Monday 21 Jan 2019 | 16:14 | SYDNEY
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Asia

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

Mourning Cambodia’s press freedom

Tears flowed freely in the offices of The Phnom Penh Post on Monday. Some of Cambodia’s most hardened reporters embraced their colleagues as their faces crumpled. Journalists want to report the news, not become it. But the editorial gutting of the last independent media outlet in Cambodia saw

Unexpected lessons on measuring power in Asia

If the number of skyscrapers is an indication of a city’s prestige, then Pyongyang’s 16 would seem to dwarf the mere two that are found in Auckland. Power can be judged in many ways. If a currency’s share of international transactions is any indication of leverage over the global

Soft-power dressing: China’s moment in the US

Wearing the right dress can be the first step to success. Pictures of an American teenage girl sporting a red Chinese cheongsam to her prom have gone viral and sparked controversies on the internet. People in the US have called her racist, but some in China applauded her choice of

Malaysia’s political treadmill

Not many people give Malaysia’s opposition a chance of ending the 13-election winning streak of the ruling Barisan Nasional party when the country goes to the polls on Wednesday. “For a government to rule for 60 years in a democracy, it shows there is something wrong with the country,”

Trump–Kim summit: what’s in the venue?

The venue and date for the Donald Trump–Kim Jong-un summit have yet to be announced, but it appears likely to take place in late May or early June. Panmunjom, on the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), has emerged as the clear frontrunner. But there is still a possibility that the

The language of cross-strait tensions

The video, titled “God of War”, runs for almost four minutes and features the usual propaganda claims and military posturing expected from a video released by the China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force. It follows a reporter from Shenzhen, in south-east China, as she traces the history

Asia: jobs policy vs the machines

Concerns about the negative impact of technology on the labour market are not new. As early as 1817, at the beginning of the first industrial revolution, economist David Ricardo explained how jobs in the English textile industry were being lost as a result of the introduction of automatic weaving

India’s struggle for the soul of the Indo-Pacific

In 2017, the “Indo-Pacific” emerged as a defining geopolitical construct tying the future of states from East Africa to East Asia together with big powers, such as the US, China, India, and Japan. While Beijing has grabbed headlines in its quest to dominate the eastern part of this

Star wars: Tamil actors enter India’s political fray

Two famous Tamil actors are aiming to use their fan clubs as the basis for new political parties.  “First, we must integrate the registered and unregistered fans associations and bring them under one umbrella,” declared Tamil film star Rajinikanth at the launch of his new political party

Pakistan’s war against the media

War zones and authoritative states have one thing in common: the tendency to control media and journalists. Pakistan is neither a declared war zone nor an authoritative state, but the past few years have seen a significant rise in attacks, intimidation, and threats to media houses and journalists

India’s political roller coaster

One month is a long time in Indian politics. In early March, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party was celebrating electoral victories in the north-east states of Tripura and Nagaland. The BJP’s electoral successes in these states was a significant achievement. The party and its affiliate

Deciphering symbols at the inter-Korean summit

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s charm offensive continues with his first meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the Demilitarized Zone on Friday. At the end of the third Inter-Korean summit, the two leaders inked the Panmunjom Declaration to show their commitment to the

Clamorous response to a Silent Invasion

An ill-fated business deal, a major corruption case, and protestations from Beijing about the visit of a dissident made the year 2009 something of an annus horribilis for Australia’s relations with the People’s Republic of China. It also marked the collapse of the Labor–Liberal

Rehabilitating Marawi

Unfortunately for the Philippines, the country has a lot of experience rebuilding major urban areas after catastrophic natural disasters or man-made destruction. In 2013, Zamboanga City in Mindanao suffered widespread damage during a 20-day siege, and later Tacloban City was devastated by Super

Beyond scandal: Facebook and Indonesian politics

In social media-loving Indonesia, Facebook is big business. As one of the biggest markets for the platform, it’s little surprise that Indonesia was the third most affected country in the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal. Facebook estimates that 748 Indonesian accounts hosted a personality

Australia’s Chinese ballistic missile problem

Late last year in Australia, there was sudden interest shown in ballistic missile defence (BMD). Although the driver was North Korea’s missile testing, the real issue is China. China’s latest ballistic missiles, combined with its new island bases, are steadily undercutting Australia’s

Attack of the Twitter bots

One evening recently, over a glass of wine at an art opening, a friend who works in the cultural sector told me an interesting piece of news about my Twitter account. “Do you know my company has put you on the watch list because of your Twitter account?”, she asked. I couldn’t be more

The Beijing way of trade punishment

On 18 April, The Australian newspaper reported that Chinese students had “defied” warnings from their government about safety in Australia and enrolled in record numbers in the country’s universities for 2018. It was a nice image, of brave families and their children

Australian warships challenged in South China Sea

How should we react to news reports that China challenged Australian warships in the course of transiting the South China Sea, on their way from Subic Bay in the Philippines to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam? Without knowing where the challenge occurred (was it inside 12 nautical miles of a

Will China’s new aid agency be effective?

China has a new International Development Cooperation Agency (IDCA). The IDCA will respond directly to the State Council and integrate the aid functions of the Ministries of Commerce (MOFCOM) and Foreign Affairs. The reform aims to reduce bureaucratic frictions and make aid better serve China

The Rohingya question: determining who to hold to account

Ever since the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, ethnic minority groups, human rights advocates, and others have argued that Myanmar’s armed forces, or Tatmadaw, should be held legally accountable for a wide range of offences. Their concerns were dramatically highlighted in late 2016 and 2017,

Why definitions will be crucial for North-South talks 

In just over a week, President of South Korea Moon Jae-in will sit with his northern counterpart, Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un, at Panmunjom, the historic site of the 1953 armistice, for the third instalment of the inter-Korean summit (to be broadcast live). The summit will occur

Is Japan’s rare earth discovery fool’s gold?

Rare earth. The term sounds like something derived from the imagination of J. R. R. Tolkien, but these composites of seventeen rare minerals are a silent but central foundation of global industry. Rare earth metals are critical to the production of a massive array of industrial goods,

Caught in a pincer

China, China, China. All the talk is of increasing Chinese influence in our region. But this is to wilfully ignore the elephant in the room.  Contrary to most commentary, the biggest destabilising player in Melanesia over the past five years has not been China, but Indonesia. Through

A new take on violence in Indonesian Papua 

Last year’s “hostage stand-off” in Indonesian Papua had hardly ended before more armed clashes began. Most violence in Papua is assumed to be an issue of indigenous people threatened by the state. But this assumption is anecdotal. Despite the wealth Indonesia earns through Papua’s

A new high: India–Japan defence links

An unexpected partnership was forged last week at India’s defence exhibition, DefExpo 2018, in Chennai. For some time, India has been in negotiations with Japan to purchase more than a dozen US-2 amphibious aircraft for the Indian Navy and Coast Guard. Considered the world’s best amphibious

Is Trump ready to bear the cost of a trade war?

Agree or disagree with his conclusions, we owe Hugh White thanks for forcing us to grapple with “the China challenge”. White’s writings have stripped away much of the easy, high-sounding rhetoric about dealing with Beijing and honed in on the central feature of US–China relations in the

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