Keep up to date with the latest news and analysis on Asia with our wide range of material including books, interviews, policy documents and much more.
Will Australia defend the ‘rules-based order’ in Asia?
Nick Bisley and Benjamin Shreer
18 April 2018
"China has become the most formidable challenge to Asia’s regional order, and to Australia’s stake in that order, since the days of Japanese imperialism. It’s not just its growing economic and military power but increasingly Beijing is experimenting with order building and it’s plainly trying to exert political influence beyond its borders."
The story of Fook Shing, colonial Victoria’s Chinese detective
12 April 2018
"From his home, just off Little Bourke Street, he policed the Chinese community and visitors to the area. Among his colleagues he was regarded as a “trustworthy member of the service” who could “always be relied upon” and impressed with his “intimate knowledge of the Chinese criminal class” in Melbourne."
Julie Bishop and the liberal ideal
11 April 2018
"Australian leaders have tended to make most of their key foreign policy speeches abroad, a point I gently made in The Interpreter earlier this year. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop responded to this criticism in the most direct way possible, by making her first major address after the Foreign Policy White Paper’s publication at my own La Trobe University."
Watching on: Australia and the Korean Peninsula talks
6 April 2018
"South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are scheduled to meet for the first time on 27 April at Panmunjom, the “truce” village on the border of the two countries."
Australia’s anticlimactic ASEAN Summit
28 March 2018
"The ASEAN–Australia special summit on 17–18 March 2018 concluded with the issuing of the grandly titled ‘Sydney Declaration’. The joint statement nods to many of the issues raised at the summit including security, trade, investment, rights and people-to-people links. Yet there was something anticlimactic both about the document and the summit as a whole. There was no big breakthrough, sense of achievement or decisive initiative. The event was deeply ASEAN in that it put a high value on symbolism and process but a lesser premium on functional breakthroughs."
Why South Korea's Foreign Policy Should Matter to Australia
27 March 2018
"The relationship between Australia and South Korea has been mostly focused on economics, but there is room for both states to improve diplomatic and defence ties, particularly given their shared strategic interests and political values."
We need to talk about Australia’s international policy
28 February 2018
"Julie Bishop’s recent speech to the Menzies Centre at King’s College London included some interesting signalling about Australian foreign policy. As Euan Graham observes, the speech appears to be part of a broader government strategy to soften Australia’s rhetoric on China, and unsurprisingly included a plea to the UK to do more to support a “rules-based order” increasingly under strain. Oddly, ASEAN did not get the rose-tinted treatment one might have anticipated given Sydney is gearing up to host the special ASEAN-Australia summit in mid-March."
Asia is set for a difficult year in 2018 – much of it centred around China
29 January 2018
"In 2017 we finally realised that the four decades of geopolitical stability enjoyed by Asian countries and societies had come to an end. In 2018, the major patterns that will come to dominate the region will become increasingly clear."
Why Narendra Modi is building the world's tallest statue
10 January 2018
"Modi’s ideational project seeks to emphasise independence leaders who can be appropriated to the idea of India as a specifically Hindu civilization. This draws attention away from secular leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru. The erasure of Nehru, though, necessitates a new nationalist historiography. This has added emphasis on the historical figures of Gandhi and Patel."
Source: Australian Institute of International Affairs
Read the full article online.
Mistrust of Australia is growing in China
4 December 2017
"Over the past year or so the mood in Canberra has soured toward China. Indeed, of the countries unsettled by China’s rise and its increasingly confident and assertive foreign policy, Australia is now among the most outspoken in its criticism of Beijing’s behaviour."
Time to lower the temperature in the China debate
Nick Bisley and James Leibold
1 December 2017
"Concerns that China is attempting to influence Australian politics have resurfaced spectacularly with the release of a recording of Sam Dastyari's ill-judged comments on the South China Sea and counter-espionage tactics out of a cheap spy thriller. It will crank up the sensationalism around the China-Australia debate and underlines the fact that all is not well in the Sino-Australian relationship. As the recently released foreign policy white paper makes clear, the mood in Canberra has soured and Australia is increasingly taking a more critical line toward the People's Republic of China."
Charting Australia’s course in an increasingly illiberal world
29 November 2017
"Foreign policy white papers are strange creatures. As the past 14 years amply demonstrate, they’re not necessary for the conduct of effective foreign policy. They are expensive and they expend diplomatic capital by signalling policy positions that might otherwise be carefully obscured. And they can become obsolete with frightening rapidity. In some respects, they are something of an indulgence."
The Belt and Road Initiative and Asia’s changing order
15 November 2017
"In the two days of meetings from 8 November between President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Trump’s first state visit, it appears that they did not talk at all about the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Trump’s tour reflected the tendency of his administration to see Asia entirely through the lens of bilateral ties and crises. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Trump have stated that the United States seeks to sustain and protect a free and open Indo-Pacific, but the inability to match that concept with either a meaningful strategic vision or substantive policy was plainly on display."
At APEC, Donald Trump and Xi Jinping revealed different ideas of Asia’s economic future
13 November 2017
"Trump said very plainly that there would be no more big agreements, and only bilateral deals based on strict and fairly narrow ideas of reciprocity. The other notable element was a direct statement that the US would no longer put up with predatory practices of other countries, such as IP theft, subsidies and not-enforced trade rules. While he did not name China as his main concern, he didn’t need to."
APEC, Trump and contested Asia
10 November 2017
"In the first week of his marathon Asia tour, Donald Trump has made state visits to Japan, South Korea and China. Knowing that he can be easily swayed by over-the-top hospitality, China has even billed it as a ‘state visit-plus’. Given the importance of these bilaterals, the white-hot tensions on the Korean peninsula and the crucial question of the tone and tenor of US–China relations, it can be easily overlooked that the initial reason for the president’s Asia trip was to take part in the regional summit season and, in particular, to attend the annual APEC leaders’ meeting."
