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News from the Region

Where will Malaysia’s trade policy go post-TPP?

Shankaran Nambiar
East Asia Forum, August 10, 2017

President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) has set in motion a total re-think of trade policy in Malaysia. Malaysia’s relations with the United States are in a state of flux. There is little comfort for Malaysian policymakers in what’s been coming out of Washington. Trump has classified Malaysia (along with Thailand, Indonesia and a host of other countries) as a trade ‘cheater’, largely because Malaysia has a large trade surplus with the United States (More).

Have we lost ASEAN to China?

Yoichi Funabashi
The Japan Times, August 10, 2017

The Trump administration unilaterally pulled the United States from the TPP, and in trade negotiations demonstrates a strong inclination toward bilateral agreements. This is of growing concern to members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which hold dear the principle of multilateralism. Even more worrisome, however, is the fact that the American commitment to security matters in the Asia-Pacific region has become increasingly dubious (More).

Beijing’s Asean diplomatic coup

Richard Javad Heydarian
The Straits Times, August 10, 2017

Rising tensions in the South China Sea, as well as the Korean peninsula, dominated discussions at the latest ministerial meetings of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean)…On both issues, China not only avoided criticism of its behaviour, but projected leadership with diplomatic finesse. In contrast, the United States struggled to exercise its traditional role as the anchor of stability and prosperity in the region…China portrays rising tensions over South China Sea as interference by non-claimant states (More).

The Doklam Dispute in Context

Sumit Ganguly
Foreign Affairs, August 09, 2017

For over a month, Indian and Chinese troops have been facing off on the Doklam Plateau, a disputed patch of land in the Himalayas near the junction of Bhutan, Tibet, and the Indian state of Sikkim. The impasse began with China’s decision to build a road on territory also claimed by Bhutan. The Chinese construction project, which was discovered in June, led to Bhutanese protests. These drew in India, which decided to increase the number of its troops in the area. New Delhi backs Bhutan’s claim and is called on to help address the country’s security concerns by the terms of a bilateral treaty renewed in 2007 (More).

What a Family Feud Reveals About Singapore’s Political Future

Prashanth Parameswaran
World Politics Review, August 09, 2017

Since June, Singapore has been gripped by a public spat between the three children of the city-state’s revered founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, over the future of a family home. While some have downplayed the episode—which involves Singapore’s current prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, Lee’s eldest son—as a mere family feud, in reality the dispute reflects broader concerns about the future of Singapore’s politics and the government’s ability to manage domestic and foreign policy changes in the post-Lee Kuan Yew era (More).

Asia’s evolving security order

Le Hong Hiep
The Japan Times, August 08, 2017

Japan and Vietnam are stepping up strategic cooperation as China grows more assertive. During his visit to Hue, Vietnam’s former royal capital, earlier this year, Emperor Akihito and his entourage were reminded of their country’s long-standing cultural connections with Vietnam…Emperor Akihito’s visit to Vietnam — the first by a Japanese monarch — represents an important milestone in the maturing bilateral relationship, which has been buttressed not only by strong cultural links, but also by robust economic ties and growing strategic cooperation (More).

Five pillars for a US strategy on the South China Sea

Joseph Chinyong Liow
The Straits Times, August 01, 2017

Under President Donald Trump, the United States has become a distracted power. Ongoing investigations into alleged Russian involvement in last year’s presidential election cast a long shadow over the presidency, and healthcare policy has become a war of attrition within the President’s own party…Many analysts lament the lack of strategic vision in the Trump administration’s approach to the South China Sea. Such a strategy can be crafted on five pillars: international law, deterrence, incentives, diplomatic engagement, and keeping an Asean focus (More).

Rising Violence in Thailand’s ‘Deep South’ Exposes Cracks in the Junta’s Strategy

Michael Hart
World Politics Review, August 01, 2017

Amid a recent spate of attacks, and with peace talks floundering, the long-running separatist insurgency in southern Thailand is showing worrying signs of escalation…Peace talks between Thailand’s ruling military junta, which seized power after toppling the democratically elected government in a 2014 coup, and a loose organization of rebel groups have been ongoing for more than two years. However, little progress has been made, as the most powerful militant group—known as Barisan Revolusi Nasional, or BRN—have been excluded from the dialogue (More).

50 years on, the South China Sea stands between Asean and ‘one community’

Cary Huang
South China Morning Post, August 01, 2017

China and Asean have set a good example on regional economic integration to bring about mutual benefit. But the deeper economic engagement between China and its smaller neighbours does not automatically translate into trust and friendship. Instead, mutual suspicion is on the rise, due to conflicting geopolitical interests amid rising US-China rivalry over domination of regional affairs… many Asean members are caught between ‘China opportunities’ and the ‘China threat’, as they walk a tightrope between security ally US and an assertive Beijing, with disputes in the South China Sea threatening regional stability (More).

After all that embracing, has US left India out in the cold over standoff with China?

Sumit Ganguly
South China Morning Post, July 31, 2017

For nearly two months, troops from the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have been deployed at close quarters on the Doklam plateau near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction. Amid much feverish commentary on the risks of a wider conflict, there has been a deafening silence on one critical issue – the role of the United States. Apart from one very anodyne – not to mention obvious – response from the US Department of State that India and China should seek ways to resolve the conflict peacefully, India’s supposed “natural ally” has said precious little (More).

Deceptive lull in South China Sea

Ravi Velloor
The Straits Times, July 28, 2017

One year after the international arbitration tribunal at The Hague resoundingly ruled against China’s claim to most of the South China Sea it would seem that Beijing has prevailed with its firm stand on the issue and refusal to acknowledge the ruling, much less abide by it…It is commonly believed in South-east Asia that former US President Barack Obama’s failure to hold Mr Xi to his promise of not militarising the South China Sea probably contributed to Beijing’s subsequent assertive behaviour in those waters (More).

Is the U.S. Pushing Back Enough Against China’s Efforts to Isolate Taiwan?

Theresa Lou, Ashley Feng
World Politics Review, July 28, 2017

Late last month, the Trump administration approved its first package of arms sales to Taiwan. For Taipei, this welcome news was long overdue, but not nearly enough to stop its slide toward international isolation. Taiwan recently lost Panama, one of its few remaining diplomatic allies, to China, when the Panamanian government severed its diplomatic ties to Taipei and officially recognized Beijing instead. The tiny African island nation of Sao Tome and Principe made the same decision in late December (More).

China’s Window of Opportunity in the South China Sea
Xue Li and Cheng Zhangxi
The Diplomat, July 26, 2017

The South China Sea (SCS) issue has now arrived at a critical point. China should take the advantages of this opportunity to adjust its South China Sea approach – to steer from a “unilateral win” formula to “multilateral win” formula, so as to take lead in the problem-solving process. This new approach should drive the South China Sea problem-solving process to a faster track, in the process clearing out major obstacles to building a Southeast Asian hub for the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR) (More).

China’s North Korean Liability
Zhu Feng

Foreign Affairs, July 11, 2017

On July 8, at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, U.S. President Donald Trump held a cordial press conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping where they discussed how they would address the growing threat of North Korea. Just days before, on July 4, as many Americans were observing Independence Day, North Korea announced that it had successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching Alaska. This was likely on Trump’s mind at the summit when he told this Chinese counterpart that he believed the two of them would “come to a successful conclusion” in reining in Pyongyang. The key challenge, of course, is how they will get there (More).

Don’t allow Taiwan issue to strain Sino-US ties
South China Morning Post, July 4, 2017

The latest US arms sale to Taiwan may step up the pressure on Beijing over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. But it has added to tensions beneath the surface in relations between Beijing and Washington… It is clear from Trump’s urging of Xi to step up pressure on Pyongyang that the Americans felt China could have done more to exert its economic leverage over the rogue nuclear state. Xi in turn urged Trump to abide by the recent reaffirmation of the one-China principle and a decades-old undertaking during the normalisation of bilateral relations to taper arms sales to Taiwan (More).

The standoff in Doklam
Shyam Saran
The Tribune, July 4, 2017

The latest face-off between the Indian and Chinese security forces in Doklam, where the borders of India, China and Bhutan meet, brings a sense of déjà vu. There was a similar extended face-off in the Depsang area in Ladakh in April 2013. There have been other incidents as well but the mechanisms in place to maintain peace and tranquillity at the border have eventually worked and the issues have been resolved. Both sides have remained committed to preventing escalation. One hopes that the Doklam incident will not be allowed to vitiate the relationship between the two countries, particularly in view of the fact that Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly had a friendly meeting on the sidelines of the recent meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Almaty (More).

China takes Security Council presidency in July, putting wide-ranging crises on agenda
William M. Reilly
Xinhua, July 4, 2017

Ambassador Liu Jieyi of China, UN Security Council president for July, said on Monday that issues of Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, Colombia, Haiti and Cyprus will be on the agenda of the 15-nation council in July… Liu addressed the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, even though not formally listed on the council’s July agenda. He reiterated the Chinese “suspension for suspension” proposal package – suspension of nuclear and ballistic testing on the part of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and suspension of the military exercises on the part of the United States and the Republic of Korea

Trump Dumping ‘China First’ Policies
Gordon G. Chang
World Affairs, July 3, 2017

It looks like America has a new China policy…US officials believe President Trump is unhappy with Beijing and is thinking of trade actions against China. His frustration follows more than two months of generally unsuccessful attempts to get the Chinese to help Washington disarm North Korea…Previous US administrations subordinated America’s interests and let these and other issues fester as they sought to integrate China into the international system. Trump, however, has announced he will not pursue what has amounted to the “China First” policies of his predecessors (More).

The rebirth of the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Koichi Hamada
The Japan Times, July 3, 2017

When Donald Trump, in one of his first acts as president, announced that the United States would not participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, many assumed that the mega-regional trade deal was dead. But such assumptions may have been premature… But many relevant players, eager to prevent the TPP from crumbling, soon began to discuss moving forward without the U.S… Japan and New Zealand announced that they would seek an agreement with other signatories by November to move the TPP forward. If they succeed, TPP signatories will benefit substantially — and the U.S. may well find that it has missed a massive opportunity (More).

