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Whither Myanmar

Whither Myanmar?

By Derek Tonkin

29 March 2014

After three years of remarkable progress, commentators are wondering whether the reform process in Myanmar might be running out of steam. Some Western politicians undoubtedly cherished unreasonable expectations about the pace of the transition to democracy. More generally, the outcome of the Arab 'Spring' has shattered many illusions. Transitions are seen to be fraught with difficulties.

There has been a concerted, possibly inspired campaign against the National Census which is due to start on 30 March 2014, counting the population as at midnight tonight. In some cases, I suspect an intention to destabilise, as there is never likely to be a good time for a Census in any nation in transition. It is on balance better that the deed were done now, rather than wait until later.

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Jokowi

Indonesian elections - a watershed?

By Julia Marie Ewert

7 March 2014

In the next few weeks Indonesia will elect a new People’s Consultative Assembly and a new president. The legislative elections are scheduled for 9 April and presidential elections will take place on 9 July. With incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono being barred from a third term by the constitution, the Indonesian political scene will be fundamentally reshaped. The change of leadership in the largest Muslim-majority country in the world and the world’s fourth most populous country will have an impact beyond South East Asia.

The Indonesian legislature, the People’s Consultative Assembly, consists of the People’s Council (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, DPR) and the Regional Representative Council. Of the 692 seats, 560 are in the People’s Representative Council and 132 in the Regional Representative Council.

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Asia

Is the Rise of Asia Unstoppable?

By James Clad and Robert A. Manning

3 March 2014

For some time now, it has been fashionable to say that we have begun what will be a "Pacific Century." We have seen a flood of books of late, variations on the theme of When China Rules the World, as one put it. Certainly, in the aftermath of the 2008-09 financial crisis and Great Recession, this has been the conventional wisdom, a view shaped to a large extent by linear thinking. One of the most celebrated proponents of such views is the prolific former Singapore diplomat Kishore Mahbubani in a series of well received books on Asia's rise such as The New Asian Hemisphere.

In a recent article, Mahbubani has taken this linear logic to new heights (or depths, depending on your perspective) with the premise that America's slide to number two economic status is "inevitable by 2019." His premise appears to be that the prospect of yielding the top spot to China appears horrible and unnatural in the collective U.S. psyche:

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Kerry Abe

Minefields in Obama’s trip to Asia

By Fraser Cameron, Director

11 February 2014

This week John Kerry embarks on another visit to Asia seeking to remind everyone that the US pivot is still on track. In late April Barack Obama will visit Asia - Japan, Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. China is not on the list as Obama will pay a separate visit there later in the year.

Kerry will discuss political, security and economic issues in his trip. He will no doubt face questions about TPP. The next round of negotiations is scheduled for later this month but there are increasing doubts as to whether TPP can be completed in a reasonable timeframe given the inability of the Obama administration to secure fast track authority from Congress. If the President cannot secure the necessary support in Washington it is unlikely that Prime Minister Abe will risk political capital in trying to push for internal reforms in Japan.

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Ayrault, Li

France-China Relations: From ‘Special’ to ‘Strategic’?

By Wei Shen

28 January 2014

France occupies a special position in China’s foreign policy, due to two important historical events. First, former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders like Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping and Chen Yi, were among the 4,000 young Chinese who studied in France from 1912 to 1927. This page of history has left a strong hallmark on the CCP. Second, fifty years ago, amid the tension of the Cold War, France was the first major power in the West to have full diplomatic relations with China.

In the past five decades, the bilateral relationship has grown fast with joint statements on ‘comprehensive partnership’ in 1997 and ‘strategic partnership’ in 2004, but not without experiencing ups and downs. Is France still the special partner for China as it once was? The 50th anniversary provides both countries a good occasion to reflect and renew Sino-France relations in a changing global order.

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Abe

Japan's 'Strategic Diplomacy': Leveraging on ASEAN in 2014

By Kei Koga

2 January 2014

The recent ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit in Tokyo illustrates Japan’s 2013 ‘Strategic Diplomacy’ towards ASEAN. There are also several challenges to sustaining this momentum in Japan-ASEAN relations as we enter the new year.

