Pakistan’s political quandary: on the edge yet again

Supporters of Pakistani Muslim cleric Tahirul Qadri praise their leader during a sit-in protest near the parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, 27 August 2014. Thousands of supporters for Pakistani former cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and Qadri are besieging parliament in the capital to pressure Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign over alleged election fraud. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Sajjad Ashraf, NUS

The two separate sit-ins in front of Pakistan’s parliament house are into their second week. The first is led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The second is led by Tahirul Qadri of political party Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT). Both are seeking the ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab — Pakistan’s most populous and disproportionately powerful province.

The sit-ins have rattled the Sharif-led government. Read more…

Khmer Rouge tribunal delivers judgment but not justice

Former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan waits for his sentence in the courtroom of the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, 7 August 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Authors: Kevin Boreham, ANU and Harry Hobbs, NYU

On 7 August, the Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) found the two most senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge — Khieu Samphan, aged 83, and Nuon Chea, 88 — guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced both to life imprisonment. They will probably be the last Khmer Rouge defendants tried by the ECCC. Read more…

Uncomfortable compromises in Russia­–Japan territory dispute

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe shake hands at their meeting in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi, Russia, 8 February 2014. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Owen Lindsay, University of South Australia

On 12 August, Russia held military manoeuvres on two of the four disputed islands that lie north-east of Hokkaido. The island chain, known as the South Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan, has been the major sticking point in Japan–Russia relations during the post-war period.

The Soviet Union, and then Russia, has exercised de facto administration over the entire island chain since 1945 — Russian citizens and soldiers currently live on all four of the disputed islands. Read more…

Banking integration in ASEAN gathers pace

Bank employees count Indonesian rupiah notes at a national bank outlet in Jakarta, Indonesia, 6 June 2012.  (Photo: AAP).

Author: Thiam Hee Ng, ADB

The ASEAN Economic Community, planned to come into effect in 2015, is expected to liberalise goods, capital and skilled labour flows in the ASEAN region. While there has been considerable progress in the area of trade integration, financial integration still lags behind. The ASEAN Banking Integration Framework, which aims to liberalise the banking market by 2020, could help pave the way for further integration and the entry of ASEAN banks into regional banking markets. Read more…

Can North Korea abduction issue progress improve Abe’s approval rating?

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, 9 December 2013. The approval rating for the Abe cabinet has fallen 10 points to 47 per cent, according to a poll released 9 December by the Kyodo News agency. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Takao Toshikawa, Oriental Economist Report

Public backlash to the Abe government’s cabinet decision to recognise the right to collective self-defence, as well as the decision to restart nuclear power, has seen the cabinet’s approval rating to drop below 50 per cent. According to one Democratic Party of Japan Diet member, Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) loss at the Shiga Prefecture gubernatorial election in early July ‘turns the November Okinawa gubernatorial election into a decisive battle. If the LDP candidate loses, the politics of “Abe always wins” will be at an end’. Read more…

Blowing the lid off food safety in China

An employee leaves the factory building of Shanghai Husi Food Co. Ltd. in Shanghai, China, 21 July 2014. While food in China is generally safe, repeated food safety incidents make a mockery out of serious reform efforts. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Sacha Cody, ANU

In July, Shanghai’s Dragon TV exposed illegal food handling practices by Shanghai Husi Food Co., a major meat supplier to multinational corporations such as McDonald’s and KFC. The story, which was the result of months of undercover investigative journalism and concealed video recording, showed footage of numerous violations including mixing expired meat with usable product as well as deliberately deceiving a regular inspection group from McDonald’s. Six Husi staff members were swiftly arrested. It is believed that such behaviour had been going on for years, though Husi’s senior management claimed this was an isolated incident. Read more…

Why the US struggles against Japan in TPP negotiations

US Trade Representative Michael Froman speaks to reporters while Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari looks on during a press conference at the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Ministerial Meeting in Singapore, 20 May 2014. Trade ministers from 12 nations completed a two-day Ministerial meeting in Singapore targeted at creating a 12-nation trade pact in the Asian-Pacific region. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Aurelia George Mulgan, UNSW Canberra

Real progress in Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations has stalled until Japan and the United States reach some kind of basic trade agreement — which is still elusive even after numerous rounds of talks. The United States has been pressuring Japan to make concessions in key areas such as agriculture.