Trump and China: implications for Southeast Asia
Robert Sutter
East Asia Forum, July 3, 2017

Before his inauguration, Chinese specialists judged that Trump, as a pragmatic businessman, could be ‘shaped’ to align with Chinese interests and would ultimately be easier to deal with than Clinton. President-elect Trump soon upended these sanguine expectations with a few gestures, comments and tweets… China’s new uncertainty over the US president added to reasons for Beijing to avoid — at least for now — controversial expansions in the disputed South China Sea. How long this will last is a guessing game (More).

Singapore cannot be cowed by size
Bilahari Kausikan
The Straits Times, July 3, 2017

The Straits Times published an article by diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, “Qatar: Big Lessons From A Small Country”, in which he said the experience of Qatar reminds Singapore of the need for small states to behave like small states, and to cherish regional and international institutions…The article sparked much discussion online…Diplomat Bilahari Kausikan posted this response on his Facebook page to Kishore Mahbubani’s article (More).

Qatar: Big lessons from a small country
Kishore Mahbubani
The Straits Times, July 1, 2017

…what is happening in Qatar is not just about regional rivalry in the Middle East, or power play between the superpowers. In Singapore, we should pay close attention to developments there, and most of all, draw the right lessons from Qatar’s current plight, no matter how hard it may be to swallow the painful lessons from this episode… Qatar episode holds many lessons for Singapore. We ignore them at our peril. There are at least three big lessons we should learn and take corrective actions to implement the learning (More).

For Russia, Putin Power Is Losing Some of Its Shine
Stratfor, June 29, 2017

Despite a show of strength and a charm offensive, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government is beginning to show its age. Russia is facing a dangerous protest movement against Putin’s system, and he has responded with heavy-handed crackdowns and winsome public appearances. The message from the Kremlin is clear: Putin is a strong leader and a man of the people. But the message is beginning to sound stale, and a reckoning may be peeking above the horizon. Even before his rise to power, Putin and his elites had been shaping the story behind the Russian leader (More).

Beijing’s Debt Dilemma
Edoardo Campanella
Foreign Affairs, June 29, 2017

China’s ballooning corporate debt remains the number one systemic risk to global economic recovery. If the bubble bursts, it will drag down the rest of the world while compromising Chinese Premier Xi Jinping’s grip on power ahead of the Chinese Communist Party congress late in the year. Beijing understands that the debt is hardly sustainable, so over the last two years it has engineered a sophisticated macroeconomic strategy to artificially boost factory prices, increase profits, and ease loan repayments for the most troubled companies (More).

Is It Time to Reassess the U.S.-South Korea Alliance?
Michael Auslin
The Atlantic, June 29, 2017

The failure of a quarter-century of diplomacy has left the North Korean dictatorship on the cusp of possessing a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile. For the first time since 1953, when the United States committed to protecting the South from another invasion from the North, the American homeland will soon come under direct threat from one of the world’s most ruthless regimes…the United States is at loggerheads with the Kim regime because of its commitment to the South—the alliance is not a symptom of today’s crisis between Washington and Pyongyang (More).

Summit safeguards Indo-US ties from Trump the tweeter
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
Hindustan Times, June 29, 2017

India has used Trump the president to buffer relations with the United States against Trump the reality TV star. Indian and US officials privately express relief that the Narendra Modi–Donald Trump summit went off smoothly. Fears of the unpredictable can be projected to the entire Indo-US relationship. With Trump broadly endorsing the India line of his predecessors, the room for policy randomness was suitably reduced. That alone made the summit a success as far as Indian officials were concerned (More).

Khmer Rouge Tribunal Ends With Justification, Not Denial
Nicole Weinrauch
The Cambodia Daily, June 29, 2017

The world has just heard closing arguments in the last active litigation of the series of great human atrocities of the 20th century, this time the Cambodian genocide of 1975 to 1979. Rarely have such trials passed to broad local or international satisfaction, and the much maligned U.N.-sponsored Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is no exception. Four decades after the horrific death toll of at least 1.5 million during the People’s Republic of Kampuchea, the nine-year tribunal can boast of three convictions of men at the end of their lives at a cost of $300 million (More).

Trump’s South China Sea Policy Leaves U.S. Allies Perplexed—and Anxious
Berkshire Miller
World Politics Review, June 26, 2017

On June 21, the United States and China held their first-ever Diplomatic and Security Dialogue in Washington. The dialogue, co-chaired on the American side by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, is a new iteration of engagement that evolved from the April meeting between President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, at Mar-a-Lago. Along with other newly created discussions on trade and law enforcement issues, the dialogue is aimed at narrowing the focus of the former U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which met annually during the Obama administration (More).

Japan and ‘One Belt, One Road’
The Japan Times, June 24, 2017

Reversing his position, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has indicated that Japan is ready to cooperate with China’s “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiative for cross-continental infrastructure development under certain conditions. He is also now willing to consider Japan joining the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) — of which Japan, along with the United States, sat out when it was set up in 2015 — once doubts about its governance and operation are cleared. While these shifts may be motivated by concerns that Tokyo could be left behind as Beijing and Washington move closer in trying to restrain North Korea, it’s time that Japan also take steps to rebuild its strained ties with China, and cooperating with the Chinese initiatives should be a good start (More).

BRICS cooperation shows strong vitality
Xinhua, June 19, 2017

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said…that the BRICS cooperation has shown strong vitality during the past ten years. Wang made the remarks at the opening ceremony of the meeting of BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Relations…He said BRICS cooperation has greater importance, as the five countries’ share in global economy has increased from 12 percent to 23 percent in the past decade while they have contributed more than half of global growth (More).

Mapping Strategic Narratives in the Bay of Bengal Region
Constantino Xavier, Marc Saxer
Carnegie India, June 15, 2017

The idea of Bay of Bengal as a multilateral, strategic, and economic community has engendered multiple interests and narratives around the bay. Therefore, identifying potential areas of cooperation would involve examining the geopolitical landscape manifested in the discourses of this region.Carnegie India’s Bay of Bengal Initiative, in partnership with Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung India, organized a workshop to map the discourses surrounding the Bay in India, which can be used to identify opportunities for cooperation by locating the center of political activity (More).

South Korea Suspends Deployment of U.S. Antimissile System
Motoko Rich
The New York Times, June 7, 2017

South Korea’s newly elected president, Moon Jae-in, has suspended the deployment of an American missile defense system designed to counter North Korean threats, clearly signaling a less friendly approach to the United States’ agenda than his predecessor’s…The missile defense system, known as Thaad, has been controversial in South Korea and has drawn sharp criticism from China, which views the system’s radar as a threat. China took retaliatory economic measures against South Korea, including curtailing the flow of Chinese tourists and punishing South Korean companies in China (More).

Raja Mandala: Transacting with Trump
Raja Mohan
The Indian Express, June 6, 2017

Adapting to Trump will not come easily to the Indian system that has refused to be transactional in its approach to the United States over the last two decades. In the process, it missed big opportunities in converting the goodwill of two presidents into tangible gains. Consider the historic civil nuclear initiative offered by Bush. Delhi spent years examining this gift horse in the mouth. Nor has it taken full benefit of the opportunities for defence cooperation with the US and its allies in the last few years. The inability to seize the fleeting moments of opportunity created by Indian diplomacy has long been a characteristic of India’s overall governance (More).

Tokyo proposes reciprocal Abe-Xi visits in 2018
Nikkei Asian Review, June 6, 2017

A Japanese proposal to China…would see Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Xi Jinping pay each other visits next year…The leaders of the two countries have not visited each other in the same year since 2008, when Yasuo Fukuda was Japan’s prime minister and Hu Jintao was China’s president. The hope is that resuming active top-level dialogue will warm the countries’ often-icy ties and deepen economic cooperation. This, in turn, might help the governments smooth things over on more contentious issues, such as security (More).

Myanmar’s peace process and international players
Kavi Chongkittavorn
The Nation, June 05, 2017

When the second session of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference was held last month, China emerged as the most important foreign player. Other countries long associated with the push for peace before the current process took shape have had to fine-tune their roles to ensure the process is inclusive. This is an indigenous effort to end a half century of war between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups. Unlike other peace processes in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, where a third-party mediator or facilitator is often called upon to assist the conflicting groups. However, the current peace effort faces a challenge from assertive outside players, whose core interests would be affected if they remain benign (More).

Trump Hosts Prime Minister Phuc of Vietnam and Announces Trade Deals
Mark Landler
The New York Times, May 31, 2017

President Trump welcomed the prime minister of Vietnam to the Oval Office…cutting business deals and discussing the transfer of a Coast Guard cutter to a onetime enemy that the United States now views as a front-line defender against an expansionist China. It was Mr. Trump’s first meeting with the prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and the president had warm words for his guest, despite having raised concerns within the Vietnamese government on both economic and security fronts early in his administration (More).

China Woos South Korea’s New Leader, but the U.S. Left Behind a Spoiler
Jane Perlez
The New York Times, May 31, 2017

When he assumed power in 2013, President Xi Jinping of China tried to court one of America’s main Asian allies, South Korea. It worked for a while. Then the relationship soured…Now Mr. Xi is trying again, wooing South Korea’s new leader, Moon Jae-in, and still hoping to chip away at the American alliance with South Korea and fortify China’s position in Northeast Asia. Mr. Moon, a proponent of engagement with North Korea, is a more natural friend for Mr. Xi than the conservative Ms. Park, who is in jail facing corruption charges (More).

Dialogue suggests China, Japan can find a way out of impasse
China Daily, May 31, 2017

That Beijing and Tokyo both underlined the need to take each other as a potential partner rather than a threat was an important outcome of their just concluded fourth high-level political dialogue. Amid their seemingly endless impasse, that both sides have taken note of the damaging potential of mutual distrust and aspire to improve bilateral relations represents a step toward breaking the deadlock…As everybody knows, there is a long shadow of history that prevents the countries from getting really close, especially under the current leadership in Japan which is unwilling to let the past rest in peace. But that does not mean there is no way out (More).

