge fanfare North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in generated at the third inter-Korean summit, the two leaders made a huge step forward in economic cooperation between Seoul and Pyongyang. During the summit, Kim told Moon that he preferred the

Missed opportunities in the internationalised university

With government investment in higher education continuing to decrease, Australian universities are becoming more and more financially reliant on international student fees. As has been the case for a number of years, students from the People’s Republic of China are the largest group by a wide

Helping the UN help Myanmar

Last month, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres announced the appointment of Swiss diplomat Christine Schraner Burgener as his Special Envoy on Myanmar, marking the start of a new chapter in long-standing efforts by the UN to mediate Myanmar’s internal conflicts and promote human

Indonesia: a concrete block and a hard case

It was an astonishing sight. Nine women dressed in batik sarongs and wearing the traditional, conical hats of Indonesian farmers sat on the edge of the road in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, their feet encased in wooden boxes filled with cement. Kendeng farmers protest, March 2017 (

Philippines: justice removed, justice denied

On 11 May the Philippine Supreme Court removed its own Chief Justice, Maria Lourdes Sereno, from office. Sereno, the first woman to hold that position, was dismissed on a vote of 8–6 through a quo warranto proceeding – a legal procedure for removing public officials on the grounds that

Timor-Leste election: the generation gap

After ten months of political gridlock and one dissolved parliament, Saturday’s decisive parliamentary election result represents one kind of victory for Timor-Leste’s fledgling democracy. Winning an unusual outright majority of 34 seats in the 65-seat parliament, experienced coalition Change

The misunderstood AIIB

China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has been viewed through the wider debate over whether a rising China will overturn or uphold the US-led “rules-based liberal international order”. As the first significant international organisation established by China, the AIIB is often

Bolton’s bargain: a Libya deal for North Korea?

Over the past year, the US has been engaged in what it calls a maximum pressure campaign to push North Korea to take concrete steps towards denuclearisation. President Donald Trump has imposed a series of sanctions on North Korea, and threatened nuclear war against the country on Twitter. 

All’s not fair in US–China trade stoush

As tense trade talks between the US and China continue, a growing chorus of US commentators seem to have concluded that, whatever their misgivings about President Donald Trump, he’s right in taking on China for its unfair trade and being an economic cheat (for instance, see here and 

Talking North Korea in Australia

This month, I was in Australia for events hosted by the Lowy Institute and Sydney Writers’ Festival respectively. The questions were excellent, and I would like to take advantage of this space to expand on some of the topics brought up. Generally speaking, the questions at

Surabaya and the ISIS family

Indonesia has again exploded in a paroxysm of terrorist violence, but with a new twist: family suicide bombers. This may be the first time in the world that parents took their children on a family outing to blow themselves up. The three families included the six killed in the bombings of

The high price of fashion

The 1990s saw the birth of an anti-sweatshop movement demanding that multinational corporations improve working and environmental conditions along every step of the global value chain. By the end of the decade, then UN secretary general Kofi Annan used his address to the World Economic

Malaysia: what now?

Malaysians have rejected Barisan Nasional so overwhelmingly that the electoral system designed to protect its rule has been overcome. The party received its lowest popular vote in history, around 36%, and won only 79 seats in a 222-seat federal parliament. The once multiracial coalition has

China’s first homebuilt carrier sails: so what?

For weeks now, the online community that follows Chinese military affairs has speculated about photos indicating China’s first homebuilt aircraft carrier, known for the moment as the Type-001A, would sail for the first time. The carrier looked finished, cleaning crews appeared to be making

Collapsing North Korea’s nuclear test site

The announcement that North Korea will decommission its nuclear test site at Punggye-ri is a big step in what is hopefully a march towards peaceful times on the Korean Peninsula. But the decommissioning process leans heavily on theatre over substance. At this stage, it is not clear if

Did an election just cause Malaysian democratisation?

What a difference an election makes. Malaysia’s 14th general elections on Wednesday were understood by all observers to be a close-fought battle between the long-ruling Barisan Nasional regime, the Islamist Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), and a new opposition coalition named Pakatan Harapan (

Courageous voice for truth silenced in Cambodia

The sale of The Phnom Penh Post to Malaysian interests with clear links to the Hun Sen government in Cambodia, and the subsequent sackings and resignations of journalists, is already recognised as a sad, even bitter, end to the Post’s admired role as a newspaper that continued

Method in Trump’s madness on Iran

There has been widespread condemnation of US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, including from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who expressed “regret”. Besides having ramifications for US relations with European powers, Russia and China, who all

Malaysia election: coming of age

It has been 20 years since I spent the evening at former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim’s house after he was sacked by then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. That night, I thought the mood on the street outside meant Malaysia might be about to become a genuine multi-ethnic democracy. But

The India–China summit in Wuhan was no reset

The “informal summit” in Wuhan, China, between India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China’s President Xi Jinping last month generated a wave of commentary in India, China, and further afield. The Chinese media played it up, heralding a major breakthrough in

Pages