Lessons from aid workers in North Korea

A North Korean girl reads along a rural road north of Hamhung, South Hamgyong province, North Korea, 16 June 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Eun Jeong Soh, ANU

Since the mid-1990s, various governmental and non-governmental organisations have delivered aid to North Korea’s orphanages and hospitals. But for some time now aid to North Korea has dwindled. The US has provided virtually no aid since 2009, South Korea has banned direct state aid and and limited private assistance since 2010, and UN World Food Programme operations have been running well below target levels. Read more…

China’s SOEs test the waters in the South China Sea

A Chinese government ship trails a Vietnamese Coast Guard vessel with reporters aboard in the South China Sea on 15  July 2014. (Photo: AAP).

Authors: Megan Bowman, George Gilligan and Justin O’Brien, UNSW

In early May, the Chinese HYSY-981 oil rig was moved into waters near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. The oil rig is owned by the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and operated by its subsidiary China Oilfield Services Limited. It was redeployed with Beijing’s approval to drill for another state-owned corporation, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). The rig was deployed 120 nautical miles from Vietnam’s coastline and within Vietnam’s claimed exclusive economic zone. Conflict ensued between Vietnamese and Chinese sea-faring vessels and between citizens of both nations on Vietnamese soil. Read more…

Hong Kong democracy and Beijing’s promise

In Hong Kong, demonstrators sit in a street of the central district during a pro-democracy rally on 1 July 2014. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Joseph Cheng, City University of Hong Kong

In 2007, Beijing promised the people of Hong Kong elections by universal suffrage for the position of chief executive in 2017, and the entire legislature by the same method in 2020. Last year, the pro-democracy movement started its campaign to fight for the implementation of Beijing’s promise. Read more…

Cementing the BRICS together

The heads of BRICS member states pose for a picture during the 6th BRICS summit in the city of Fortaleza, Brazil, 15 July 2014. BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) member states discuss political coordination issues and global governance problems. (Photo: AAP).

Authors: Garima Sahdev and Geethanjali Nataraj, Observer Research Foundation

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in Brazil for his first major international summit, the sixth annual BRICS summit. Before his departure, the leader put forward his vision that the vitality of the BRICS group would cut across the geographical and ideological divides of not only the five countries of the group but also of the global economy. Read more…

Will Myanmar’s military exit the political stage?

Myanmar lawmakers and senior military officials attend a ceremony to mark the 67th anniversary of Myanmar's slain Independence hero and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, General Aung San at the Martyrs' Mausoleum in Yangon, Myanmar Saturday, 19 July 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Adam P. MacDonald, Halifax, Canada

Over three million Burmese have signed a petition by Myanmar’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), urging immediate constitutional revision. A significant cause for protest has been the political powers afforded to the country’s military, the Tatmadaw, by the constitution.

Although the petition demonstrates the direction in which many want the country to go, such actions are unlikely to force the generals’ hand. Read more…

Indonesia has to make hard decisions on debt

Indonesian workers at a construction site in Jakarta, Indonesia, 25 November 2013. Indonesian policy makers will have to tackle a fear of international borrowing in order to invest in much-needed infrastructure. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Peter McCawley, ANU

Indonesia’s next president will need significant funds to fulfil election promises. But both candidates Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and Prabowo Subianto have expressed caution about international borrowings.

So should Indonesia undertake the risks of borrowing from overseas? Read more…

Village democracy shrugs in rural China

A Chinese police officer guards in front of a board to show result of counting votes for the candidates during an election to select village committees at a polling station in Wukan village, Lufeng city. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Bryan Ho, University of Macau

Lauded as one of the most significant political reforms in post-Mao China, village elections in rural China have received considerable attention since the promulgation of the Organic Law of Villagers’ Committees.

The law, first trialled in 1988–1998, is an attempt to allow villagers to elect their own local leaders in China’s lowest-level political unit. Read more…

G20 should facilitate international cooperation on climate change

Environmentalists from Poland and Europe participate in the March for Climate and Social Justice in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Ross Garnaut, University of Melbourne

The time is right to place climate change at centre stage of the 2014 G20 leaders-group meeting in Australia. The G20 has a record of leadership on the international climate change agenda. With the world working toward a critical meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris in December 2015, a firm position articulated by G20 leaders in Brisbane in November would be in time to influence the Lima UNFCCC meeting in December 2014. Read more…

China’s control over the South China Sea

A Vietnamese protester during a protest rally against China’s deployment of an oil rig in the disputed South China Sea. China recently announced that it would remove the rig. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Peter Drysdale, Editor, East Asia Forum

Last week China announced that it was towing away a giant oil rig from waters disputed with Vietnam, ahead of the onset of the typhoon season and after finding signs of oil and gas, at the same time insisting it stood firm on maritime claims that have sparked disputes with its neighbours — and warned it could return.