China, US vie for friendship with the Philippines, while Duterte hedges
Alessandro Uras
Myanmar Times, May 25, 2017

The rapprochement between China and the Philippines has ostensibly avoided the prospect of a confrontation in the South China Sea. On the sidelines of a two-day summit about China’s global development project, held in Beijing on May 14-15, the Philippine ambassador announced plans for talks with China over its territorial claims in the sea. 2016 was one of the most important years in the evolution of the South China Sea dispute. On July 12, the Arbitral Tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled overwhelmingly in the Philippines’ favour over the disputed area. China’s worst nightmare materialised in the form of a legal ruling on the dispute. The Philippines successfully exposed the legal weakness of Chinese claims to the territory under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) (More).

TPP revival a boon amid rising protectionism
Chia Yan Min
The Straits Times, May 24, 2017

United States President Donald Trump sounded an apparent death knell for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact in January when he decided to withdraw the world’s largest economy from the 12-nation agreement. But the TPP has got a new lease of life. The remaining signatories, including Singapore, have agreed to move the trade deal forward without the US…It remains to be seen whether the TPP can actually be brought to fruition without the participation of the US, but this revival of its prospects is good news for small, trade-dependent Singapore. (More).

Can the U.S. Pivot Back to Asia?
Ziad Haider
Foreign Affairs, May 23, 2017

China’s sweeping Belt and Road Initiative, which involves reviving the ancient Silk Road linking Asia to Europe, has become the most visible symbol of China’s rising ambitions. Ever since the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the plug on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) earlier this year, abandoning its chance to set the rules of international commerce, China has seized the opportunity to prove it can assume the mantle of global economic leadership…Belt and Road is an enormous endeavor…Once complete, the “belt” will include a massive network of highways and railways linking China to Central Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. The “road” will consist of a series of maritime routes between Southeast Asia and Europe (More).

Shangri-La Dialogue should address Asia’s new strategic order
Hugh White
The Straits Times, May 23, 2017

Each year, the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore provides a platform for Washington to affirm America’s strategic commitment to Asia, promote its policies to strengthen United States regional leadership, and push back against China’s encroachments. And it gives America’s friends and allies in Asia an opportunity to line up in support. This year, that won’t be so easy, either for America or its allies…So far the only thing that seems clear is that the Obama-era “Pivot to Asia” slogan is dead. But the evidence suggests that something bigger is happening than just a change in terminology (More).

Atoms for Pyongyang
Richard Rhodes and Michael Shellenberger
Foreign Affairs, May 23, 2017

Earlier this month, U.S. President Donald Trump said that “under the right circumstances,” he would meet with North Korean President Kim Jong Un, who continues to increase his nation’s nuclear arsenal. With the recent election in South Korea of President Moon Jae-in, who campaigned for renewed negotiations between the two Koreas, the circumstances might indeed be just right. Kim Jong Un has repeatedly stated that he wants the same thing North Korea’s previous leaders—his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather Kim Il Sung—wanted…North Korea’s president is fully aware that attacking the United States would be tantamount to suicide (More).

Japan-India civil nuclear pact
The Japan Times, May 19, 2017

The Lower House approval of the civil nuclear cooperation pact between Japan and India this week makes it certain that the pact will now take effect, given the chamber’s superiority in endorsing international treaties. However, questions raised and problems pointed out over the pact — including the ambiguities over whether Japan can terminate the accord if India carries out another nuclear test — were left unaddressed as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition pushed it through the Diet. The first such pact Japan has concluded with a country outside of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime was designed to promote exports of the nation’s nuclear power plant technology, but the feasibility of Japanese firms’ overseas nuclear power business is increasingly in doubt (More).

OBOR? Oh boy
The Japan Times, May 18, 2017

For years, China’s leadership followed the guidance of former leader Deng Xiaoping, who urged the country to “hide our capacities … maintain a low profile and never claim leadership.” Last weekend marked the end of that era as President Xi Jinping hosted an international gathering that sought to sell Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR), a multitrillion dollar regional infrastructure initiative. Xi’s “project of the century” has many purposes, not least of which is assertion of China’s leading role in Asia and beyond, a bid to fill a vacuum that is emerging in the wake of the Trump administration’s “America First” approach (More).

Southeast Asia: A Notch in China’s Belt and Road Initiative
Stratfor, May 18, 2017

Southeast Asia is the pivot of China’s sprawling 65-nation Belt and Road Initiative. The region’s growing markets, numerous manufacturing hubs and abundant natural resources offer Beijing a wealth of economic opportunities. But its greater value to China is rooted in geopolitics. As the country’s economy has exploded in recent decades, it has come to rely on external trade routes. Today, one of Beijing’s top priorities is protecting these routes from foreign interdiction, especially in the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca. The chief goal behind China’s Belt and Road Initiative is twofold: To establish secure sea routes from its coast to the Mediterranean Sea and to create alternative supply routes overland to ensure its continued access to foreign markets in the event of a maritime cutoff. Southeast Asia serves both of these ends (More).

Asia in the Trump Era
Bilahari Kausikan

Foreign Affairs,  May/June 2017

Donald Trump ran for office promising to overturn U.S. policy toward Asia. He threatened to launch a trade war against China, calling for a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports to the United States and promising to label Beijing a currency manipulator. After his election as U.S. president, he broke with four decades of precedent when he spoke to Taiwan’s leader on the phone and declared that the United States might not uphold the “one China” policy—the foundation of U.S.-Chinese ties—under which the United States does not formally recognize the Taiwanese government. On his first full weekday in office, Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the 12-nation, U.S.-led trade deal that many in the American foreign policy establishment saw as crucial to preserving U.S. influence in the region (More).

Raja Mandala: The myth of a political bond
 Raja Mohan
The Indian Express, January 10, 2017

As India’s relations with China continue to head south, Delhi will find it difficult to sustain a core belief about its engagement with Beijing. India has long insisted that Delhi has shared global interests with Beijing and must build on them despite enduring differences on the bilateral level…India’s problem with China is that Delhi’s ideas of shared global interest in the multilateral domain have run into Beijing’s calculus on the regional balance of power in the Subcontinent. If India has let idealism shape its thinking on China, Beijing never stopped seeing Delhi through the lens of realism. It was a deep conviction about shared Asian identity and a common agenda to counter western hegemony and build a multipolar world that has driven India to extend unflinching support to China in the global arena. It received little in return (More).

UAE plan to send paratroopers for Republic Day grounded
The Economic Times, January 10, 2017

The UAE’s proposal to send a military paratrooper team for a live display during the Republic Day parade was grounded after the Indian side shared security concerns and pointed out that the weather may play spoilsport. Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is the chief guest at the parade…while the plan for the paratrooper team to skydive on Rajpath could not be taken forward, India requested UAE for a marching contingent and a military band for the parade. If accepted, this would be the second time that a foreign military contingent would take part in India’s annual Republic Day parade…Following PM Narendra Modi’s visit in 2015, Indian defence delegations have made several visits, exploring ways of enhancing cooperation. India also sees UAE as a major potential defence export destination (More).

Time for a U.S.-Japanese Free Trade Agreement?
Michael Auslin
Foreign Affairs, January 9, 2017

Days before U.S. President-elect Donald Trump takes office, there are few that hold out hope for the survival of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama’s failure to push the 12-nation pact through the U.S. Congress allowed it to become a political football in the 2016 presidential election, disavowed by both Trump and his opponent, Hillary Clinton…Some of Trump’s senior advisers…have declared that the TPP will not be resurrected. Other voices…have supported the TPP in the past and indicated that it might be renegotiated. Having made a public announcement just after the election that he intends to withdraw from the TPP on “day one,” however, Trump will find it difficult to back down, at least without a backup plan. Such a backup plan has already been hinted at by the president-elect, who on multiple occasions has noted his preference for transparent bilateral trade agreements that do not harm U.S. workers (More).

India is a major strategic partner, and will remain so, says French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault
Indrani Bagchi
The Times of India, January 8, 2017

India is laying a great deal of emphasis on the Indian Ocean region…”We have major shared ambitions regarding maritime security and cooperation in the Indian Ocean. Of course, France is also an Indian Ocean country, because of Reunion Island. France has always considered India to be an essential partner for regional stability and security. Our two countries work together, be it cooperation between our navies or industrial matters. We regularly hold an annual bilateral dialogue to strengthen our relations in this area. In fact, its next session will take place in Delhi in a few days’ time.” (More)

Muted U.S. Response to China’s Seizure of Drone Worries Asian Allies
Jane Perlez
The New York Times, December 18, 2016

Only a day before a small Chinese boat sidled up to a United States Navy research vessel in waters off the Philippines and audaciously seized an underwater drone from American sailors, the commander of United States military operations in the region told an audience in Australia that America had a winning military formula…In the eyes of America’s friends in Asia, the brazen maneuver to launch an operation against an American Navy vessel in international waters in the South China Sea about 50 miles from the Philippines, another close American ally, has raised questions about one of the admiral’s crucial words. It was also seen by some as a taunt to President-elect Donald J. Trump, who has challenged the One China policy on Taiwan and has vowed to deal forcefully with Beijing in trade and other issues (More).

Breakthrough in Japan, Russia islands row eludes PM Abe, Putin
Kiyoshi Takenaka and Katya Golubkova
Reuters, December 18, 2016

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin wrapped up two days of talks on Friday, with numerous economic deals but no big breakthrough on a territorial row that has over-shadowed ties since World War Two…Abe and Putin agreed to launch talks on joint economic activities on disputed islands at the centre of the territorial row as a step toward concluding a peace treaty formally ending World War Two, the two sides said in a joint statement. The islands in the Western Pacific, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kuriles in Russia, were seized by Soviet forces at the end of World War Two and 17,000 Japanese residents were forced to flee. The dispute over their sovereignty has prevented the two countries signing a peace treaty (More).