Trump tours Asia: Reassurance in the face of neglect
7 November 2017
"On 4 November, Air Force One, the ageing 747 that carries the US president, pointed its nose north-westward as it departed Hawaii en route to Tokyo for President Trump’s first stop on a lengthy first presidential Asia tour. He will spend time with newly re-elected PM Abe, including with the families of North Korean abductees, before heading to Seoul, Beijing, Hanoi and Manila. Prompted by Asia’s annual summit season – which VP Pence promised Trump would attend during a visit to Indonesia and Australia – the trip’s purpose is to reassure allies, improve links with China and signal commitment to the regional institutional architecture, especially APEC and the East Asia Summit (EAS). In short, Trump aims to show the region that the US can be counted on for leadership as it has in the past."
What the 19th Party Congress means for the rest of the world
18 October 2017
"Of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s many achievements in his time in office – about which much will be made in the official propaganda – one of the most surprising was the more confident and assertive approach to foreign policy that he brought about."
Be in no doubt, Xi Jinping wants to make China great again
18 October 2017
"In his Communist party speech Xi’s ambition and confidence were on display. He wants nothing less than for China to be the world’s most important country."
Australia's oddly absent belt and road strategy
12 October 2017
"Australia's response to BRI remains surprisingly unclear. Given the importance of BRI to Beijing, the significance of the bilateral relationship with China and the obvious economic opportunities BRI represents, why is the Australian government unable to work out either a larger strategic engagement with the program or even a reasonable set of speaking points that act as a convincing interim holding measure?"
As China prepares for its Communist Party Congress, what will it mean for the rest of the world?
10 October 2017
"Of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s many achievements in his time in office – about which much will be made in the official propaganda – one of the most surprising was the more confident and assertive approach to foreign policy that he brought about."
Shinzo Abe gambles on sending Japan to a snap election - but it may yet backfire
2 October 2017
"Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolved the lower house of the national parliament, the Diet, on September 28, with an election to be held on October 22. Called more than 12 months earlier than needed, the snap poll was a calculated gamble by the leader of the conservative LDP to strengthen his hand."
Five assumptions we make about North Korea - and why they're wrong
28 September 2017
"As northeast Asia teeters on the brink of a conflict that could escalate beyond anyone’s control, it is more important than ever to be well-informed about North Korea, and move beyond the common caricatures of the country and its leader, Kim Jong-un. This is difficult when many misconceptions about North Korea perpetuate in the public consciousness."
BHU’s failure to keep students safe is unforgivable
25 September 2017
"As university faculty and staff, our primary duty is to ensure the safety of our students. If we teach them something along the way, that is a bonus. If we casually invite police on campus to rain down violence on our students, we have failed at our primary duty. This failure is not a small one. It is a failure of such magnitude that it cannot be forgiven."
The Timor Sea breakthrough
5 September 2017
"Last Friday, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) announced a 'breakthrough' in maritime boundary conciliation proceedings between Timor-Leste and Australia. The two parties 'reached an agreement on the central elements of a maritime boundary delimitation' and on a 'Special Regime' governing the development of Greater Sunrise and the allocation of resulting revenue.
While a number of issues remain, the PCA's announcement suggests that Australia and Timor-Leste have found a pathway for resolving the longstanding dispute about boundaries and Greater Sunrise."
Trump can't win: the North Korea crisis is a lose-lose proposition for the US
4 September 2017
"North Korea’s sixth nuclear test confirms it is very close to perfecting a miniaturised warhead for deployment on its missile delivery systems. The 6.3 magnitude seismographic reading registered by the test blast is approximately ten times more powerful than that recorded from its nuclear test in September 2016."
Kim Jong-un’s nuclear ambition: what is North Korea’s endgame?
4 September 2017
Most obviously, North Korea does not feel at all constrained by US President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, and nor has it been coerced by UN sanctions. It also illustrates the acute regional tension caused by the acceleration of the isolated country’s weapons acquisition program."
Timor-Leste's critical window on ASEAN
17 August 2017
"Amid the celebrations of ASEAN's 50th birthday last week, the question of whether Timor-Leste will soon be granted full membership lingers.
ASEAN membership is the cornerstone of Timor-Leste's foreign policy. In March 2011, Timor-Leste applied for formal membership to ASEAN while Indonesia was chair. The 2011 Strategic Development Plan envisaged Timor-Leste possessing full membership of ASEAN by 2015, with Timor-Leste playing a key role within the organisation as recognised experts in 'economic development, small-nation management, good governance and aid effectiveness and delivery'."
ASEAN’s mid-life crisis?
10 August 2017
"On August 8, 1967, foreign ministers from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines signed the Bangkok Declaration to create the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN, as it now universally known.
Fifty years on the grouping includes all southeast Asian countries, with the exception of Timor Leste. Its longevity is striking, as has been its ability to develop a clear sense of identity and purpose among its members."
Architecture, Poetry and Impressions of a Bendigo Chinese Doctor, James Lamsey
1 August 2017
"Like other contemporary practitioners of colour, Lamsey had many an incentive to acquire property, and to associate his name with façades that would protect his medical and social authority against the exclusionary forces of white racism."
China-India border dispute a grim sign for stability in Asia
27 July 2017
"Conflict was almost baked into Asia’s post-1945 international order. Taiwan’s contested status following the communist victory in China’s civil war, and the division of the Korean Peninsula are only the most obvious and volatile of Asia’s military hotspots."
Asia's dangerous new geopolitics
12 July 2017
"The first week of July is not normally one that brings great events in world politics. Around that time, the northern hemisphere normally shifts into summer holiday mode."
Integrated Asia: Australia’s biggest strategic policy challenge in 75 years
4 July 2017
"I recently argued that Asia is becoming a coherent strategic system. This system is centred on the gravitational force of China’s growing geo-economic and strategic weight but also bound together by growing trade and investment flows, and, with the Belt and Road Initiative and other institutional structures, underpinned by a nascent multilateral architecture. The once discrete systems of Northeast, Southeast, South and Central Asia are becoming the most important strategic system in world politics."
Why are so many Tibetans moving to Chinese cities?
