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’.

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…

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.

Read more…

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…

Peering into Thailand’s turbulent future

A Thai pro-government Red Shirt protester holds a placard showing a picture of caretaker Thai Premier Yingluck Shinawatra during a rally on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand, 6 April 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Authors: Pasuk Phongpaichit, Chulalongkorn University, and Chris Baker, Bangkok

The courts may shortly remove Thailand’s prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

This would mean that in the past eight years, four prime ministers have been felled and four election results voided — surely a world record. Read more…

Japan and Australia ‘beef up’ relations

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the National Security Council in Tokyo on 7 April 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Aurelia George Mulgan, UNSW Canberra

The Economic Partnership Agreement that Japan recently concluded with Australia (JAEPA) has everything to do with Japanese trade strategy and little if anything to do with agricultural reform.

Some of the commentary on the agreement has argued that JAEPA was the product of Abe’s reform agenda, but it is neither part of that agenda nor will it advance it. Read more…

Lifting Asia out of poverty needs to be done equally

Plain-clothes construction laborers from the countryside are seen in front of the glittering skyline of Guangzhou, China. Inequality is on the rise in China and across developing Asia with its combined Gini coefficient rising from 39 in the early 1990s to 46 in the late 2000s. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Juzhong Zhuang, Asian Development Bank

Developing-Asia’s impressive growth continues but faces a new challenge — inequality is on the rise. Over the last few decades, the region has lifted people out of poverty at an unprecedented rate. But more recent experience contrasts with the ‘growth with equity’ story that characterised the newly industrialised economies’ transformation in the 1960s and 1970s. Read more…

Indonesia’s poll and presidency on a coalition course…and the Thais that bind

Popular presidential candidate of major opposition party PDI-P and Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo walks with his supporters in Jakarta following the 9 April 2014 legislative election. He came out ahead in the polls but a worse-than-expected election performance by the party means that Indonesia is staring at a coalition government. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Peter Drysdale, Editor, East Asia Forum

The election for Indonesia’s legislature last Wednesday represents another remarkable achievement in the country’s democratic transition. Indonesians proudly went to the polls and delivered a result that was without major incident and has not yet been disputed (though that may change when the official results are declared in a few weeks). Read more…