Welcome to the age of hyper-uncertainty
Barry Eichengreen
The Japan Times, December 18, 2016

The year 2017 will mark the 40th anniversary of the publication of John Kenneth Galbraith’s “The Age of Uncertainty.”…In 1977, as Galbraith was writing, the world was still reeling from the effects of the first OPEC oil price shock and wondering whether another one was in the pipeline (as it were). The United States was confronting slowing growth and accelerating inflation, or stagflation, a novel problem that raised questions about policymakers’ competence and the adequacy of their economic models. Meanwhile, efforts to rebuild the Bretton Woods international monetary system had collapsed, casting a shadow over prospects for international trade and global economic growth. For all these reasons, the golden age of stability and predictability that was the third quarter of the 20th century seemed to have abruptly drawn to a close, to be succeeded by a period of greatly heightened uncertainty (More).

As Trump riles China, Taiwan tallies defense costs
J.R. Wu
Reuters, December 16, 2016

Trump’s suggestion that the “one China” principle – that Taiwan is a part of China – was up for negotiation has already prompted saber-rattling from Chinese state media and some in the military establishment. Taipei’s ability to mitigate any military action by China will be severely limited by its weak economy and a tiny domestic arms industry that will take years to build up. And even if the United States – Taiwan’s sole arms supplier – agrees to sell the advanced weaponry the island needs to deter a Chinese attack, Taipei will struggle to pay the bill, government advisers and experts say…The ability of Taiwan to defend itself, and the willingness of the United States to help it, have been brought into sharp relief since President-elect Trump accepted an unprecedented phone call from President Tsai early this month (More).

A step forward for Japan-Russia ties
The Japan Times, December 16, 2016

The closely watched summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin did not appear to have produced any concrete progress on the long-standing territorial row over the group of islands off Hokkaido that were seized by Soviet forces at the end of World War II, which has prevented the two countries from concluding a formal peace treaty. Instead, Abe and Putin emphasized that joint economic activities on the disputed islands as well as a range of economic cooperation between the two countries that they agreed on in their two days of talks will help build mutual confidence and contribute to ending the “extraordinary” situation that Tokyo and Moscow lack a peace treaty seven decades after the war’s end (More).

Indonesia’s Joko Widodo visits Delhi: Civilisational siblings are on the road to mutual rediscovery
Rajiv Bhatia
The Times of India, December 15, 2016

Political leaders, officials and academics alike tend to portray India and Indonesia as “natural partners”. Most of them also recognise that in contemporary times, the relationship has not been progressing to its full potential. The visit to India by President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, reflects both recognition of this reality and the two nations’ shared desire for course correction. It has produced a reasonable outcome, fuelling optimism about the future. As two of the world’s populous countries, Asian democracies committed to pluralism, close maritime neighbours, and emerging economies with strong complementarities, India and Indonesia have much in common (More).

India, Indonesia to prioritise defence ties: PM Modi
The Times of India, December 12, 2016

In a joint media address with visiting Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Modi said the two nations share the value of “democracy, diversity and social harmony” and have nurtured “strong bonds of business and culture”…India and Indonesia signed three agreements following delegation-level talks here headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting Indonesian President Joko Widodo… This is the first presidential visit from Indonesia to India in nearly six years since the visit of then President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in January 2011 (More).

Hedging against uncertainties in the age of Trump
Hugh White
The Straits Times, November 29, 2016

For many years now, Asia’s smaller and middle powers have pursued a policy of “hedging” against strategic uncertainty. The uncertainty they worried about was the possibility that Beijing, as its power grew, might try to replace the old US-led order in Asia with a new, more China-centred one. Their response was to engage China economically and politically, but at the same time to draw closer to the US strategically. They hoped this would bolster Washington’s capacity and willingness to resist Beijing’s strategic ambitions if they did indeed grow. Stronger links with the United States have been South-east Asia’s – and Australia’s – hedge against the possibility of a more threatening China (More).

China’s Infrastructure Play
Gal Luft
Foreign Affairs, September/October 2016 Issue

Over the past three millennia, China has made three attempts to project its economic power westward. The first began in the second century BC, during the Han dynasty, when China’s imperial rulers developed the ancient Silk Road to trade with the far-off residents of Central Asia and the Mediterranean basin; the fall of the Mongol empire and the rise of European maritime trading eventually rendered that route obsolete.  In the fifteenth century AD, the maritime expeditions of Admiral Zheng. He connected Ming-dynasty China to the littoral states of the Indian Ocean. But China’s rulers recalled Zheng’s fleet less than three decades after it set out, and for the rest of imperial history, they devoted most of their attention to China’s neighbors to the east and south. Today, China is undertaking a third turn to the west—its most ambitious one yet. In 2013, Beijing unveiled a plan to connect dozens of economies across Eurasia and East Africa through a series of infrastructure investments known as the Belt and Road Initiative (More).

An Australian “China Choice”? No. But Multiple China Choices, Yes.
Richard Fontaine
The National Interest, September 11, 2016

A senior U.S. Army officer recently generated headlines on both sides of the Pacific by highlighting the strategic and economic challenges facing Australia today. Keen to maintain close ties with both their American ally and their chief economic partner in China, Australian officials are today conscious of the potential tensions that lie ahead… the notion that there is a looming “China choice” facing Australia is gathering support among portions of its strategic elite… The reality is more complex. An all-or-nothing China choice would damage both Australian and American interests, and in Canberra such a dilemma should be viewed as a policy failure rather than the inevitable outcome of economics and geopolitical competition. Rather than single, stark option, Australia will instead face a series of “China choices” on discrete issues that require Canberra to balance its economic and security risk. And therein lie the challenges (More).

New politics of discourse – more humility and respect
Kavi Chiongkittavorn
The Nation, September 12, 2016

The way Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte responded to US questioning of his government’s handling of the anti-narcotics campaign showed that future relations between the world’s most powerful country and its closest Southeast Asian ally are shifting fast. In the past, both the US and Philippines were more tolerant with each others’ misgivings – even their nincompoop leaders. Those times have gone. Aside from the Philippines, no country in this part of the world is willing now to accept or tolerate Washington’s criticism of their conduct on serious issues impacting on the social fabric – be it drugs, human trafficking, human rights, among others. This year’s US presidential campaigning and all the toxic comments made by candidates about America and its neighbours have added salt to the wounds. American creditability overseas is currently at a low level (More).

Pakistan-Russia military to hold first ever joint drills 
The Economic Times, September 12, 2016

Pakistan and Russia are set to hold their first-ever joint military exercises later this year …reflecting increased military cooperation between the two former Cold War rivals. Around 200 military personnel from the two sides would take part in the joint military exercises…The move comes amidst increasing defence ties between Moscow and Islamabad as the latter was also thinking to buy advanced Russian warplanes…The joint military drill is seen as another step in growing military-to-military cooperation, indicating a steady growth in bilateral relationship between the two countries, whose ties had been marred by Cold War rivalry for decades… Islamabad is eager to improve its ties with Moscow to diversify its options in the event of any stalemate in ties with Washington (More).

Beijing and Moscow launch South China Sea naval drills
Al Jazeera, September 12, 2016

China and Russia have launched eight days of naval drills in the South China Sea in a sign of growing cooperation between the countries’ armed forces against the backdrop of regional territorial disputes. The exercises come at a time of heightened tension in the contested waters after a UN-backed tribunal ruled in July that China did not have historic rights to the South China Sea and criticised its environmental destruction there. China rejected the ruling and refused to participate in the case. The “Joint Sea-2016” war games will include exercises on “seizing and controlling” islands and shoals, according to Chinese navy spokesman Liang Yang. They will involve surface ships, submarines, fixed-wing aircraft, ship-borne helicopters, marine corps and amphibious armoured equipment from both navies, he said in a statement (More).

Keep the Pressure on Myanmar
The New York Times, September 13, 2016
When Myanmar’s leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, meets with President Obama and members of Congress in Washington this week, one of the items for discussion will be easing the remaining American sanctions on Myanmar. That may be a tempting move, given recent efforts by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi to end ethnic conflict and the persecution of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group, but it would be a mistake to lift all remaining sanctions now…Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has taken steps to heal Myanmar’s ethnic divisions. On Aug. 31, she convened a peace conference to bring together the country’s armed ethnic groups in hopes of ending decades of conflict. This month, at the invitation of her government, a team led by Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, began looking into the plight of the Rohingya. This is an important step given Myanmar’s dismal human rights record (More).

Fishing Boat Diplomacy
Scott Moore
Foreign Affairs, September 14, 2016

One of the greatest risks to world peace is a clash at sea between the United States and China. The risk of confrontation has grown steadily as Chinese power has increased, and especially since 2012, when China’s current leader, Xi Jinping, took power and introduced a far more assertive approach to China’s disputed territorial claims in the East and South China Seas. In East Asia’s littoral regions, China’s naval capabilities now rival those of the United States, and Beijing has proved itself increasingly willing to threaten close U.S. allies such as Japan with belligerent rhetoric…U.S.-Chinese maritime relations are based on more than frigates and fringing reefs. Wise handling of those relations should build on preexisting but little-known efforts to improve bilateral cooperation in the global ocean commons (More).

Six takeaways from Asean summits
Tang Siew Mun
The Straits Times, September 15, 2016

Despite hiccups such as the 49th Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) in July – where a debacle was narrowly averted by a last-gasp consensus on the joint communique – the 28th and 29th Asean Summits and related summits passed without any overt flaring of acrimony or debilitating discord that the world has come to expect at Asean meetings of late… there were strong doubts about Laos’ ability to carry out its duties objectively and not buckle to Chinese pressure when it assumed the Asean chairmanship in January…That the summits went smoothly was due to Laos’ commendable stewardship, which surprised many Asean watchers. Given that it remains highly dependent on China for trade and investment, Laos was expected to pander to Chinese interests. Instead, it showed that strategic proximity with China and the objective dispensation of Asean chairing duties were not mutually exclusive propositions (More).