James Leibold, Gerald Roche and Ben Hillman
26 June 2017
"China’s Tibetan areas have been troubled by unrest since 2008, when protests swept the plateau, followed by a series of self-immolations which continue to this day. The Chinese state, as part of its arsenal of responses, has intensified urbanization, hoping that economic development and cultural contact will lead to assimilation and stability. However, cities are also becoming sites of resistance to assimilation and focal points of unrest, as well as arenas for internal power struggles about what it means to be Tibetan in contemporary China."
Two systems, one headache: Hong Kong twenty years after the handover to China
18 June 2017
"Hong Kong had suffered “more than a century of vicissitudes”. So declared Jiang Zemin on July 1, 1997, at the return of the colony to “the motherland”. Twenty years on from the handover of the British Crown colony, the people of Hong Kong are increasingly experiencing the vicissitudes of communism.."
The Australia-China Relations Institute doesn’t belong at UTS
5 June 2017
"Last month eight of Australia’s top journalists visited China for a week as guests of the Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI) at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). They were greeted by top Communist Party officials and toured some of China’s new infrastructure projects. Some (but not all) returned to Australia singing the praises of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s showcase “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiative and the opportunities for Australian businesses."
Taking Asia’s temperature at Shangri-La
1 June 2017
"Every year since 2002, defence ministers, senior officials, military officers and policy experts have gathered in Singapore to take part in the Shangri-La Dialogue.
Held in the hotel of that name and run by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think-tank, the dialogue provides a forum for government representatives from across Asia, Europe and North America to meet with analysts and experts. They gather to discuss strategic issues in the region and hopefully generate some sense of trust and goodwill in a region badly in need of those sentiments."
Competition for influence in an integrated Asia
31 May 2017
"Since 1991, leadership of the international order has been a monopoly: the US has been the only game in town. But, as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) summit in Beijing earlier this month made clear, Xi Jinping has stepped up his ambitions for China’s global role. The BRI may be couched in the sloganeering of win-win diplomacy - and reflect some heroic assumptions about financial risk in emerging markets - but we should not underestimate its ambition."
Shinzo Abe pushes ahead on constitutional reform amid heated debate within Japan
19 May 2017
"On May 1, the largest vessel in the Japanese Maritime Self Defence fleet, the vast helicopter carrier Izumo sailed out of Yokosuka. Its mission was to escort the US naval contingent that was deployed off the Korean peninsula in response to North Korea’s missile tests. Two days later, on Constitution Day, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that he intends to amend the post-War constitution to clarify the standing of the Self-Defence Forces."
The Belt and Road Initiative: China’s vision for globalisation, Beijing-style
17 May 2017
"China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a multifaceted economic, diplomatic and geopolitical undertaking that has morphed through various iterations, from the “New Silk Road” to “One Belt One Road”."
China’s Eurasian gambit needs to be taken seriously
5 May 2017
"Later this month, 28 heads of government, plus many hundreds of others will gather in Beijing for the ‘Belt and Road’ Summit. Leaders from Europe, Africa, and Asia will gather in the Chinese capital as part of an elaborate piece of diplomatic theatre intended to symbolise Chinese leadership of the global economy."
Abe’s Trumpian opportunity
27 April 2017
"One of the notable features of the Trump presidency’s first 100 days has been the difficulty that many democratic leaders have found establishing a good personal relationship with the former reality TV star. For a man purported to be charming, the meetings and conversations between key allies have often been fraught. British Prime Minister Theresa May had that awkward moment on the White House stairs, the meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel was famously frosty, while the first phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was spectacularly bad."
Bishop puts the ‘liberal’ into ‘liberal international order’
13 April 2017
"Timor-Leste's capacity to be self-determining depends in part on its economic viability. Heavy loan or aid dependency in the future would compromise its decision-making autonomy. Ensuring future economic viability, and sharing oil and gas wealth across the community in ways that promote political order and human development, is central to securing Timor-Leste's hard fought sovereignty."
Attacking North Korea: surely Donald Trump couldn’t be that foolish
12 April 2017
"Trump’s foreign policy team would do well to think through the logic of their escalation. A North Korean first-strike nuclear attack against the US or its regional allies makes little sense for North Korea. From this perspective, it is a strategic restraint on America’s part based on deterrence – rather than unnecessary unilateral muscle-flexing – that’s more likely to preserve regional stability."
Australia and India: Some way to go yet
12 April 2017
"These are good reasons for developing a close relationship with India. But much remains to be done before this can occur, particularly given that India matters much more to Australia than the other way around."
Learning to live with a nuclear North Korea?
3 April 2017
"Although North Korea has one of the largest militaries in the world – its army alone has more than 1 million soldiers – it is an antiquated fighting force whose principal advantage is its proximity to South Korea. Its ability to win a fight against a technologically sophisticated opponent is widely questioned. Nuclear weapons offset that weakness markedly."
On being allied to Trump's America
24 March 2017
"For the first time in two generations, Australians are contemplating life without the American alliance. Alternatives to this long-standing pillar of Australian foreign and strategic policy are being pitched by influential commentators, media and think tanks."
We still don't know how 'America First' will play out in Asia
21 March 2017
"Not since President Nixon has the US approach to Asia been so uncertain and unclear. Tillerson had a chance to clarify matters, but this most silent of Secretaries of State did not do so. And as dependents on the US we must continue to wait to find out just what the US wants from the region. Life in Asia has fundamentally changed."
Bishop puts the ‘liberal’ into ‘liberal international order’
15 March 2017
"In her Fullerton lecture delivered on Monday in Singapore, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop gave a full-throated defence of the prevailing regional order."
Global pressure points: Indonesia
28 February 2017
"Jakarta’s gubernatorial election is by far the most significant political event of the year in Indonesia. Not only is Jakarta Indonesia’s biggest and most important city, the election matters because of the part it plays in the country’s larger political process."
Global pressure points: China
28 February 2017
"While Xi Jinping will no doubt continue as general secretary of the party, the question is whether he will be able to install enough people loyal to him in the key decision-making bodies."
Julie Bishop's Washington mission: Find out who's running the show
22 February 2017
"The question for Bishop, which only first-hand experience can help answer. is whether the ‘grown-ups’ will be in charge or whether the wild-eyed revolutionaries will remain at the centre of power. A great deal depends on this for Australia and indeed the world."
