Obama visits a troubled East Asia

US President Barack Obama waves as he gets off Air Force One upon his arrival at Haneda Airport in Tokyo on 23 April 2014.  (Photo: AAP)

Author: Tobias Harris, Teneo Intelligence

President Barack Obama’s state visit to Japan on 23–25 April comes at a fraught moment for the US–Japan relationship.

The cautious US response first to China’s declaration of an air defence identification zone in November and then to Russia’s annexation of Crimea have Japanese elites concerned about what the US would do if China were to seize the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Read more…

US to Japan, South Korea: stop arguing and get on with it

Shinto priests walk out from the outer shrine after they administer a Shinto rite Kiyoharai on the first day of the three-day spring festival at the controversial Yasukuni war shrine in Tokyo on 21 April 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Andrew Horvat, Tokyo

On 6 March, the Obama administration sent a strong message to Japan and South Korea to work out their differences over history. Speaking on Japanese television, US Ambassador to Tokyo Caroline Kennedy said, ‘I’m sure President Obama will be very, very happy with the progress they will make’.

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The evolution of Sino–American competition in Myanmar

US President Barack Obama delivers remarks after a meeting with Myanmar President Thein Sein in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 20 May 2013. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Adam P. MacDonald, Halifax

For decades, China has been Myanmar’s principal international partner. In the years preceding Myanmar’s opening up, China dominated Myanmar’s foreign discourse as an important economic and military partner, and a source of international diplomatic protection due to the diplomatic isolation and widespread sanctions imposed on Myanmar by the West, especially after the 1988 coup. Read more…

Challenges for the US-Japan alliance in a changing Asia

A unit of the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force honor guards hold US and Japan national flags. US President Barack Obama will visit Tokyo this week and the current security situation in East Asia underscores the importance of maintaining and strengthening US-Japan alliance cooperation. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Hitoshi Tanaka, JCIE

Tokyo will welcome US President Barack Obama this week at a key moment in US-Japan relations. The challenging nature of the current security situation in East Asia underscores the importance of maintaining and strengthening US-Japan alliance cooperation. The risk of North Korean military provocation remains ever-present, and China is becoming increasingly assertive in its maritime activities in the East and South China Seas. Read more…

South China Sea on the rocks: the Philippines’ arbitration request

This Philippine Navy vessel has been grounded since 1999 to assert the nation's sovereignty over the Second Thomas Shoal, a remote South China Sea reef also claimed by China. The Philippines commenced in 2013 arbitral proceedings against China to seek declarations as to the legal status of, but not legal title to, various land features in the South China Sea. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Christopher Ward, 12th Floor Chambers and ANU

The overlapping territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea are regularly described as flash points and sources of tension. A number of these overlapping claims do not involve China. However, it is the assertions made by China that lie at the heart of many of the disputes, as well as their possible resolution within the framework of UNCLOS. Read more…

India’s long month of political choice

An Indian man sells cut-outs of Indian Prime Ministerial Candidate of Bharatiya Janata Party Narendra Modi, Congress party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and Aam Aadmi party leader Arvind Kejriwal on 10 April 2014. This election appears to provide Indians with a real choice. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Peter Drysdale, Editor, East Asia Forum

The world’s largest national poll is now well under way across India to elect a new parliament and ultimately a new government and prime minister. The poll began on 7 April, and runs through nine stages until 12 May, with the results due out four days later, on 16 May. Read more…

Is Narendra Modi a crony capitalist or just best friend to business?

Narendra Modi listens to businessman Zafar Sareshwala during an event on business harmony in India. To some, Modi is a visionary reformer, while to others he’s an autocrat in bed with big business cronies. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Nikita Sud, University of Oxford

With interests in ports and logistics, energy, agri-business, mining and real estate, the Adani Group is one of India’s business powerhouses. Its chairman, first-generation entrepreneur Gautam Adani, has a net worth of US$4.5 billion and regularly makes it to international rich lists. Adani is reclusive by nature, but has recently found himself thrust into the spotlight. It is believed that the rise of his business empire coincides with the ascent of Narendra Modi, the man who could be India’s next prime minister. Read more…

Modi in pole position: but what would his government look like?

Indian women voters wait patiently in a long queue at a polling station during the fifth phase of the Indian General elections in Bhopal, India on 17 April 2014. Nationwide voting began April 7 and runs through May 12, with results for the 543-seat lower house of Parliament to be announced four days later. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Arun R. Swamy, University of Guam

As India goes to the ballot boxes, it seems clear that the ruling Indian National Congress (INC) and its United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition will be decimated by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The suspense centres entirely on how close the NDA will get to the 272 seats required for a parliamentary majority. Read more…

Consumer confidence shows Indonesia’s prayers may be answered

An Indonesian woman buys her daily needs at a market in Bogor, West Java, Indonesia. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Nigel West, UK.

Despite many economists claiming a rocky outlook is ahead, both investor and consumer confidence in Indonesia is very high. The ANZ-Roy Morgan Indonesian Consumer Confidence survey published in February 2014 revealed that nine out of ten Indonesians believe that the situation over the next five years will be positive, and almost eight out of ten believe that the upcoming year will be one of good fortune. Read more…

Why Beijing shouldn’t worry about Manila’s military upgrades

A dilapidated Philippine Navy ship is anchored off Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin Shoal. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Joseph Franco, RSIS

On 28 March 2014 Manila signed a US$420 million contract for the delivery of 12 Korean Aerospace Industries FA-50 aircraft for light surface attack and lead-in fighter roles. The purchase marked the return of the Philippine air force to the jet age. So far, it is the highest point in the Philippines’ gradual build-up of a ‘minimum credible defence posture’, and a recapitalisation of Southeast Asia’s least-capable military with the support of the US. Read more…

How Indonesian local governments spend too much on themselves

Aceh citizens wait in line to vote at a polling station in Banda Aceh in 2012 to elect a governor and mayor. (Photo: AAP).

 Authors: Günther Schulze and Bambang Suharnoko Sjahrir

Indonesian districts spend excessively on their own administration — money that could be spent on delivering public services for the people. The key problem is that democratic accountability is not (yet) sufficiently effective. After the 2001 decentralisation the districts, the third tier of government after center and provinces, are responsible for the provision of basic services such as health, education, and infrastructure and spend around a third of the consolidated government budget. Read more…

Why China stands to benefit from ambiguity on Crimea

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping (L) take part in video conference in Sochi, Russia, in February 2014 (Photo: AAP).

Author: Maria Repnikova, Asan Institute for Policy Studies and Georgetown University

From the outset of the Russia–Ukraine escalation, Russian official sources claimed to have secured China’s support. Most recently, following Russia’s official annexation of Crimea, President Vladimir Putin thanked China and India, which abstained from the UN Security Council vote condemning Russia.

In reality, however, Russia’s projection of China’s stance in this crisis has been misconstrued, as China consistently favoured strategic ambiguity Read more…

Modi and manifesto set sky-high expectations

Crowds show their support for Narendra Modi, the current favorite to win the Indian elections in Vadodara, India on 9 April 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Rajiv Kumar, Centre for Policy Research

The manifestos that have been made in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections are trying to please everyone. One has to read between the lines to truly appreciate the nuances and identify the differences.

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Reforms vital for Vietnamese economy to stay on track

Cyclists ride past a large poster advertising luxury cars on a road in Hanoi on July 4, 2012. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Suiwah Leung, ANU

After several years of macroeconomic turmoil, 2013 finally saw a return to some semblance of stability in the Vietnamese economy. There is no time to lose.

The government needs to push through significant reforms in key areas in order to lift long-term growth. Read more…