Why Vietnam has India in its sights
Helen Clark
The Interpreter, September 15, 2016

Despite the publicity generated in May when President Obama visited Vietnam and lifted the arms embargo, the US remains on a lower rung of co-operation, a comprehensive partner and only that since 2013 when President Obama met his then-counterpart Truong Tan Sang… India is a good and rather obvious choice for stronger ties. There is a long history of friendship between the two (as there is between Russia and Vietnam), and the nations have had diplomatic relations for 45 years.  …more recently Modi stopped off in Vietnam on the way to the G20. What came of that visit might prove to be more substantive if less immediately noteworthy: after 10 years of strategic partnership India has become Vietnam’s third comprehensive strategic partner (More).

The Changing Face of ASEAN
Luke Hunt
The Diplomat, September 15, 2016

With much of ASEAN stuck in the economic doldrums and its senior members beset with issues ranging from unprecedented levels of corruption to violent insurgencies and maritime disputes with China, the regional bloc has known better days… a more common sense approach to the region’s increasingly complex political dynamics appears to have accompanied leadership change. The electoral victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in Mynamar (and her subsequent appointment as state counselor) plus the appointments of Bounnhang Vorachith as president of Laos and Nguyễn Xuân Phúc as the new prime minister in Vietnam may well have ushered in a surprising new era (More).

China, ASEAN aim to complete framework of South China Sea rules next year
Reuters, August 17, 2016

Since 2010, China and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been discussing a set of rules aimed at avoiding conflict among rival claimants in the busy waterway…Last month, an arbitration court in the Hague ruled that China had no historic title over the South China Sea and had breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights there. The decision infuriated Beijing, which dismissed the court’s authority…Meeting in northeastern China, the two sides agreed to get the framework for the code of conduct done by mid-2017, and also approved guidelines for a China-ASEAN hotline for use during maritime emergencies (More).

Understanding Vietnam’s rocket launcher deployment in the Spratlys
Le Hong Hiep
The Straits Times, August 17, 2016

Last week, international media widely reported that Vietnam had quietly deployed an unknown number of Extended Range Artillery (Extra) rocket launchers on five features in the Spratlys. These state-of-the-art mobile rocket artillery systems are reportedly capable of striking runways and military installations on nearby artificial islands built by China recently.

Although Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the information as “inaccurate”, its Deputy Defence Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh had stated in June this year that Hanoi reserved the right to deploy such weapons for self-defence purposes…Vietnam’s deployment of the rocket launchers should not come as a surprise. Instead, it is a logical development, given the recent trajectory of the South China Sea dispute (More).

China’s Defiance in the South China Sea
The New York Times, August 13, 2016
In last month’s decision, a five-judge panel in The Hague ruled unanimously that China had no legal basis to claim longstanding rights over most of the South China Sea, which is rich in resources and carries out $5 trillion in annual trade… From the start, China refused to participate in the tribunal proceedings and has since refused to accept the ruling, while showing its defiance in numerous ways…The waterway is too strategically important and the disputes too complex for the competing claims by China and five other countries in the region to be quickly resolved. Yet provocations continue, raising questions about China’s commitment to the rule of law and heightening fears of a wider conflict (More).

A Line In the Sea
Robert A. Manning and James Przystup
Foreign Affairs, August 10, 2016

Some skirmish in the South China Sea could well become for Asia in the twenty-first century what the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was for Europe in 1914—a trigger for a broader conflict between a rising power and the established order. And such a scenario looks all the more likely after the July 12 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, which negated the very basis of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. Beijing’s response in the weeks that followed—nationalist venting and overt rejection of the ruling through military exercises—undermines once and for all China’s claims about its peaceful rise…the ruling at The Hague does offer Beijing a chance to rethink the complex issues of sovereignty in the South China Sea…The July 12 decision has created a new status quo by clearly defining the legal map of the South China Sea. It found no lawful basis for China’s claims to 85 percent of the South China Sea, delimited by the so-called nine-dash line (More).

Beijing’s South China Sea Moves Vex U.S. Pacific Fleet Chief
Jeremy Page
The Wall Street Journal, August 9, 2016
The commander of U.S. naval forces in the Pacific, Adm. Scott Swift said China had taken several destabilizing steps in the South China Sea—including conducting air patrols and announcing joint drills there with Russia—since a tribunal ruling against Beijing’s maritime claims in July…also cited recent activities by Chinese fishing vessels in the East China Sea and reports that Beijing had erected hangars for military aircraft on artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea…China says the tribunal had no jurisdiction on the case, and Chinese President Xi Jinping has said Beijing won’t accept any proposition or action based on the ruling…Some experts and diplomats see signs that Beijing is starting to escalate its activities in disputed waters. Japan formally protested to China over the weekend, accusing Beijing of installing radar on an offshore gas platform in the East China Sea and of sending fishing and coast-guard vessels into waters around disputed islands there. China says it has sovereignty over the area (More).

After the Ruling: Lawfare in the South China Sea
Carl Thayer
The Diplomat, August 03, 2016

In April 2012, around a then-relatively unknown shoal off the coast of the Philippines’ largest island of Luzon, the Philippine Navy apprehended several Chinese fishing vessels. Though it was not known at the time, this incident at Scarborough Shoal would simmer into a major stand-off between the Philippines and China over the ensuing months, eventually sparking the contemporary period of tension and geopolitical intrigue in the South China Sea… That arbitration, which China refused to participate in, has lingered over the South China Sea in the three-and-half years since. Amid continuing Chinese assertiveness in the region, including island-building in the Spratly group and continued militarization of its Paracel possessions, the resolution of the case loomed large (More).

Southeast Asian Bloc Finds Unity on South China Sea Dispute
Ben Otto
The Wall Street Journal, July 25, 2016

Southeast Asian nations rallied…to form a united position on the South China Sea dispute after weeks of division, but maneuvering by China kept their 10-country bloc from mentioning a legal ruling against Beijing’s sweeping claims in the strategic waters. The outcome let both parties conclude a day of diplomatic meetings on an upbeat note, even if they remained apart on resolving a dispute that has shorn goodwill between several members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their largest trading partner (More).

Parting the South China Sea
Mira Rapp-Hooper
Foreign Affairs, July 22, 2016

July 12, 2016, marked a turning point in the long-standing disputes over the South China Sea. After more than three years of proceedings at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, an international body in The Hague, a tribunal constituted under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) issued a widely anticipated decision in a case the Philippines brought in 2013 to challenge China’s maritime claims to most of the contested waterway… The tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines on almost every count, declaring nearly all of China’s maritime claims in the region invalid under international law. In so doing, the tribunal has brought a substantial amount of new clarity to a number of contentious legal issues and has set precedents that will affect the law of the sea for years to come (More).

Beijing’s South China Sea militarization becoming fait accompli: defense paper
The Japan Times, July 21, 2016

Japan will express its wariness over China’s muscle-flexing in the South China Sea in this year’s defense white paper, warning Beijing’s militarization of the disputed waters is making its territorial claims a fait accompli… The white paper, which the Cabinet is expected to approve early next month, will say China’s activities in the South China Sea could be called high-handed, unilateral action to change the status quo. The outline also says China’s activities are intensifying near the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. China also claims those uninhabited islets, which it calls Diaoyu. It notes that a Chinese navy ship last month sailed in a contiguous zone just outside the territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands (More).

Can ‘The Punisher’ Bring Peace to the Philippines?
Stratfor, July 21, 2016
Newly elected Philippine Pesident Rodrigo Duterte has a hard-earned reputation as a man who can make the guns go silent. During his 22-year stint as the mayor of Davao City, Duterte ruthlessly took on local troublemakers, transforming what was once the country’s murder capital into one of its safest cities. In May, Philippine voters overwhelmingly looked past the human rights abuses that “The Punisher” allegedly employed to get such results, vaulting him to the highest office in the land. As president, Duterte will face much bigger security challenges. And though he may be better positioned than his predecessors to quell the country’s myriad internal security woes, a lasting peace is likely to remain elusive (More).

U.S. Hypocrisy in the South China Sea
Ali Wyne
Foreign Affairs, July 14, 2016

On July 12, in a long-awaited verdict, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled unanimously in favor of the Philippines, which had submitted a 15-point case to the tribunal in January 2013 opposing several of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. The tribunal agreed with the Philippines that “China had violated the Philippines’s sovereign rights” by building artificial islands and restricting the movements of Filipino petroleum explorers and fishermen within the Philippine’s exclusive economic zone, among other infractions. Most importantly, the tribunal concluded that “there [is] no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line,’” a boundary China created by removing two dashes, after a dispute with Vietnam, from the “11-dash line” that first appeared in a 1947 document published by the Chinese nationalist government. It’s an important boundary since most estimates suggest that it envelops 85 to 90 percent of the South China Sea (More).

Why is the South China Sea contentious?
BBC, July 12, 2016
Rival countries have wrangled over territory in the South China Sea for centuries, but tension has steadily increased in recent years. China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all have competing claims. China has backed its expansive claims with island-building and naval patrols. The US says it does not take sides in territorial disputes, but has sent military ships and planes near disputed islands, calling them “freedom of navigation” operations to ensure access to key shipping and air routes. Both sides have accused each other of “militarising” the South China Sea. There are fears that the area is becoming a flashpoint, with potentially serious global consequences (More).

Raja-Mandala: Drawing a line in the sea
Raja Mohan
The Indian Express, July 12, 2016

China’s rejection of international arbitration raises questions. Delhi’s reaction must focus on need to de-escalate conflict in South China Sea. More than three years ago, the Philippines, which was locked in an escalating territorial dispute with China over the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, decided to go court. China refused to participate in the proceedings at The Hague and called them a “farce”. Beijing has declared it will not accept the ruling from the PCA… China has launched naval exercises in the South China Sea. It has embarked on a massive political campaign to challenge the legitimacy of the arbitration and defend its expansive claims over the South China Sea (More).