A sunset for Greater Sunrise?
7 February 2017
"How the dispute will play out in the future will hinge upon whether Timor-Leste is prepared to negotiate a boundary that does not give it all of Greater Sunrise.Timor-Leste’s shift towards permanent maritime boundaries was motivated by its economic plan to build an export pipeline from Greater Sunrise to its south coast and establish an oil processing industry."
China set to lead on global climate politics
Nicholas Procter and Benjamin Habib
6 February 2017
"China is a world leader in green and alternative energy technologies and is thus well placed to be the dominant player in the post-carbon international economy. By contrast, the Trump administration is betting on obsolete industries of the old economy, whose market share and importance to fuelling economic activity are steadily in decline."
The three factors that will drive US policy in Asia
31 January 2017
"As Asia comes to terms with a highly nationalistic president who openly embraces a neo-Nixonian unpredictability and, it is fast becoming clear, meant much of what he said on the campaign trail, it is time to prepare for a region that will become a much more unstable and dangerous place."
Timor-Leste’s maritime ambitions risk all
28 January 2017
"A recent joint statement by the Timor-Leste and Australian governments announced that Timor-Leste has officially notified Australia of its wish to terminate the 2006 Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS). Both states claim an interest in the lucrative Greater Sunrise gas field in the Timor Sea. The decision to terminate CMATS could have serious ramifications for Timor-Leste as its economy is among the world’s most oil dependent."
Timor-Leste runs the risk of a pyrrhic victory
11 January 2017
"On Monday, a joint statement from the governments of Timor-Leste and Australia announced that Timor-Leste planned to officially notify Australia that it wished to terminate the 2006 Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS)."
What’s behind Timor-Leste terminating its maritime treaty with Australia?
10 January 2017
"If the maritime border was drawn halfway between Australia and Timor-Leste, the oil and gas fields would fall completely within Timor-Leste. Under CMATS, however, Timor-Leste negotiated a 50:50 revenue-sharing arrangement."
Five political leaders to watch in 2017
8 January 2017
"The world is in fluid political times, and the opportunity for emerging figures to make their mark is considerable. Here are five political leaders from around the world who are emerging as significant talents and possible contenders for influence in 2017 and beyond."
कितना बदला है रेणु का अंचल पूर्णिया
21 December 2016
Writing from his research site in northeast Bihar, Hindi lecturer Dr Ian Woolford discusses the question of "change" over the past decade in that region (in Hindi).
Donald Trump serves up clumsiness, inexperience and realpolitik in Asia
4 December 2016
"In three phone calls with key Asian leaders this week, Donald Trump has once again upended expectations. We may now indeed have a radical break in the US approach to the region."
APEC: Staggering past relevance
22 November 2016
"Even though it is the region’s second oldest multilateral mechanism, APEC continues to find relevance hard to come by. Best known for the photo taken at the annual leaders’ summit at which said leaders bond over the humiliation of donning often garish 'national attire', this grouping has never quite found its feet."
Indo-Pacific: the maritime and the continental
21 November 2016
"The Australian government must accept that an increasingly Sino-centric regional security order will mean some hard choices for the country. By describing its region as the Indo-Pacific, not only does the government miss the bigger forces at play, but it ultimately shirks that responsibility."
Japan’s politics is opening up to women, but don’t expect a feminist revolution yet
11 November 2016
"There’s an increasing sense of embarrassment among Japanese political leaders about the nation’s position in global rankings of female political and economic empowerment."
What's in store for Asia under President Trump?
10 November 2016
"The fact that Trump was light on policy detail while on the stump, and that he contradicted himself on an almost daily basis, means that we have very little to go on when trying to ascertain what a Trump presidency will mean for Asia."
What you need to know about Timor-Leste and Australia’s sea border fight
31 October 2016
"For around a decade, Timor-Leste has experienced a fragile peace. Much progress has been made in its economic, social and political spheres toward development. But all this could be threatened if an agreement on Sunrise is not reached soon."
What does China actually want in the South China Sea?
27 October 2015
"In spite of its many activities, it is not clear precisely what it is that China wants. We can see plainly its methods of advancing its interests on a daily basis, but just what its larger strategic objective may be is uncertain."
Differences on liberalism provide Asia’s latest faultline
20 October 2016
"After decades of breakneck economic growth, east Asian states and societies have never been more prosperous. But the hope that this would prompt a flowering of liberalism has proven illusory."
Not just another local election
6 October 2016
"Whoever wins in Jakarta next year might well be expected to find himself in the running for a presidential or, more likely, vice-presidential ticket in 2019.."
Japan's new icon for gender equality
2 October 2016
"The recent visibility of women in power in contemporary Japanese politics suggests that the appointment of Renho is much more than a token gesture by the DP to appeal to voters. Now that there is a cohort of experienced women within the system, women can reach positions of power and avoid being labelled tokenistic."
Is China a Ticking Time Bomb of Ethnic Contradictions?
26 September 2016
"Managed diversity is the norm in China today: a sort of museum-style multiculturalism that celebrates the country’s ethnocultural diversity in carefully staged performances while regulating real world contacts through authoritarian controls."
Time running out for Timor-Leste
19 September 2016
"Development of the Greater Sunrise gas field is the key to the economic future of Timor-Leste. But an almost two decade-long maritime territorial dispute with Australia could see ordinary Timorese people pay a high price for policy failure"
Taking stock of Asia's summit season
19 September 2016
"With divisions among members over issues like the South China Sea as well as waning attention from key countries (particularly Indonesia and the Philippines whose leaders’ instrumental populism sees a lower value in ASEAN processes than in the past), some have sensed a rocky future for the group. At Laos and beyond we have seen that ASEAN is never so active and entrepreneurial as when it feels threatened."
The East Asia summit in contested Asia
Nick Bisley and Malcolm Cook
1 September 2016
"East Asia is the world’s most dynamic economic region as well as one of its most challenging security environments. The EAS is a lead body that reflects these contradictory trends and while its capacity to build a new strategic order is limited it has an important supporting role to play. The challenge is to ensure that the membership can sustain interest in the benefits it can provide and to invest sufficiently for these to be realized."
