Tuesday 20 Oct 2020 | 17:39 | SYDNEY

Asia and Pacific

The whole truth about China subs

The NY Times yesterday posted a story about the threat posed by China's growing submarine fleet. The piece notes arms control expert Hans Kristensen's blog scoop from Last October: Kristensen spotted two of China's new ballistic missile submarines on Google Earth and posted the

China inflation problem

As well as record high oil prices , international economy watchers have been paying attention this week to China’s climbing inflation rate. China’s annual rate of consumer price inflation rose to 7.1% in January, the highest rate for eleven years. The main cause of the surge in inflation

Bullseye on satellite

The Pentagon has confirmed that it has destroyed its malfunctioning spy satellite with an interceptor missile (one that is actually designed to shoot down other missiles). As I said in my opinion piece in The Australian on Tuesday, this result has upsides and downsides for the US and Australia

Chinese think tank wants (some) democracy

The SMH reports that a major Communist Party think tank has released a public report calling for democratic reform, including greater political, press and religious freedoms. The FT's write up says they bought the report at a Beijing bookshop, and I can't find it online, so it might be a

Our two cents (of aid) for China

As Rowan Callick observes in The Australian, we are not giving aid to China to solve its development problems. He is upfront when he states ‘the average income (in China) has doubled in just four years – not of course anything to do with aid’. Australia’s bilateral aid to China is worth

Does Obama really speak Bahasa?

Uberblogger Andrew Sullivan has been soliciting global reactions to the US presidential primaries, and on the weekend he published a letter from an Australian reader, who said this: Keep in mind that Australia is also very much a part of Asia. The woman who sits next to me is Indonesian

Beijing Olympics a PR disaster?

We've spoken a couple of times here at The Interpreter about China's acute sensitivity to the question of air quality, particularly in Beijing, which will host the Olympics in August. The press coverage up to now has been bad enough for Chinese authorities, but imagine the uproar if

The politics of that falling satellite

There are a couple of interesting geopolitical angles to the news that the US plans to shoot down a falling spy satellite to prevent it causing harm to civilians on re-entry. First, it will be a very public test of the US Navy's ballistic missile defence system, based on the AEGIS radar and

Our Timor troops have a well-defined role

Guest blogger:  Associate Professor Damien Kingsbury (pictured), Associate Head of the School of International and Political Studies at Deakin University. Thanks to Hugh White for his considered response to my earlier post. Because Prime Minister Rudd was not precise about the role of

Malaysia unbalanced

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah’s (pictured) announcement yesterday of an early election in Malaysia looks like a sign of political weakness rather than strength. His own reign as party president of UMNO and Prime Minister may well rest on the results. More generally, the election will also

Email of the day: Timor empathy

More reader reaction to Hugh White's views on the latest deployment to East Timor:  I actually find it painful to criticise White, because I so often agree with the arguments and lines of logic that he generates. I don't doubt his logic. I just doubt his capacity for empathy.

The PM himself is unsure what the extra troops are for

Interesting contributions by Erin and Damien, but they do not quite address my concerns. Erin argues that if we are going to send forces, then the particular troops chosen and the police are the right ones to send. Well, I’m not quite sure I agree with that: whether a company of light infantry

Email of the day: What the Timor reinforcements are for

Erin Maulday responds to Hugh White's criticism of the Rudd Government's decision to deploy additional troops and police to Timor: Rudd’s response is cautious and appropriate. The troops that have deployed are likely to be Army’s Ready Company Group (RCG), a 150-odd force

Rudd has got it right on Timor

Guest blogger:  Associate Professor Damien Kingsbury (pictured), Associate Head of the School of International and Political Studies at Deakin University. Hugh White asks how we are to judge Australia sending more troops and police to East Timor. The answer is, as a quick and necessary

China dazzles Congo — next stop, PNG

This fascinating article from Asia Times reports on China’s latest foray into Africa: a $US12 billion ‘resource-backed finance’ deal in the DRC. In a characteristic move to secure resource access, China has agreed to build $US9 billion worth of infrastructure to be paid for from its mining

Rudd first crisis: A clumsy response

How are we to judge the Rudd Government’s swift decision to send more troops and police to East Timor following the attacks on Jose Ramos Horta and Xanana Gusmao?  I’m inclined to be a bit sceptical. It looks to me as if the government decided that it needed to do something to show concern,