Beijing rejects tribunal’s ruling in South China Sea case
Tom Phillips, Oliver Holmes and Owen Bowcott
The Guardian, July 12, 2016

China has said it will not accept a ruling against it in a key international legal case over strategic reefs and atolls that Beijing claims would give it control over disputed waters of the South China Sea. The judgment by an international tribunal in The Hague came down overwhelmingly in favour of claims by the Philippines and is likely to increase global diplomatic pressure on Beijing to scale back military expansion in the area. By depriving certain outcrops of territorial-generating status, the ruling from the permanent court of arbitration effectively punches holes in China’s all-encompassing “nine-dash” line that stretches deep into the South China Sea (More).

The Real Seoul Story
Ashok Malik
Times of India, June 27, 2016

What happened at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) plenary in Seoul? Much misinformation (even disinformation) is floating around New Delhi and for three reasons. First, the issues are complex and require context, which many may not have. Second, the political opposition to BJP is understandably using the occasion to target the Narendra Modi government and making partial assessments. Third, the Chinese propaganda mechanism has turned much more sophisticated in an intelligent and selective briefing of Indian media. This presents a challenge for India, but that is getting ahead of the story….Why did India apply now? A sympathetic American president is ending his term. His successor may be preoccupied at the time of the next NSG plenary in 2017. In 2018, India will be in election mode and the Modi government may have less leverage. As such, it was 2016 – or it was a kick down the road (More).

China Tells U.S., Don’t Let Allies set South China Sea Policy
Ben Blanchard
Reuters, June 2, 2016

The United States should not decide its policy on the South China Sea based on what its allies think, and should stick to its promises not to take sides in the dispute, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Thursday ahead of Sino-U.S. security talks. China has been angered by what it views as provocative U.S. military patrols close to islands China controls in the South China Sea. The United States says the patrols are to protect freedom of navigation…..Speaking at a forum ahead of next week’s high-level meetings with U.S. officials in Beijing, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang said his country had every right to protect its sovereignty and maritime rights in the South China Sea. “In fact the United States is not a claimant in the South China Sea dispute, and its said it takes no position on territorial disputes,” Zheng said. “So we hope the U.S. can stick to its promises and not choose sides, but can set its position based on the rights and wrongs of the case rather than whether somebody is an ally,” he added (More).

Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Abe of Japan at Hiroshima Peace Memorial
May 27, 2016

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Seventy-one years ago, on a bright, cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed.  A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself. …Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima?  We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in a not so distant past.  We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 in Japanese men, women and children; thousands of Koreans; a dozen Americans held prisoner.  Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become (More).

The China Basket
Cyril Almeida
The Dawn, 13 June 2016

One, even as One Belt, One Highway offers historic economic possibilities — and not just the CPEC road and energy stuff — our security-centric world is nudging it towards becoming primarily a security-based project. Two, we seem prematurely willing to ratchet down ties with the US — and wholly closed off to the idea of being a valued and valuable interlocutor between China and the US down the road. Run with the American hare, hunt with the Chinese hound and keep both eyes on India — it should not only be possible, but the goal itself. But the security state seems to have other ideas (More).

A Himalayan balancing act
Nirupama Rao
The Hindu, July 1, 2016

The compass of bilateral relations with China needs to be carefully set by India…The great Himalayan Divide between India and China was in evidence last week following the Chinese refusal to support India’s case for entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. While non-entry into the Group is not the end of the world, for India lives to fight another day, of concern is what the Chinese stance implies for the bilateral relationship between the two Asian giants. This is a relationship that has been assiduously tended over the years since the mid-seventies when ambassadorial relations between the two countries were restored at the initiative of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Despite the humiliation suffered in 1962, she famously opined that “we cannot march to Peking” and that normalisation of relations constituted the triumph of maturity over the futility of alienation (More).

Raja-Mandala: Modi govt’s renewed efforts for NSG membership are worth following
C. Raja Mohan
The Indian Express, June 28, 2016

The Narendra Modi government is not easily rattled by disapproving noises. China says it does not like India’s song about joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group. But India has rightly decided to play it again. Undeterred by Chinese opposition in Seoul, India is getting ready for Vienna, where the NSG might meet in a special session to consider India’s membership later this year… The Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, working with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi, explored ways to resolve the irreconcilable contradiction between a non-proliferation regime built around the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and an India that can’t sign the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state (More).

Why Chabahar Deal is a Rebellion Against History
Praveen Swami
The Indian Express, May 27, 2016

Few in India have fully grasped the radical ambition that underlies Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to sign on to the $ 500 million project to transform the small Iranian port of Chabahar into a hub for Indian business. …The deal, signed in Tehran this week, will see India financing the construction of a $ 85 million port, building aluminum and urea plants, and underwriting the construction of a railway line to link it to Iran’s network. It is, for India, far more than a geostrategic gambit — it is, in fact, a revolt against history (More).

China to Send Nuclear-Armed Submarines into Pacific Amid Tensions with US
Julian Borger
The Guardian, May 26, 2016

The Chinese military is poised to send submarines armed with nuclear missiles into the Pacific Ocean for the first time, arguing that new US weapons systems have so undermined Beijing’s existing deterrent force that it has been left with no alternative….Chinese military officials are not commenting on the timing of a maiden patrol, but insist the move is inevitable….They point to plans unveiled in March to station the US Thaad anti-ballistic system in South Korea, and the development of hypersonic glide missiles potentially capable of hitting China less than an hour after launch, as huge threats to the effectiveness of its land-based deterrent force (More).

NDA at 2: Modi’s Unexpected Successes in Foreign Policy
Ashley J Tellis
The Hindustan Times, May 25, 2016

Exactly two years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprised both Indian and foreign observers by inviting the South Asian heads of government to his swearing-in. For a leader who had barely uttered a word about foreign policy during his election campaign, this dramatic and welcome gesture presaged the first of many foreign policy surprises that Modi would unveil….Viewed at the two-year mark of his term in office, Modi’s foreign policy achievements have been outstanding. Some of his initiatives have admittedly fallen short, the attempted rapprochement with Pakistan being a conspicuous example. But even this exception does not besmirch the larger record. More than anything else, it signals India’s return to a sensible activism in fashioning the world about it and, just as importantly, is driven boldly by the imperative of securing India’s interests first (More).

Japan Enters South China Sea Dispute
Yoichi Funabashi
Asia Sentinel, May 24, 2016

In the coming months, the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague is set to issue its judgment on the case brought by the Philippines that challenges China’s claims in the South China Sea. Beijing appears to be anticipating an unfavorable ruling and is reaffirming its stance on the illegitimacy of the UN tribunal……Mindful of its own tensions with Beijing in the East China Sea, and of the importance of avoiding a split between Asia and the Pacific, Tokyo is now stepping forward to take the lead in strengthening policy coordination on maritime security. Japan is pioneering a civilian power approach that may offer an alternative to military solutions….With financial backing from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, or JICA, the nation is trying to strengthen the region’s civilian law-enforcement apparatus. One major initiative is a new master’s program in “Maritime Safety and Security Policy,” jointly administered by the Japan Coast Guard, JCG, and the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (More).

Emerging Flashpoints in the Himalayas
P. Stobdan
IDSA Issue Brief, May 18, 2016

Flashpoints in the Himalayan region are rising. The US Defence Department has expressed caution about China’s increased troops build-up along the Indian border as well as the likelihood of China establishing “additional naval logistic hubs” in Pakistan.1 From the Chinese perspective, the spectre of jihadi terrorism is spreading across Xinjiang province. The monks in Tibet continue to resist China’s military suppression. Pakistan, for its part, continues to sponsor terrorism in Kashmir with China’s tacit support. In Nepal, the vortex of the political crisis refuses to stop….At the root of most of the troubles on the Indian side is the Tibetan standoff. For years, the subtlety of Lamaism – the main powerhouse of Tibetan politics – has taken an intricate sectarian context. Tension that has been festering around it for decades is now getting murkier and complex by the day, and this is clearly happening not without Chinese prompting (More).

Indian Defence Research and Development (R&D): Transitioning from ‘Make in India’ to ‘Made in India’
Arun Vishwanathan
Synergy: Journal of the Center for Joint Warfare Studies, December 2015, pp. 45-62.

Currently about 60% of India’s defence equipment is procured from abroad. There are imminent risks of such a situation to India’s national security as seen during the 1965, 1971 Indo-Pak Wars and 1999 Kargil conflict.  The success of the “Make in India” programme is critical to increase the share of defence equipment produced within the country. International arms suppliers are however unlikely to undertake complete transfer of technology especially in critical materials and technologies…The article argues that in the long term, there is no alternative to strengthening domestic defence research and development (R&D) if the larger objective of increasing self-reliance in defence has to be met. The article flags three bottlenecks which need to be done away with in order to strengthen India’s domestic R&D efforts. These include adequate long-term funding for research & development; augmentation of national capacity and capability to support R&D efforts; and compressing development timelines and ensuring quicker induction of the platform into the Services in large numbers (More).

The Fusion of Civilizations: The Case for Global Optimism
Kishore Mahbubani and Lawrence H. Summers
Foreign Affairs, May/June 2016

By most objective measures of human well-being, the past three decades have been the best in history. More and more people in more and more places are enjoying better lives than ever before. Nor is this an accident—because despite Samuel Huntington’s foreboding, what has occurred over recent generations is not a clash of civilizations but a fusion of civilizations. ..To put it simply, the great world civilizations, which used to have detached and separate identities, now have increasingly overlapping areas of commonality. Most people around the world now have the same aspirations as the Western middle classes: they want their children to get good educations, land good jobs, and live happy, productive lives as members of stable, peaceful communities. Instead of feeling depressed, the West should be celebrating its phenomenal success at injecting the key elements of its worldview into other great civilizations. (More)

What a Clinton or Trump presidency means for Singapore
Charissa Yong
Strait Times, May 15, 2016

If there is a far and away best person in the White House to give Singapore an easier time, it would be Mrs Hillary Clinton. The Democratic front runner has championed a stronger role for the US around the world, which dovetails with Singapore’s desire for an American presence in the region to balance against China. Going by the presumptive Republican nominee’s speeches on the campaign trail so far, the 69-year-old looks set to turn America’s attention away from foreign relations to focus on home. Or he may rock the boat and shake up the United States’ ties with key players such as China and Japan. (More)

Obama’s visit to Hiroshima
The Japan Times, May 11, 2016

The upcoming visit to Hiroshima by U.S. President Barack Obama — the first by a sitting president of the sole country in the world to have used nuclear weapons in warfare to the city that experienced the first nuclear attack in history 71 years ago — will be significant if it indeed serves to rebuild the momentum for efforts to create a world free of nuclear arms, which Obama himself advocated at the beginning of his presidency (More).