First published as a PacNet commentary.
Why Australia's the canary in the regional coal mine
17 August 2016
"It has been an interesting few months in Australia-China relations. Following the Ausgrid decision, accusations of drug cheating at the Rio Olympics and the response to the arbitral tribunal decision, Australia has been on receiving end of considerable Chinese chagrin. Whether in the formal denunciations of the foreign ministry, the pointed invective of Global Times op-eds, or scatological posts from countless netizens, Australia has received both barrels. While it is too early to judge whether the bilateral relationship has been substantively challenged by these events, it would be wrong to see the reactions from the PRC as merely rhetorical flourishes."
What will Duterte mean for Philippine foreign policy?
19 July 2016
"Despite his enigmatic character, Duterte is a leader who, at least in the short term, is very likely to focus on domestic priorities."
The future of Australia-Indonesia relations
8 July 2016
"A ‘good relationship’ should not be taken-for-granted by either state; it needs to be actively cultivated across various levels of engagement.."
What's next for Jokowi's Indonesia?
5 July 2016
"Significantly though, regardless of Jokowi’s performance so far, there is currently no credible challenger in sight who might have the resources to confront him in 2019. His former rival Prabowo has largely disappeared from public view and seems unlikely to come out fighting once again unless Jokowi commits some serious mistakes that would make him vulnerable for political attacks — for example economic mismanagement or corruption."
Chaos in Kunming
20 June 2016
"China seems to have underestimated the extent to which key ASEAN members are frustrated by its behaviour. It also seems genuinely surprised by its inability to corral both the events and the narrative in the manner to which it is accustomed to at home."
Japanese politics still a man’s world
9 June 2016
"Japan has the lowest percentage of women’s political representation in the industrialised world. Only 12 per cent of seats in the national legislative assembly, the Diet, are held by women. This is compared to a 22 per cent world average and a 19 per cent average in Asia."
Obama marks end of an era for Asia
8 June 2016
"As the administration of President Barack Obama enters its final months, the U.S. rebalance to Asia has never seemed so visible."
The morning after: Australia, Japan, and the submarine deal that wasn’t
Nick Bisley and David Envall
8 June 2016
"For reasons largely of poor diplomatic management, however, the two parties [Australia and Japan] allowed their more aspirational hopes for a major strategic relationship to get ahead of the complex realities of the biggest defense acquisition in Australian history."
Unravelling Timor-Leste’s Greater Sunrise strategy
4 June 2016
"The pipeline remains crucial for understanding Timor-Leste’s foreign policy approach. The government has abandoned unproductive pipeline negotiations with Australia in pursuit of a greater prize: permanent maritime boundaries that give Timor-Leste control over Greater Sunrise."
Ethnicity and the Chinese Internet: Escape from Reality?
19 May 2016
"Has the Internet changed what it means to be Chinese in the twenty-first century? It has certainly opened up new possibilities for performing ‘Chinese-ness’ and other forms of social/cultural identities inside the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and across the globe."
What’s behind Timor-Leste’s approach to solving the Timor Sea dispute?
19 April 2016
"A weak Timorese state is not in Australia’s national interests. But, for four decades, territorial and corporate considerations have primarily defined interests in the Timor Sea. Australia also does not necessarily see oil revenues as solving Timor-Leste’s pressing social, economic or political challenges."
How the US Election Unsettles Asia's Regional Order
19 April 2016
"The part played by the United States in Asia's security order is hugely significant. It has been in place for the better part of four decades, yet its durability does not mean it will always be there."
Love in the time of short stories
27 March 2016
"Laprek is an acronym for Laghu Prem Katha, or 'short love story.' The genre was born on Facebook, where groups of writers refined the genre to look nostalgically to the past while also considering love in the age of online status updates. Laprekars also tweet their works: love stories in 140 Devanagari characters or less."
China's minority report
23 March 2016
"Uighurs and Tibetans regard the Communist Party's policy as meddlesome and an open assault on their culture and identity. Blending, for them, is viewed as a road to ethnic extinction."
How will we pay for this big-spending Defence White Paper?
4 March 2016
"The White Paper goes to great lengths to say that the costs of the projected program have been independently verified, and we have no reason to doubt this. But it is entirely silent on how all this spending will be paid for."
Defence White Paper: Why Australia will opt for Japanese built submarines
25 February 2016
"This is a big strategic decision by Australia. It has bipartisan support but is unexplained by politicians on either side of politics. It is also the reason the J-option will prevail, whatever fig leaves the government tries to put on the "competitive evaluation process"."
We should think carefully about an Australian FONOP in the South China Sea
4 February 2016
"On 30 January, 95 days after its previous effort, the US Navy conducted another 'freedom of navigation operation' in the South China Sea (an operation known by the unlovely FONOP acronym)."
North Korea tests again: the ritual of Korean Peninsula nuclear politics
7 January 2016
"If this detonation was a hydrogen bomb test – which the US government is disputing – then it was likely less successful than the North Korean leadership may have hoped. A hydrogen bomb would be expected to register an explosive yield 100 to 1000 times larger than a fission bomb. However, the blast does not appear to have registered a sufficient explosive yield to constitute a successful hydrogen bomb test."
Australia's air force in the South China Sea: Flying quietly and carrying a medium-sized stick
16 December 2015
"On Monday the BBC ran a story in which its reporter chartered a light aircraft to fly over China's augmentation of reefs in the South China Sea's Spratly archipelago. The intent was to see first hand what China has been up to and to gauge the kind of reaction the flight might prompt. Predictably, the PLA Navy responded in a heavy handed way, and the story added wonderful texture to the ongoing coverage of the dispute."
Song off the fields
13 December 2015
"There is a couplet in Aurahi-Hingana village that makes any member of the community chuckle. This village in northeast Bihar is the birth home of the celebrated Hindi author Phanishwarnath Renu. But the couplet is not his. It was composed, I am told, by the late Thithar Das Mandal, a farmer and an expert clown. When I met him in 2005, Thithar was in his 80s. He was one of the only remaining performers of bidapat nach, a Bihari song-and-drama tradition that presents the verses of the 15th century Maithili poet Vidyapati, interweaved with bawdy comedy and social commentary. The tradition has vanished today."