China deployed the US$1 billion rig in early May in waters close to the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea Read more…

Murky waters surround the rule of law in the South China Sea

A Chinese coast guard vessel fires water cannon at a Vietnamese vessel off the coast of Vietnam. The rule of law in the contested semi-enclosed seas of Asia needs to be constructed on a foundation that is objective, fair and equitable. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Sourabh Gupta, Samuels International

The air is thick with calls for the rule of law to be observed in the East and South China Seas. ‘Japan for the rule of law, Asia for the rule of law, and the rule of law for all of us’, Shinzo Abe said at the Shangri-La Dialogue earlier this year. Nations, he observed — and by which he meant China — must make claims that are faithful in light of international law and resolve them peacefully. Read more…

China’s growing assertiveness transforms Japan’s security policy

People demonstrate against the defence policy change by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo in Tokyo, Japan, 5 July 2014. The Japanese cabinet decided on 1 July that Japan should be allowed to use military force abroad in special circumstances. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Jennifer Lind, Dartmouth College

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on 1 July a decision to reinterpret the Japanese constitution, allowing Tokyo to militarily support partners that are under attack. Former prime minister Zenko Suzuki would approve. In 1981, Suzuki became the first Japanese leader to use the word ‘alliance’ to describe Japan’s relationship with the United States. The seemingly innocuous word sounded alarmingly militaristic to many Japanese who, since their country’s defeat in World War II, have been skittish of rearmament and involvement in overseas military operations. Read more…

An immovable object and an unstoppable force: the Uyghurs and Beijing

Armed police patrol an area where blasts occurred in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, on 22 May 2014. The blasts killed 31 people and injured 94 others, according to local authorities. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Mubashar Hasan, Griffith University

China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region is experiencing, yet again, deep unrest and unease. News headlines have been dominated by violent clashes between Chinese police and some sections of the Uyghur population — recently a police building in Xinjiang province was bombed and 13 Uyghur activists shot dead in the aftermath. To comprehend the persistent tensions between the Chinese administration, managed by the dominant Han ethnic group, and Uyghur Muslims, one must consider historical tensions and both the strategic and economic significance of Xinjiang. Read more…

BCIM Corridor a game changer for South Asian trade

A vender weights corn for a customer at a market in Yingjiang, near the Myanmar border, Yunnan Province, China, 26 May 2012. (Photo: AAP).

Authors: Pravakar Sahoo and Abhirup Bhunia, Institute of Economic Growth

The Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor will increase socioeconomic development and trade in South Asia. The initiative seeks to improve connectivity and infrastructure, energy resources, agriculture, and trade and investment. It will connect India’s Northeast, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and the Chinese province of Yunnan through a network of roads, railways, waterways, and airways under a proper regulatory framework. The current focus of BCIM talks is on an inter-regional road network. This makes sense, as roads are the cheapest route of trade. Read more…

Behind North Korea’s hospital curtain

A North Korean nurse comforts a baby at a nursery inside Pyongyang Maternity Hospital in Pyongyang, North Korea, 20 February 2013. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Eun Jeong Soh, ANU

Health care has been a successful area of international cooperation for North Korea. Yet, there has been little discussion of daily health care practices, which remain largely hidden outside of the formal health care system. How much is known, for instance, about what people in North Korea do when their children fall ill? Read more…

Chinese financial assistance to boost intra-regional trade in South Asia

A Chinese clerk shows RMB (renminbi) yuan banknotes at a bank in Ganyu county, Lianyungang city, 4 June 2014. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Saman Kelegama, IPS

Since the mid-2000s, the South Asian region has witnessed an incoming wave of Chinese financial assistance. In some South Asian countries like Sri Lanka, China has overtaken traditional donors by highly engaging in post-war infrastructure development activities. So China’s engagement in South Asia creates both opportunity and uncertainty for India and its neighbours. The question remains: will intra-regional trade increase, if so, at what cost to the region? Read more…