Raja Mandala: Message from the Maha Kumbh
Raja Mohan
Indian Express, May 10, 2016

Delhi and its diplomatic establishment took a somewhat bemused and detached view of this growing spiritual engagement between India and the world. Prime Minister Modi, however, appears to have taken a conscious decision to integrate religion into India’s diplomacy. In the last two years, he has taken a number of steps in this direction. His worship at the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu and prayers at a Buddhist temple in Kyoto during 2014 were, at once, acts of personal religiosity and part of a conscious strategy to deepen the links with the people of these countries. His decision to invite the visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the Ganga worship in Varanasi last year and the invitations to the presidents of Nepal and Sri Lanka to join the Maha Kumbh celebrations in Ujjain this week are one part of the unfolding story of religion and the new Indian diplomacy. The diplomatic campaign to get the United Nations to declare June 21 as the International Yoga Day is another. (More)

Raja-Mandala: Trading places
Raja Mohan,
Indian Express, March 9, 2016 

India has long irritated its international interlocutors by its penchant for “public diplomacy”. What we mean by public diplomacy here is somewhat different from the current usage of the term — about informing and influencing public opinion at home and abroad. It used to be called “propaganda” in the old days. Our reference here is to the style of public argumentation that marked India’s engagement with the world over the decades. New Delhi’s mandarins privileged public posturing over tough but outcome-oriented negotiating strategies…..In the last few months though, Delhi and Washington have begun to trade places. Delhi now speaks a lot less in public and Washington can’t stop talking. If Indian media complains that official Delhi doesn’t keep them in the loop, Washington is trying to conduct negotiations with India through the Indian media…… As the question of joint patrols gains salience every day in the South China Sea, Delhi and Washington certainly need intensive consultations on how to deal with Beijing’s forward policy in Asia’s waters. But America’s needless public diplomacy has only complicated Indian decision-making on the subject (Read More)


China’s Sweeping Military Reform
The Japan Times, March 8, 2016

China has embarked on a major reform of its armed forces at a time when it is stepping up its maritime military presence, as exemplified by its recent deployment of surface-to-air missiles and radar on one of the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. China says that it will maintain its “defensive national defense policy.” But these moves are certain to raise suspicions among its regional neighbors as well as the United States. Beijing needs to explain in plain terms how these moves can be compatible with what it claims to be “defensive” defense policy. It also needs to make its defense spending more transparent by presenting its weapons procurement programs in concrete terms. A lack of clear explanations on the part of China will only raise tensions with other nations (Read More).

Eurasia’s Coming Anarchy
Robert D. Kaplan
Foreign Affairs, March/April 2016

As China asserts itself in its nearby seas and Russia wages war in Syria and Ukraine, it is easy to assume that Eurasia’s two great land powers are showing signs of newfound strength. But the opposite is true: increasingly, China and Russia flex their muscles not because they are powerful but because they are weak. ……In China and Russia, it is domestic insecurity that is breeding belligerence. This marks a historical turning point: for the first time since the Berlin Wall fell, the United States finds itself in a competition among great powers….Economic conditions in both China and Russia are steadily worsening. Ever since energy prices collapsed in 2014, Russia has been caught in a serious recession. China, meanwhile, has entered the early stages of what promises to be a tumultuous transition away from double-digit annual GDP growth; the stock market crashes it experienced in the summer of 2015 and January 2016 will likely prove a mere foretaste of the financial disruptions to come (Read More).

DPRK’s Nuclear Defiance Means Sunset for Sunshine Policy
Aidan Foster-Carter
East Asia Forum 8 March 2016

North Korea’s relations with the wider world have taken a tangible turn for the worse. Pyongyang’s double whammy of a nuclear test on 6 January 2016 followed by a satellite launch on 7 February 2016 was arguably nothing new. The Kim regime has conducted both kinds of tests regularly for a decade, each time condemned and sanctioned by the UN Security Council (UNSC). There was no reason to hope Kim Jong-un was about to change his spots…. The difference now is that two major interlocutors have lost patience. South Korea and the United States have had enough of North Korea’s recidivism. Seoul surprised everyone, including Pyongyang, by shutting the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) — the last remaining inter-Korean joint venture, just north of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) (Read More).

Australia’s 2016 Defense White Paper: forward funded defense
Euan Graham
PacNet #23, CSIS, March 01, 2016

If one word can sum up the 2016 Australian Defence White Paper (DWP 2016), it is “forward.” The document is more “forward” than its predecessors in terms of projected funding commitments and the dizzying time-scales and costs involved in delivering complex platforms like submarines and frigates. More controversially, since ‘forward defence’ has Vietnam-era connotations in Australia, it also signals a more geographically forward defence posture and pattern of engagement in the region. An upfront commitment by the Coalition government to inject an extra $30 billion into Australia’s defence budget by 2025 goes a long way toward pre-empting the most vital criticism of previous white papers – they lacked credibility because ends were divorced from means. By joining the capability dots to dollar signs, and ramping up defence spending, DWP 2016 should be recognized as a serious effort to prioritize defence funding beyond Australia’s short election cycle. This is no small political commitment by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government as it goes into an election this year and faces an uncertain economic outlook (Read More).

NLD’s Ethnic Nominees Lauded as Step Toward National Reconciliation
San Yamin Aung
The Irrawaddy, March 10, 2016

The National League for Democracy’s (NLD) nominations for the presidency have been commended for promoting national reconciliation. On Thursday morning, ethnic Burman-Mon Htin Kyaw and ethnic Chin Henry Van Thio were revealed as the NLD’s nominees for the presidency. The two men will be put to a vote in the Union Parliament, along with a nominee from the military, who has not yet been named. The winner will become Burma’s president and the other two will be the vice presidents.

“I am happy and grateful that they nominated an ethnic Chin for the presidency,” said Paw Lian Lwin, former Upper House lawmaker from the Chin National Democratic Party (CNDP). “We have been forgotten for more than five decades and have become the most underdeveloped area,” he added, referring to Chin State, Burma’s most impoverished. Paw Lian Lwin said the NLD’s selections would bring greater ethnic unity under the new government, which assumes power in April (Read More).

Asean Autonomy Key as China’s Reach Grows
Goh Sui Noi,
Strait Times, February 26, 2016

Two developments in the past two weeks have had the South-east Asian region and the United States all worked up about China and its intentions in the South China Sea. First off, last week, US broadcaster Fox News released satellite images of two batteries of a surface-to-air missile system on Woody Island in the Chinese-controlled Paracel chain, which is also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan….Then on Monday, the American think-tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) published a report saying that China was possibly installing high-frequency radar on Cuarteron Reef in the Spratlys, another disputed chain of islands, to the south-east of the Paracels….Alarmist as these claims sound, they point to China’s incremental reach in the region militarily, dubbed salami-slicing by some, that includes the artificial island-building on several reefs in the Spratlys that began in earnest in December 2013 and the likely installation of defence equipment on these islands in the months and years to come (More).

Raja Mandala: Akhand Bharat and Other Stories
Raja Mohan
January 5, 2016, The Hindu

Some ideas come with heavy political baggage. Others come with unacceptable authorship. “Akhand Bharat” seems doubly handicapped. It’s associated with the RSS and generates fears of Hindutva hegemony across the subcontinent. But the essence of the idea — the unity of the subcontinent — is likely to endure. The problem is with different conceptions of that unity…Three decades after the formation of the Saarc, there is much support for the idea of restoring the “historical unity of our common living space” as the journal Himal Southasian, founded in Kathmandu by Kanak Mani Dixit, affirms. Dixit and other regionalists lament the fact that the subcontinent is the least integrated region of the world. They are not, of course, seeking to undo the state system in the subcontinent but to promote greater cooperation through regional, sub-regional and transregional mechanisms. (Read More)

Suu Kyi’s Silence and Myanmar’s Future
Steven M. Keithley
January 4, 2016, The Strait Times

When Ms Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) defeated the Tatmadaw-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party by a landslide, it seemed as if the villages, which broke the Japanese, expelled the British and kept a globally-unpopular regime in power for two decades, finally shifted their allegiance. With such overwhelming support, it seemed obvious that Ms Suu Kyi’s time to act with reformist vigour had finally come…..Yet, the people of Myanmar have heard little since. When considered alongside the few indications which have been given of the future, it appears likely that, when Parliament is seated later this year, it will not be led by the revolutionary denied power in 1990, but by a pragmatic conservative Myanmar does not need in 2016. (Read More)

How China Sees Russia
Fu Ying
January/February 2016, Foreign Affairs

At a time when Russian relations with the United States and western European countries are growing cold, the relatively warm ties between China and Russia have attracted renewed interest. Scholars and journalists in the West find themselves debating the nature of the Chinese-Russian partnership and wondering whether it will evolve into an alliance. The Chinese-Russian relationship is a stable strategic partnership and by no means a marriage of convenience: it is complex, sturdy, and deeply rooted. Changes in international relations since the end of the Cold War have only brought the two countries closer together. Some Western analysts and officials have speculated (and perhaps even hoped) that the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, in which Russia has become heavily involved, would lead to tensions between Beijing and Moscow—or even a rupture. But that has not happened. (Read More)