How China Sees ISIS Is Not How It Sees 'Terrorism'
7 December 2015
"In the wake of the Paris attacks, China is talking up its own struggle with terrorism. Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned against "double standards," while stressing that "China is also a victim of terrorism." Chinese President Xi Jinping "strongly condemned" the ISIS execution of a Chinese national, and labeled terrorism "the common enemy of human beings" at the recent APEC summit."
An underwhelming Asian summit season
30 November 2015
"This year's summit season reminded us that Asia now has abundance of multilateral structures. It was not that long ago that the region was bereft of opportunities for states to gather on a regular basis to improve their relations and coordinate policy. Yet, beyond the annual photo-op of leaders decked out in cliché ridden national costume, broader engagement with these mechanisms is poor."
Australia and India tend the seeds of a growing relationship
21 November 2015
"The Asia–Pacific has been redefined as the Indo–Pacific, a map that now includes India and Australia. Importantly, Australia's alliance with the United States may not jar as it once did. Still committed to 'strategic autonomy', India nevertheless seems not in any hurry to end US primacy in the Western Pacific, believing it may inhibit or delay the projection of China's naval power into the Indian Ocean."
How Should Australia Respond to China?
21 November 2015
"The exact nature of the regional or global order to which China aspires and their practical implications remain unclear. What kind of region does China want? What role does it see for the United States in East Asia? Is China able and willing to pay the price, both financially and politically, to craft a different regional order? And most importantly, how compatible are China's ambitions with Australia's interests and how should Australia respond?"
Washington Misreads Beijing's South China Sea Ambitions
9 November 2015
"The South China Sea has become increasingly contested in 2015. Prompted by China's extensive reclamation program, the complex and multilayered dispute has become a dominant feature in regional diplomacy and strategic dialogue. The contest has been keenly watched, not because it is likely to trigger a great-power conflict, but because of what it tells us about the broader regional dynamics of Sino-American contestation. Indeed nothing seems to illustrate Asia's period of power transition than the brash upstart defying the dominant power by building islands with strategic intent."
Ubud bans put the spotlight back on Indonesia's killing fields
Nicholas Herriman and Monika Winarnita
1 November 2015
"Most Indonesians we have lived with—and still associate with—believe the Communist Party had it coming. They hark back to the attempted communist revolution in 1948 during Indonesia's struggle for independence against the Dutch. The communists, they assure us, were atheists who had betrayed Indonesia during its revolution."
The rise and rise of North Korea's 'money masters'
19 October 2015
"Pressure for political change in North Korea may grow when the size of this nouveau riche class reaches a size where they may become an agitating force if their newly acquired social position becomes threatened – either by government interference or an unforeseen shock event."
AUSMIN and the South China Sea: US sets itself up for failure
16 October 2015
"By signaling its intent to hold freedom of navigation exercises and linking them to the AUSMIN set-piece, the US has set itself up to fail. China is not going to step back from what it has constructed, nor is Washington going to fight its most important economic partner over them."
Decoding the landscape: finding meaning in Northeast Asia's urban green spaces
11 September 2015
"In Northeast Asia, it is possible to find urban green spaces that reflect a variety of different ideological and cultural codings, reflecting the prevailing social forces of the historical epochs in which each green space was built."
Beijing's display of insecurity
8 September 2015
"If you happened to be in Beijing on Sept. 3, one would be forgiven for thinking China was stuck in a time warp. To mark the 70th anniversary of World War II's end, the city hosted the third-largest military parade in the country's history."
How civil society can improve refugee protection in the Asia-Pacific
25 August 2015
"If the Australian government redirected the money it is prepared to spend on deterrence to the UNHCR and the civil society organisations promoting refugee rights in the region, it might be able not only to save refugee lives – its stated objective – but also ensure that refugees had lives worth living."
Remember the Pacific's people when we remember the war in the Pacific
Tracey Banivanua Mar
19 August 2015
"Recent media coverage of Victory in the Pacific Day has highlighted the way Indigenous peoples of the Pacific remain invisible in our public memory of the Pacific War. The wider impact of war on Pacific Island worlds should also be part of our collective memory."
The living ghosts of 1945 haunt Asia's rival powers
14 August 2015
"Following the devastation of twin atomic attacks, Japan announced its unconditional surrender to the Allied forces on August 15, 1945. Seventy years on from that momentous day, the war continues to haunt the peoples of East Asia."
Hiroshima and our cultural amnesia
"There are remarkably few references in contemporary film and literature to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The works that do address it begin to show us the importance of reflection and giving voice to the unthinkable."
Seafood, sate, and spouses—giving and receiving among the Cocos Malays
Nicholas Herriman and Monika Winarnita
16 July 2015
"Giving and receiving play a huge role in the life of Australia's Cocos Malays. This struck home for us when returning from fieldwork in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands."
North Korea's changing climate of environmental cooperation
26 June 2015
"The North Korean (Democratic People's Republic of Korea, DPRK) government would appear to have a compelling prima facie self-interest in participating in the global climate change mitigation and adaptation project centred on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Capacity-building incentives that feed into the leadership perpetuation and state survival imperatives of the North Korean government represent the most likely explanation for North Korea's interaction with the UNFCCC. Environmental vulnerabilities matter, because they could threaten the control of the Kim government."
Why is the US upping the ante in the South China Sea?
11 June 2015
"Since March 2015 the US has hardened its attitude toward China's activities in the South China Sea. Beijing appears genuinely surprised by the shift in tone and behaviour. In the past, the US has taken a more measured approach. So why has it escalated its language and flagged risky military exercises in the South China Sea? Why does the US risk upsetting the tenor of Sino–American relations over rocks, islets and reefs?"
Re-published in Business Spectator 11 June 2015
Modi the statesman must now sell domestic reform
28 May 2015
"On May 26 2014 Narendra Modi's BJP was swept to power with the largest electoral majority in forty years. The scale of the victory was partly a product of his astute campaigning and effective use of social media. It was also driven by profound concerns about economic stagnation, endemic corruption and a sclerotic state."