Commentary

JAPAN AND ASEAN commemorated 40 years of friendship and cooperation with a Summit Meeting in Tokyo on 14 December 2013, proclaiming in their joint commitment to work “hand in hand, facing regional and global challenges”. Given the current heightened political tension between China and Japan following Beijing’s announcement of its new East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ), the Summit was seen as part of Japan’s pursuit of its ‘Strategic Diplomacy’ toward ASEAN in balancing China’s increasing influence in East Asia.

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Myanmar Union Assembly

Not a Rubber Stamp: Myanmar’s Legislature in a Time of Transition

By International Crisis Group

13 December 2013

Myanmar’s new legislature, the Union Assembly formed in 2011 on the basis of elections the previous year, has turned out to be far more vibrant and influential than expected. Both its lower and upper houses have a key role in driving the transition process through the enactment and amendment of legislation needed to reform the outdated legal code and are acting as a real check on the power of the executive.

Yet, some bills moving through the legislature have raised concerns that the authorities, both legislative and executive, may not be ready to give up authoritarian controls on the media, on civil society organisations and on the right to demonstrate. More broadly, the role of the 25 per cent military bloc and its impact on the legislature have been questioned. Serious individual and institutional capacity constraints and unclear procedures serve as a brake on effective, efficient lawmaking.

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China North Korea

Fire on the City Gate: Why China Keeps North Korea Close

By International Crisis Group

11 December 2013

China tolerates the nuclear ambitions of North Korea (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK) for now because its interests in the neighbourhood are much wider and more complex than this single issue. Beijing and the West often work toward their shared goal of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula with contradictory approaches that reflect their different priorities. The West uses diplomatic isolation, economic sanctions and extended deterrence to pressure Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program. Many Western policymakers believe the DPRK will denuclearise if sufficient costs are imposed and that Beijing holds the keys because the North is economically dependent on it. But China is reluctant to take any coercive action that might destabilise the regime and change a delicate geopolitical balance. It instead continues with diplomatic engagement and economic cooperation as the instruments it hopes will cause the leadership to denuclearise in the indeterminate future.

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ADIZ

The East China Sea ADIZ: New Flashpoint in Regional Maritime Security

By Sukjoon Yoon

2 December 2013

Regional maritime territorial disputes have expanded beyond the surface of the seas into the airspace above them, marking a significant enlargement of the theatre of conflict. Why has China established the East China Sea (ECS) Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ)?

Commentary

ON 23 NOVEMBER 2013 China unexpectedly declared the East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ), defining it to include the Chinese Exclusive Economic Zone but also the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. Within this zone, which is 130km from Japanese territory at its closest point, China requires the ready identification, location, and control of all civil and military aircraft from any nation, whether over land or sea.

This strikingly assertive measure will likely impact regional maritime security calculations in the years ahead. The Chinese move has been immediately defied by the United States, South Korea and Japan with military overflights through the ADIZ without notifying China while Japanese civilian airlines, initially complying, were told to ignore the new Chinese flight rules. These have so far provoked only muted response from Beijing.

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Mahinda Rajapaksa

Sri Lanka’s Potemkin Peace: Democracy Under Fire

By International Crisis Group

13 November 2013

Sri Lanka’s ethnically-exclusive regime continues to close political space and consolidate its power. Recent moves that create a perception of progress have not weakened the power of the president, his family or the military or brought reconciliation, ended human rights abuses or reduced impunity. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) won a landslide victory in September’s long-awaited northern provincial council elections. Yet, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration is reluctant to allow devolution to begin, preferring to maintain de facto military rule in the north. It faces increasing social and communal pressures elsewhere, too. Journalists, human rights defenders and critics of the government are threatened and censored. With opposition parties weak and fragmented, continued international pressure and action are essential to stem the authoritarian turn and erosion of rule of law, realise the devolution of power promised in the constitution and start a credible investigation of alleged war crimes by government forces and the Tamil Tigers (LTTE).

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