David Pilling

A pro-democracy demonstrator (centre) gestures in front of a police line near the Hong Kong government headquarters

A pro-democracy demonstrator (centre) gestures in front of a police line near the Hong Kong government headquarters  © Getty

There can’t be many uprisings where those being tear gassed stop to pick up their own rubbish. It is a mark of Hong Kong’s sense of civic responsibility – of course precisely the quality that makes so eminently reasonable its aspiration to choose its own leader – that even its radical vanguard behaves so courteously. Read more >>

David Pilling

 

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David Pilling

Sam Rainsy greets supporters at Phnom Penh International Airport after arriving in Cambodia on July 19, 2014 (Getty)

I’ve just got off the phone with Sam Rainsy, leader of a Cambodian opposition that has, in one form or another, been trying to dislodge Prime Minister Hun Sen from power for 30 years. After five hours of talks, Mr Rainsy on Tuesday agreed a deal with the country’s leader to end nearly a year of political standoff that has plunged the country into a sometimes violent crisis.

Under the deal, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue party will end its boycott of parliament and take up the 55 seats it won in last July’s election. (Officially, Mr Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s party won 68 seats, but the opposition says it cheated.) In return for participating in parliament, the opposition will gain a greater say in how the Election Committee is constituted, a concession that is supposed to ensure a fair and transparent election next time round, probably in 2018. Eight opposition members accused of insurrection were also released on bail and will receive parliamentary immunity from prosecution if they take up their seats.

Here are some excerpts from the interview. Direct quotes are indicated as such. Read more >>

David Pilling

Once Indonesia has finally got through counting the votes and has separated the two presidential candidates, it will have a new leader. That puts the nation of 250m people in good company. In Asia, in the last 18 months, countries with approaching a total of 3bn inhabitants – including China, India, Japan and South Korea – have changed their leadership. Even the Thais have a new man in charge, though he had to organise a coup to get there.

One country that has not altered its leadership is the Philippines. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, has been president for four years. By the standards of his perennially disappointing country of nearly 100m people, his time in office has been a roaring success. Growth has stabilized above 6 per cent, inflation is low and debt and budget deficits have been brought under firm control. The economy is even creating jobs – something it has sorely lacked for years – in the booming outsourcing sector. Call centres in the Philippines employ more people than ones in India. Ratings agencies have responded to improving macroeconomic conditions, upgrading sovereign debt to investment grade. Philippine conglomerates have started investing significant sums at home. Read more >>

David Pilling

General Prayuth Chan-Ocha“This is not a coup.” These words – uttered at 3am on television by General Prayuth Chan-Ocha – would hardly be reassuring in any country. In Thailand, where the army has overthrown elected governments 11 times since the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in 1932, they can only mean one thing. Normal democracy is suspended.

Thailand has been in the throes of political crisis for more than a decade since the election of Thaksin Shinawatra in 2001 uncorked the economic and democratic ambitions of millions of poorer Thais. That has alarmed many members of the Bangkok elite who see their privileges threatened and the position of their beloved king jeopardised. Mr Thaksin was deposed in 2006 by the army, which on that occasion, at least, had the grace to call a coup a coup. Read more >>

David Pilling

If Narendra Modi has as much impact on the real economy as his march to the premiership has had on market sentiment, then things are about to get considerably better for many Indians. Of course, it is not likely to be quite that simple.

In the past three months, during which the so-called “Modi wave” has rolled over virtually every corner of the country, Indian equities have risen nearly 20 per cent. The rupee, which came under speculative attack last summer, has been one of the best-performing emerging market currencies this year. Read more >>

David Pilling

India’s exit polls are notoriously unreliable. However, barring what would now be a major upset, it looks as though Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party will form the next coalition government.

If the BJP does as well as many of Monday’s competing polls suggest, then Mr Modi will take over from Manmohan Singh as prime minister of the world’s biggest democracy. Read more >>

David Pilling

Some people view the US and China as being in fierce competition: for jobs, for technology, for sea lanes and ultimately for control. Others see a symbiotic relationship between a Chinese producer and a US consumer, between a US provider of technology, know-how and branding and a Chinese provider of cheap labour and lax pollution laws.

Stephen Roach, Yale professor and former chairman and chief economist of Morgan Stanley, sees something more like an old married couple in serious need of counselling. He uses the word “codependency”, a psychologists’ term for an inherently unstable relationship that keeps getting worse over time. This is the idea – only a bit of a stretch, he says – that forms the subtitle of his new book Unbalanced: The Codependency of America and China. Read more >>

David Pilling

AFP

I had the privilege this week of listening to a lecture by Hans Rosling, professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. Many will have seen his engaging performances on Youtube or in Ted talks . He’s the one with the endearing Swedish accent – he says “yust” for “just” – and the animated charts that show nations as variously sized, coloured bubbles moving dramatically over time. He also uses a pointer with a little hand attached to the end.

His message is basically an optimistic one: that poor countries are rapidly converging on richer ones as their birth rates fall to sustainable levels and as their victory over preventable disease and premature death allows them to advance economically. Most of the world is now between what he calls “light bulb” and “washing machine” – in other words advancing up the lower rungs of the “middle classs”. Read more >>

David Pilling

Demonstrators march in support of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih in Hong Kong (Getty)

Behind the shiny skyscrapers and business friendly reputation of Hong Kong lies a darker side. One of the attractions of the city for expatriate bankers and middle-class Chinese residents alike is the plentiful supply of domestic help at a very “reasonable” cost. A live-in maid, working six days a week, often for very long hours, is paid a minimum monthly wage of around $515.

The arrest this week of a woman accused of torturing her Indonesian maid over a six-month period highlights the extreme vulnerability of overseas domestic workers to exploitation. Many are virtually locked away in the ranks of tower blocks that crowd in on Hong Kong Harbour and beyond, away from scrutiny. Maids tend to leave the house only when they run errands or walk the dog – or on Sundays, the statutory day off, when the concrete walkways and tiny parks of Hong Kong are taken over by encampments of domestic workers with nowhere else to go. Read more >>