Grattan confused on Rudd Timor response

Strange column from Canberra press gallery stalwart Michelle Grattan today. The thrust of the piece is that Prime Minister Rudd's first reaction to the latest Timor crisis — to send in more troops and police — is only a gesture and may not even help very much. She even quotes Hugh White

The limits of the Howard Doctrine

Australia’s lead role in the United Nations Mission in East Timor in 1999 is seen by many as the start of the so-called 'Howard Doctrine', in which Australia commits itself to being the provider of first resort of regional security in the Pacific. Concerns about the nexus between state

Timor blog linkage

So far I've found just two blogs with on-the-ground coverage of events in Dili. Dili-gence is the blog the ABC drew on for its radio coverage this morning, and contains a dramatic eyewitness description of the attempt on Ramos Horta's life. Xanana Republic also looks promising. Please send

East Asia program: Same face, new name

Over the last year, the Lowy Institute’s research team has grown with the addition of the West Asia program headed by Anthony Bubalo and the Myer Foundation Melanesia program headed by Jenny Hayward-Jones. This growth in numbers allows for the Asia & the Pacific program headed by me to be recast

The logic of Chalmers

You may be familiar with a charming little e-newsletter called Inside Canberra, penned by Rob Chalmers? In his latest installment, not available online, Chalmers makes some rather cutting remarks about what he calls 'the logic of Roggeveen'. I have some reservations about Chalmers'

Constraining China is counterproductive

Both Sam’s characteristically pithy post yesterday, and Raoul Heinrich’s nicely-judged contribution to the debate, do much to clarify what is really at stake here. Sam asks whether I can imagine circumstances in which the rise of China would make our US alliance less central to Australia’s

Life in rural China

Malcolm Cook wasn't kidding on Tuesday when he said this week's Wednesday Lowy Lunch talk would look at the incredible challenges China faces in developing its rural areas. Sydney Morning Herald Asian economics correspondent John Garnaut gave a fascinating personal insight into his

Do we need to harden our military airfields?

'Threat', goes the common formulation, 'is the sum of capability and intent'. Defence strategists will often add that since it is impossible to really know a potential adversary's intentions (and these could change in an instant anyway), we need to plan against their

Email of the day: Giving China an inch

Reader Raoul Heinrichs enters the 'rising China' debate:  Hugh White presents a strong case for accommodating, rather than resisting, China’s rising power. Certainly, the risks of acute strategic competition between the US and China would clearly be inimical to Australian

Facing the hard choices on China

Given the moderate and sober tone of Hugh White’s latest post (and, indeed, of everything he writes), it’s easy to overlook the potential radicalism of his position. This is not necessarily a criticism, but as Hugh said in an earlier post, Australian policy has ‘drifted’ into a more pro-

Responding to China growing power

Well, Sam gets to the heart of the issue in his response to my post.  He raises two questions: how serious is China’s maritime military challenge to the US, and what can we do about it? [more] On the first question Sam says that China is a long way from building the kind of ocean-going

Bi-focal China

Getting a proper read on China is difficult. Is it the political-economic juggernaut overtaking the US to become the world’s technological leader (the Georgia Institute of Technology certainly claims so) and providing a new bureaucratic authoritarian model for emulation by others not wed to the

Email of the day: What motivates China?

Further to the China maritime debate kicked off by this post, Jack McCaffrie writes: The rise of the Chinese Navy is generating a great deal of interest, especially in the US and not just because of what it might mean in any conflict over Taiwan. I think the biggest issue for us is

China: How accommodating should we be?

Hugh White starts his response to my post on China's naval expansion by describing China's rise much more starkly than I did, saying 'it poses the biggest challenge to Western maritime domination of the Western Pacific since the rise of the Imperial Japanese Navy a century ago.'

Learning to live with a stronger China

As Sam Roggeveen correctly points in his fascinating post, the PLA Navy’s use of Australian technology to develop a new class of small missile-firing warships raises a lot of intriguing issues and questions.  Here are three that come to mind. First up, it tells us something about the way

Email of the day: China naval threat

Christopher Skinner writes in response to The Interpreter’s China scoop of last Friday (I disagree with Christopher, and my response follows): Firstly, export of materials and information of so-called dual-use, non-military/civilian catamaran ferries that might be reused for military

More on China navy

My aim in talking about AMD's dealings with the Chinese navy (and for readers who have just discovered The Interpreter via the ABC's coverage of this issue: first welcome, and second, the blog post Leigh Sales reported on in her story is just below this one) has been to provoke two