Kevin Andrews' Defence White Paper preview
26 May 2015
"Given that the forthcoming Defence White Paper will be the third in six years, one could be forgiven for being slightly cynical about the overarching political exercise. Labor clearly felt the messaging, both domestic and international, of the 2009 White Paper was sufficiently problematic as to warrant a rewrite in 2013. Then, upon coming to office, the Abbott Government announced it was commissioning yet another White Paper but did not really explain why this was needed beyond a vague justification for its commitment to make defence spending 2% of GDP."
China's Ambition and the AIIB
22 May 2015
"It is widely recognised that China has become a world power of the first rank. On the back of its epochal economic transformation, the People's Republic must now be bracketed alongside the US as the most important entities in the international system. This reflects not just economic weight – China is the world's largest economy in PPP terms and is likely to become the largest in aggregate terms in the next few years – but also political and diplomatic heft. At global summits and regional talk-shops, such as APEC or the East Asia Summit, China's leaders are the most sought after and its actions most carefully watched."
Source: The University of Nottingham - China Policy Institute Blog
Read the full article online
Lower the temperature in South China Sea
22 May 2015
"During oral testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 13, United States Assistant Secretary of Defence David Shear mentioned that as part of a set of military measures to respond to China's provocative acts in the South China Sea, United States Air Force B-1 bombers would be deployed to Darwin."
Bali Nine response must manage power shift in Indonesian relations
1 May 2015
"The executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in the early hours of Wednesday morning present several tricky challenges for relations between Australia and Indonesia.
The Australian government immediately announced it would recall its ambassador, Paul Grigson, and suspend ministerial visits. In a rare show of solidarity, the Labor Party and the Greens fully supported this. It is unclear at this stage if other actions might be taken."
The US–Japan alliance goes global
1 May 2015
"Due to continuing challenges around the TPP agreement, the public release of the revised Guidelines for Japan–US Defense Cooperation is the key policy outcome of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's spring visit to Washington DC. The rebalance to Asia is the signature feature of the Obama administration's foreign policy, with the Japanese alliance at its centre. For this reason alone the Guidelines are of importance. They also spell out a broader functional purpose and larger conceptual frame of reference for the bilateral relationship, which adds to their significance. But what signals do the Guidelines send about the strategic relationship and its purpose?"
Carrot and stick tactics fail to calm China's ethnic antagonism
28 April 2015
"For centuries the Chinese state has governed its distant ethnic frontiers with both carrot and stick. In the past, emperors proffered 'imperial grace' (ēn) for those 'barbarians' willing to submit (at least nominally) to Chinese dominion, while reserving the right of 'imperial might' (wēi) for those who resisted. The ēn/wēi stratagem continues in the People's Republic of China (PRC) today. But recent unrest in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and elsewhere reminds us of the inherent limits of these tactics of paternalistic co-option and repression."
War anniversary promises year of difficulty for Asia's rival powers
Nick Bisley and Brendan Taylor
24 April 2015
"Australia has been gripped by war commemoration fever. The centenary of the Anzac landings at Gallipoli is dominating media, politics and public debate.
The central place of the Anzac myth in the story Australians tell about themselves makes this understandable. But this introspection shouldn't blind us to 2015 marking an anniversary of a more profoundly important event than the ill-fated efforts to seize the Dardanelles from a sclerotic Ottoman empire."
Source: The Conversation
Read the full article online
Re-published in Business Spectator 29 April 2015
The 'shame' of Indonesia's widows and divorcees
19 April 2015
"Popular culture in Indonesia exposes divorced or widowed women to prejudice and stigmatisation. One of the most popular and enduring images of femininity in Indonesia is the janda. The term refers to either a widow or a divorcee because, in the popular imagination, how she has become unmarried is not particularly relevant. The main point is that she is no longer married."
US puts Australia on the spot with zero-sum game on China's bank
19 March 2015
"Until last week, the only developed economies to have signed on to China's proposed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) were Singapore and New Zealand. The choices of those minnows of the global economy were not thought significant as all the major wealthy economies stayed away."
Indonesia and Australia? You'd better watch your language
27 February 2015
"Australian interests are intimately tied with those of Indonesia, and yet Australia continues to grapple with how to meet its needs for advanced level literacy in this relationship."
Why Japan has a big stake in the fate of Tony Abbott's leadership
10 February 2015
"As Prime Minister Tony Abbott dusts himself down after what might be the first of a number of challenges to his leadership, interest in Japan about Australian politics is acute. Japanese political elites are focused on Australia's fratricidal tendencies not because they enjoy blood sport, but because Japan has a significant investment in the Abbott government."
Why China Is Banning Islamic Veils (and why it won't work)
Timothy Grose and James Leibold
4 February 2015
"This week, regional authorities outlawed Islamic veils from all public spaces in the regional capital of China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR). The Urumqi ban, which went into effect on Sunday February 1 (coincidently the inaugural "World Hijab Day"), empowers Chinese police to punish violators and dole out fines of up to U.S.$800 for those who fail to enforce the prohibition."
How the East Asia Summit can achieve its potential
10 November 2014
"Asia's summit season kicks off this week with the 20th APEC 'economic leaders' meeting in Beijing. The region's political jamborees have become very cluttered of late and leaders from all of Asia's key powers may become a little tired with one another's company. After APEC they will jet to Naypyidaw to take part in the East Asia Summit (EAS) and then fly on to Brisbane for the G20. There will be plenty of opportunity for political elites to get to know one another."
Envoy in troubled waters
Nick Bisley and Brendan Taylor
4 November 2014
"The East China Sea has fast become one of Asia's most dangerous security flashpoints. The Japanese defence ministry reports that in the first half of this year it has had to scramble jets over 230 times in response to Chinese incursion into its airspace."