It is well known that current TPP negotiations are running on two separate tracks: the plurilateral track in which all 12 countries are participating and the bilateral track which amounts to a series of bilateral deals being negotiated on the side. Read more…

Thai coup’s short-term gains mask long-term pains

Head of the Thai military junta, army chief and now prime minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha adjusts his cap during a military ceremony at the 21st Infantry Regiment in Chonburi province, Thailand, 21 August 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Pavida Pananond, Thammasat University

In the aftermath of Thailand’s 22 May military coup, business and politics appear to have converged. Domestic and foreign businesses of all stripes heaved a collective sigh of relief when the military seized power, halting six months of debilitating and intractable anti-government street protests. But despite initial post-coup business optimism, and the impression that commerce is booming, Thailand’s latest putsch may bring long-term pain. Read more…

China’s recipe for higher consumption and steady economic growth

Chinese customers buy snacks at a supermarket in Fuyang city, in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui, 16 July 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Authors: Wang Xiaolu, NERI, and Zhou Yixiao, ANU

The slowdown of economic growth in China, since the global financial crisis, is obvious. The average growth rate dropped from above 10 per centto 9.3 per cent between 2008–2011, and then to 7.7 per cent in both 2012 and 2013, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics. In the first half of 2014, the growth rate was 7.4 per cent. Read more…

Families of Sewol victims want to know why their children died

Family members grieve the loss of the loved ones in the Sewol ferry disaster. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Eun Jeong Soh, ANU

It has been over 100 days since the Sewol ferry sank, taking the lives 304 passengers including 197 high school students on a field trip. Families of the victims and the South Korean public are still dumbfounded that the passengers were told to remain on-board as the Coast Guard rescued crewmembers. The government’s sluggish and limited rescue effort is another source of the families’ anger. Read more…

Chinese state-owned enterprise investment in Australia

Chinese president Xi Jinping greets Australian prime minister Tony Abbott in Beijing on 11 April 2014. There is intense focus on how the investment chapter of the Australia-China FTA will treat the access of Chinese state-owned enterprises to the Australian investment market. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Peter Drysdale, Editor, East Asia Forum

As the negotiation of the Australia–China Free Trade Agreement (FTA) moves into what is hopefully its final phase, there is intense focus on how the investment chapter of the FTA will treat the access of Chinese state-owned enterprises to the Australian investment market.

Currently all investment proposals by state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are subject to screening by Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), no matter what their scale or country of origin. Read more…

Chinese SOEs: some are more equal than others

A local resident sits outside the office buildings of SOE Baosteel Group Co., Ltd. in Shanghai, China, 29 May 2014. State-owned enterprises (SOEs) remain ubiquitous in the Chinese economy despite three decades of market reform. (Photo: AAP).

Authors: Paul Hubbard and Patrick Williams, ANU

Last year’s Third Plenum decision was remarkable not only for promoting the ‘decisive role of the market in allocating resources but also for seeing this as being consistent with ‘the dominant position of public ownership’ and ‘the leading role of the state-owned sector’.

State-owned enterprises (SOEs) remain ubiquitous in the Chinese economy despite three decades of market reform, although now they account for only 30 per cent of industrial output. Read more…

Supreme Court of Japan rules against welfare for foreigners

A young man sits alone on a sofa in Tokyo, 29 July 2014. Tough economic conditions have presented serious problems for both Japanese nationals and foreign residents in Japan. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Trevor Ryan, University of Canberra

Last month, the Supreme Court of Japan ruled that persons without Japanese nationality (that is foreigners) have no legal claim to benefits under the Public Assistance Act. The case is an affront to the second and third generations of ethnic Chinese and Koreans in Japan who have chosen for practical and identity reasons not to renounce their nationality and naturalise as Japanese. For these and other tax-paying permanent residents, the case simply affirms the legality of a discriminatory statute.

But, while it is a ‘stunning’ decision for some, a few points about the decision should be clarified. Read more…

Cambodia breaks political deadlock, at last

Cambodian opposition party leader Sam Rainsy of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, registers before a meeting at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 8 August 2014. Lawmakers from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party attended the meeting of the National Assembly for the first time, ending their ten month boycott of parliament over claims that results of the July 2013 general election were rigged. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Vannarith Chheang, CICP

After a year of political deadlock the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) have agreed to settle their differences. The CNRP, established in July 2012 by merging the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party, challenged the predominant role of the ruling CPP in the July 2013 election. On 22 July, both parties reached a historical agreement and on 8 August, 55 CNRP members of parliament took their seats at the National Assembly to bring to an end a year-long boycott over alleged CPP vote-rigging. Read more…

Rivers run through Modi’s regional agenda

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to unseen wellwishers as he arrives to meet with Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala following a meeting at the prime minister's office in Kathmandu on 3 August  2014. Modi arrived in Nepal to try to speed up progress on power agreements while also aiming to counter rival giant China's influence in the region.

Author: Robert G. Wirsing, Georgetown University

Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to Kathmandu in early August, the first visit to Nepal by an Indian premier in 17 years, was his third trip abroad since his inauguration on 26 May. In mid-June, only weeks after taking charge in New Delhi, he had made his first official foreign excursion — a two-day visit to nearby Bhutan. These upfront state visits to the two Himalayan countries were a clear indication that Modi was determined to put flesh on his campaign pledge to give priority in his foreign policy to bolstering relations with India’s South Asian neighbours. Read more…