Australia role in China naval expansion

On 4 December an obscure American naval technology trade journal called Signal published an article on a new generation of missile-armed catamarans (the Type 022; pictured) being built for China’s navy, the People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN). The article was all about the tactical

Soeharto, 1921-2008

The death of former Indonesian president Soeharto will trigger another round of debate about his contribution. Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew, whose country was a major beneficiary in the decades of stability after Sukarno’s 'konfrontasi', acknowledged the overwhelmingly positive balance to

More on truth and reconciliation in Indonesia

Nick Goodwin responds to Peter McCawley's views on an Indonesian Truth and Reconciliation Commission:  As I blogged today, former Indonesian President Soeharto is being kept alive by technology, reportedly so he can secure a last minute pardon which would enable his children and

Truth and reconciliation for Indonesia

Peter McCawley responds below to Nick Goodwin's suggestion (in our email of the day)  for an Indonesian Government enquiry or commission into the estimated 500,000 deaths in Java and Bali in 1965-66. To my reading, some of Peter McCawley's objections to that idea seem like they could be

Emails of the day: Soeharto legacy

Two responses to Peter McCawley's email on Soeharto's responsibility for deaths in Bali and Java in 1965-66, the first from Nick Goodwin: McCawley seems to have missed the point. Even if Soeharto cannot be held responsible for directing each and every killing during 1965-66, he

Judging the ICC judges

The recent election of three new judges to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague revealed the unfortunate power of politics over principle in international organisations. Japan, which recently became the ICC’s largest member state, took the opportunity of three judicial vacancies

On the purpose of European multilateralism

According to my colleague Rory, Kishore Mahbubani thinks Asian multilateral institutions are superior to European ones, on the grounds that the EU is geopolitically incompetent. 'But my dear Mr Mahbubani', I can hear Sir Humphrey Appleby say, 'that is precisely the point'

On the superiority of Asian multilateralism

There were harsh words about Europe today at a conference I am attending in Singapore on the prospects for Asian regional community and co-operation. At the Sentosa Roundtable on Asian Security, the eminent Kishore Mahbubani did not mince words in trying to turn the tables on the conventional

Asian values redux

On Monday, the People’s Daily in China published an opinion piece arguing that 'the post-election crisis in Kenya is a product of democracy bequeathed by Western hegemony; and a manifestation of values clashing when democracy is transplanted onto disagreeable land.' Unsurprisingly, this

Can America defend Taiwan?

The US is concerned about China's military build-up not because it fears that it is being usurped as the leading power in Asia — that day is still a long way off. But China's new capabilities do make it very difficult for the US to credibly maintain any commitment to defend Taiwan, and that in

Was Soeharto responsible?

In response to my post of yesterday on the killings in Java and Bali under Soeharto, Peter McCawley writes: Stephen Grenville's report that the London Financial Times has carried a story that the number of deaths in Indonesia in late 1965 and early 1966 was 'anywhere between 500

Judging Soeharto

One of the central elements is assessing Soeharto’s role in history is to judge the extent and causes of the 1965 killings in Java and Bali, and the degree to which Soeharto himself was responsible. The first part is being decided by a form of auction: by whoever dares to name a higher figure (

Climate change: Still more low-hanging fruit

Low-hanging fruit is everywhere, with the juciest in the tropical developing countries. In Jakarta, every business, small or large, and many middle-class households, have their own small electricity generator, to cope with the frequent brown-outs. If the PLN (the state-owner electricity generator

China and Taiwan fight over the Marshall Islands

The recent election tussle in the Marshall Islands which resulted in a win for the United People’s Party is about more than who will lead this tiny, impoverished nation of around 60,000. As one of only 24 countries that still recognize Taiwan, the Marshall Islands has found itself being fought

Beijing Olympics: The air up there

As Allan Gyngell said on this blog in November, the Chinese are obsessed with their air quality. But according to today's NY Times, Chinese authorities have been fudging the numbers, claiming greater smog reductions than they're actually achieving. For good anecdotal coverage of

If Kim falls: China role

Some will be encouraged to see, in this newly released US joint think tank study, that China apparently has contingency plans to send troops into North Korea in the event the Pyongyang regime collapses. According to the report, based on discussions with Chinese North Korea specialists, China would

Vietnam drought

The terrific weather I am enjoying on holiday in Sapa, near Vietnam's border with China — unseasonably clear skies and dry days — turns out to be another reminder of Asia's environmental difficulties. Vietnam's northern provinces are in the grip of drought. According to the Vietnam