The Real China Challenge: Beijing's Blueprint for Asia Revealed
27 October 2014
"Beijing will host the APEC leaders' summit on November 10-11. Among the many set piece theatrics of the 20th edition of the leaders' meeting is likely to be an announcement about the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The Bank is a Chinese initiative intended to help finance Asia's massive infrastructure needs. Most of the region's developing economies have signed up, but the more advanced economies are not sure. While the language used to describe their hesitation is largely technical - concerns about capitalization, governance structures and processes - the underlying reason that South Korea, Japan and Australia are uncertain is strategic."
Australia's India gambit, the final step in wooing Asia's key players
9 September 2014
"During his first year in office, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has conducted a surprisingly energetic and focused foreign policy. Economic diplomacy is one of its principal tools with business delegations and trade agreements playing a prominent role, while the New Colombo Plan emphasises the importance of people-to-people links in advancing Australian interests. But the most important concern for the Abbott government's foreign policy team is relations with Asia's major powers."
Honour, prestige and restraint
4 August 2014
"Xi Jinping is the strongest and most nationalistic president China has had since Mao. This energetic debate began with Peter Jennings taking issue with Hugh White's gloomy prognostications about where Australia's enthusiasm for closer strategic cooperation with Japan might lead. For Peter, the basic structure of the current order remains the best way of stabilising the region now and it's durable over the longer run because China's interests are served by those arrangements. In its simplest form, the central question in this debate is whether the regional status quo is sustainable over the medium-to-longer term. Hugh thinks not, almost everyone else seems to think it is — albeit with subtle differences of emphasis."
Tokyo's Subtle Revolution
11 July 2014
"Abe's Constitutional reinterpretation will have profound implications for the Asia-Pacific."
Japan and Australia join forces in Asia's Brave New World
7 July 2014
"In his second stint as Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe seems in a hurry. His sudden fall from power in 2007 has left him with a strong sense of the need to get things done quickly. He has embarked on an ambitious reform program that appears to have finally roused the economy out of a 20-year slumber."
Hindi: India's new English
2 July, 2014
"Narendra Modi just returned from his first foreign trip as India's prime minister. The two-day Bhutan visit focused on mutual trade and development, but one of the biggest stories in India was Modi's use of language: Modi addressed the Bhutanese parliament in Hindi."
The diplomacy of hard and soft power at Shangri-La
1 June, 2014
"The Shangri-La Dialogue styles itself as the premier forum for defence diplomacy in Asia. Given the scale of the event, the number of countries represented and the media coverage, the description is probably warranted."
Narendra Modi's election win won't transform Asia's strategic geography
Nick Bisley and Andrew Phillips
28 May, 2014
"The scale of Narendra Modi's Indian election win was as astonishing as it was historic. The Bharatiya Janata Party now has a majority in its own right, ending the interminable wrangling of coalition governments. More importantly, Modi himself has unparalleled scope to shape his government and India's approach to the world. Many expect, and indeed hope, that the controversial former chief minister of Gujarat will chart a much more strategically ambitious vision for India than that of his predecessor. And that he will use his famous energy to push India to become a power with the global weight and influence to match its population. Modi's early moves to engage with his South Asian neighbours, alongside his desire to strengthen maritime security through cooperation with Indian Ocean island states, offers promising early signs of his commitment to a more strategically assertive India. Likewise, his keenness to emulate East Asia's economic success will demand growing diplomatic and commercial engagement with that region (especially Japan) as India seeks out the capital and expertise needed to build up its manufacturing base."
Shangri-La Dialogue: Beijing's Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove
Nick Bisley and Brendan Taylor
27 May, 2014
"China's deployment of the HD-981 oil rig to drill in Vietnam's EEZ waters has once again ratcheted up tensions in the South China Sea. This move is seen by many commentators as the latest example of Beijing's increasingly assertive approach to its regional interests."
Muted response to Thai coup hints at other nations' limited options
27 May, 2014
"Events in Thailand stand in stark contrast to the orderly transfer of power in India as army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha seized power in the country's 12th coup d'état since 1932. So far international reaction has generally been muted, with most states encouraging dialogue and calling on all parties to refrain from violence."
North Korea: an unlikely champion in the fight against climate change
20 May, 2014
"Pyongyang is cooperating with global strategy on climate change, writes Dr Benjamin Habib. The question is, why?"
Australia's Challenge: Navigating the Uncertainty of the Asia Century
21 April, 2014
"After nearly seven months in office, the Coalition's foreign and strategic policy is beginning to coalesce. Abbott's remarkably successful three-country tour of Northeast Asia shows the government's approach to Asia is beginning to take firmer shape."
The Diplomatic Fallout from Flight MH370 Reveals a Region on Edge
2 April, 2014
"The tragedy of MH370 ought to have been a spur to put aside intra-mural differences, as was the case during the SARS crisis of 2002-03. Instead, it has shown poor levels of functional co-operation, anaemic mechanisms and low levels of trust."
The Ukraine crisis and Asia's international relations
25 March, 2014
"The crisis in Ukraine has caused something of a shock to the international system...That the system is in a state of flux is not news to Asia watchers. That it proved so volatile in Europe is perhaps more surprising. If old school irredentism could happen in what we thought was a geopolitical backwater, Asia's more fluid setting may be far more combustible than we imagined."
It's not 1914 all over again: Asia is preparing to avoid war
10 March, 2014
"Asia is cast as a region as complacent about the risks of war as Europe was in its belle époque. Analogies are an understandable way of trying to make sense of unfamiliar circumstances. In this case, however, the historical parallel is deeply misleading."
Human Rights in North Korea: the implications of the Kirby report
19 February, 2014
"The United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) report into human rights abuses in North Korea, released ... by panel chairman Michael Kirby, highlights the impact of the government's extreme social controls on ordinary North Koreans. Despite the attention that the UNHRC investigation has received, the report does not reveal much new information about the human rights situation in North Korea....Nonetheless, the report is valuable as a systematic and comprehensive catalogue of evidence."
China's ADIZ and Australia's commitment to America's Asia order
2 December, 2013
"For a long time, Australian politicians and officials have used the somewhat tired formulation that Australia does not have to choose between the US and China...But the unintended consequence of these efforts has been a degree of murkiness about just what Australia's long-term priorities are during a period of considerable change."