Rocket Force to Protect National Interests
January 05, 2016, China Daily

At an official ceremony of the People’s Liberation Army on Dec 31, top leader Xi Jinping, conferred military flags on the general command of the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force. The Second Artillery Force, founded in 1966 as China’s core strategic deterrent force, has been officially renamed and promoted as one of the four army units of the PLA. “It was mainly for secrecy reasons that China named its first missile force Second Artillery Force in 1966,” says Shao Yongling, a professor at the PLA Rocket Force Commanding Academy, which was known as the SAF Commanding Academy. “But the SAF was not very different from other artillery forces of the time. Its shooting range was hundreds of kilometers, and it served as a supporting force of the army .” Moreover, most of the first SAF officers and soldiers were later shifted out of the artillery force. (Read More)

Modi Meets World
Indrani Bagchi
December 31, 2015, Times of India

Until Narendra Modi played Santa Claus with Nawaz Sharif, his 2015 would have been another hectic peripatetic year signing off with an inspiring speech to the new Afghan parliament. Modi’s ‘inbox’ for 2016 is now filling up rapidly, defying all good intentions to stay home next year.But first, his ‘outbox’. In a year when Modi zipped around the world but attracted some flak at home for being a ‘tourist’, a few things in his foreign policy went much beyond the measurement of investment billions his people throw around….India showed unusual dexterity in utilising a narrow diplomatic window to engage Gulf Arab states. Modi, during his August visit to the UAE, positioned India as an attractive alternative for these sheikhdoms to embrace a new paradigm, weaning them away from the Islamist sauce sold by Pakistan. If places like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Doha and Muscat want to become more like Singapore they need to cast off some old thinking. India is a promising harbour. (Read More)

Philippines to join China’s AIIB
December 30, 2015, Bangkok Post

The Philippines is set to join the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, describing it as a “promising institution” that could help accelerate the country’s economic growth… for the Philippines, the AIIB “will augment and complement existing multilateral institutions in accelerating economic growth,” Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said in a statement. (Read More)

Japan and the ‘Maritime Pivot’ to Southeast Asia
Koh Swee Lean Collin
December 14, 2015, The Diplomat

“Japan should not be the weak link in the regional and global security framework where the U.S. plays a leading role… we must be a net contributor to the provision of the world’s welfare and security.” So proclaimed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a speech back in September 2013, adding that “Japan will contribute to the peace and stability of the region and the world even more proactively than before.”… Japan has gone deeper westwards, into the Indian Ocean region, and even further afield into the Caribbean for example. But nowhere else have Japan’s maritime security capacity-building assistance programs been as extensive as they are in Southeast Asia. Some of the beneficiaries in the region are the Philippines and Vietnam which, like Japan in the East China Sea, have their fair share of problems with Beijing in the South China Sea. (Read More)

Presidents of China and Taiwan Shake Hands in First Ever Meeting
Austin Ramzynov
The New York Times, November 07, 2015

 President Xi Jinping of China shook hands with Ma Ying-jeou, the president of Taiwan, in the first ever meeting of the neighbors and longtime rivals, an act both sides described as a breakthrough gesture meant to promote peace and mutual prosperity…It was the first meeting of the leader of the Republic of China, more commonly called Taiwan, and the leader of the People’s Republic of China. The two governments have been rivals since 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Chinese Nationalists, fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war to Mao’s Communists, who established the People’s Republic of China that year. Those two leaders last met in 1945. (Read More)

Why South Korea Will Stay Out of the South China Sea
Stratfor, November 06, 2015

Several countries have been courting an increasingly active Japan to support them in asserting their maritime rights in the South China Sea against China’s expanding presence. But South Korea may be slow to follow Japan’s example. Though the waters off the southeast Chinese coast are a vital trade route for South Korea, as they are for other surrounding countries, committing military force there would risk hurting the country’s close trade relationship with China. That is a risk South Korea may not be ready to take, especially since it would mean throwing its lot in with its historical colonizer, Japan. (Read More)

Joint Declaration Signing at Asean Defence Meeting Scrapped
Koi Kye Le,
New Straits Times Online, November 04, 2015

The planned joint declaration signing between defence chiefs at the Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) has been scrapped. Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said a consensus could not be reached among the participating nations, but did not elaborate further. He said Asean had decided not come out with the joint declaration, adding that there were other avenues to address issues of contention. (Read More)

Raja-Mandala: Why Delhi Must Not be at Sea
C. Raja Mohan
The Indian Express, November 3, 2015

Under a so-called nine-dash line, China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, dismissing claims to parts of it from Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. China’s recent aggressive land reclamation and construction projects on several reefs have spread alarm among its Southeast Asian neighbours….The Philippines and others in the region like Vietnam, which are at the receiving end of Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, hope that the legal discourse in The Hague might help put Beijing a little bit on the defensive….The region has welcomed Delhi’s expanding interest in South China Sea issues in recent years. The UPA government had begun to raise its voice in favour of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, as well as urging Beijing to resolve its territorial disputes peacefully. (Read More)

The Lady’s Challengers
Francis Wade
Foreign Affairs, November 6, 2015

On a Saturday in late October, a convoy of taxis snaked its way through a small village 12 miles south of Yangon. In one of the jeeps, Myanmar’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, waved to the crowds that lined the roadsides. Onlookers responded with cheers. Once onstage, Suu Kyi articulated her vision for the country, one that looked beyond the nationwide elections on November 8. She wanted to create more jobs, improve the infrastructure, and empower citizens. It’s a vision that all parties here espouse, but only Suu Kyi, known as “the Lady,” has anything close to a monopoly on the people’s trust. This is reflected in the feverish excitement that follows her wherever she goes. (Read More)

Tinkerer in chief: One Year of Economic Leadership under Joko Widodo
Matthew Busch
November 05, 2015

High-priced staple goods and a sputtering economy have dampened voters’ approval of the president – down from over 70% last year to just above 50% in October 2015. Once a down-to-earth, social-media-friendly candidate who enraptured voters and commentators, Widodo has often seemed flat-footed and overwhelmed by politics. Discarding the more cosmopolitan leanings of predecessor SBY, Widodo has emphasised everyday ‘kitchen table’ issues. He has expanded health and education access, especially for his core constituency of rural, poor voters, while reacting to economic headwinds facing Indonesia. (Read More)

Tensions Rising in South China Sea
The Japan Times, November1, 2015

A U.S. Navy warship sailed inside the 12-nautical-mile limit of an artificial island built by China in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea last week to demonstrate the right of freedom of navigation in international waters. The United States is expected to regularly conduct this type of naval operation in the area. China strongly reacted by saying that the U.S. warship “illegally” entered waters near “islands and reefs of China’s Nansha (Spratly) Islands” and called the maneuver “extremely irresponsible.” Two Chinese warships followed the U.S. destroyer and issued warnings. The U.S. action has heightened tensions between the two countries. Washington and Beijing should exercise self-restraint to prevent an unanticipated incident that could escalate into a military confrontation. (Read More)

What Lies in the South China Sea
David Feith
The Wall Street Journal, October 13, 2015

The U.S. and China are headed for a showdown at sea. U.S. officials say that within days the U.S. military will conduct “freedom of navigation” patrols to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea’s strategic Spratly archipelago. That area lies more than 700 miles off China’s coast, between Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, but China’s government has warned that it is “seriously concerned” about U.S. action and “will absolutely not permit any country to infringe on China’s territorial waters.” (Read More)

A Resumption of Six-Party Talks on North Korea Long Overdue
The Asahi Shimbum, October 13, 2015

North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party marked its 70th anniversary on Oct. 10 with an extravagant ceremony that featured one of the largest military parades held in Pyongyang, the nation’s capital…On the other hand, Pyongyang also sent a conciliatory message to Washington immediately before the anniversary. It officially proposed to replace the armistice that ended the Korean War (1950-1953) with a peace treaty….This conciliatory gesture toward the United States, which was the first of this kind in a while, is probably more reflective of the Kim regime’s true intentions than the saber-rattling and chest pounding at the military parade. (Read More)

Operation Malabar: A Warning to China
Srikanth Kondapalli
Rediff.com, October 12, 2015

From October 12 to 19, a high-level trilateral exercise between the naval forces of India, the United States and Japan will be held in the Bay of Bengal as a part of the extended Malabar Exercises.….The exercise acquires political significance and legitimacy as it is a follow-up to the first foreign ministerial meeting at New York on September 29 between these three countries. All three nations had seven meetings by June 2015 at the joint secretary level since 2011, but decided to elevate the coordination. (Read More)

Challenging times for S’pore-Indonesia ties
Barry Desker
The Straits Times, October 13, 2015,

Generally excellent bilateral ties during the years when President Suharto led Indonesia from 1967 to 1998 have been followed by more challenging interactions as Singapore adjusted to the rise of populist democracy in Indonesia.…..As hotly contested regional elections are set to take place in Indonesia in December, there is a risk that Singapore will be a target of criticism in provincial and district (kabupaten) electoral campaigns in Sumatra….A younger generation of Internet-savvy Indonesians are also likely to take nationalistic postures and criticism of Singapore risks going viral. (Read More)

Where’s India on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Alyssa Ayres
Asia Unbound, October 6, 2015

The United States and eleven other countries have concluded negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade pact that will cover 40 percent of global trade spanning Asia and the Pacific Rim, including some Latin American countries. It represents a subset of the countries in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, and one can anticipate that other APEC members may elect to join the TPP in the future……So where is India? India has not yet indicated whether it has interest in pursuing TPP membership down the line. This is because no clear consensus has formed in India on whether expanded market access will help the Indian economy grow, and whether the gains will be worth the potential costs to some still-protected Indian industries. (Read More)

Myanmar Government Seeks to Calm Fears of Election Postponement
Thomas Fuller and Wai Moe
The New York Times, October 13, 2015

A proposal to postpone elections in Myanmar caused an outcry among democratic forces on Tuesday, and the government then issued a public reassurance that the voting would take place as scheduled on Nov. 8. The fear and confusion over a possible delay reflected the democracy movement’s underlying mistrust of the military establishment, including the bureaucracy and the government of President Thein Sein. (Read More)