David Pilling

What can you trust in China these days? An investigative journalist who says a well-known company has allegedly been manipulating its financial results? Or the company that denies that point blank? How about a police force that crosses provincial lines to arrest the “offending” journalist on suspicion of damaging that company’s commercial reputation?

Above all, can we now trust the confession of the journalist – paraded on state TV with head shaved and in handcuffs – admitting that he was paid to falsify those stories? Read more

David Pilling

Shinzo Abe speaks at the Guildhall (Getty)

Shinzo Abe didn’t tell his British audience at London’s Guildhall anything new about Abenomics, his programme to reflate Japan’s economy back to health. But it is worth listening once again to the impassioned language with which he endeavoured to sell it.

Not since Junichiro Koizumi, the last prime minister to promise radical reform, has Japan had a leader so obviously energised by a sense of his own destiny. Mr Abe does not possess the charisma of the Elvis-loving Koizumi, but what he lacks in appeal he makes up for in zeal.

Mr Abe pledged to be “a drill bit that will break through [the] bedrock” of Japanese regulations. He promised to be “afire, burning with all the political strength I can muster”. To allow Japan’s economy to shrink would not just be unfortunate, he said, it would be nothing less than a “cardinal sin”. (In nominal terms, at least, Japan has evidently been a sinful place in recent years.) Read more

David Pilling

A recent cartoon in the China Daily depicted the Statue of Liberty holding a listening device instead of a torch and a tape-recorder in place of a legal tablet. The Global Times, in both its Chinese and English editions, noted what it said was US “aggressiveness in cyberspace” and its “hypocrisy in saying one thing and doing another” – a reference to Washington’s demands that China stop its nefarious hacking campaign. The Global Times even suggested Beijing keep Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who leaked information about US domestic and international information-gathering activities, and milk him for all the information he’s worth. “This concerns China’s national interest,” it said. Read more

David Pilling

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 22: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seen on a television monitor during a news conference on February 22, 2013 in Washington, DC. Abe is in Washington to meet with President Obama and discuss economic and security ties. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

Shinzo Abe in Washington on February 22 (Getty)

It’s rare that the sequel is better than the original movie, but so far Shinzo Abe II is doing much better at the box office than its ill-fated prequel. As we approach the first 100 days in office mark, here are five differences (and a few similarities) between Shinzo Abe I and Shinzo Abe II.

1. Shinzo Abe I had a dull subtitle. Constitutional Amendment failed to excite the public and never got anywhere. Deflation Slayer, on the other hand, the subtitle for Shinzo Abe II, has got everyone talking, from bond traders and currency speculators to ordinary Japanese fed up with economic drift.

2. It is often forgotten that Shinzo Abe I, released in October 2006, had a strong opening. Abe travelled to Beijing and mended relations with China. But the movie quickly trailed off as the plot foundered on a boring and jerky narrative involving disappearing pension records and a series of ministerial scandals. Shinzo Abe II was strong even before the opening credits rolled. Many audience members were so excited that shares soared and the yen weakened even before Abe appeared in the opening scene.

3. The plot of Shinzo Abe II is intriguing. It starts off as a story about a bold economic experiment, but no one knows how it will end. Will the Japanese economy at last gain some traction after 20 years in the doldrums? Or will the gamble end in catastrophe with hyperinflation and capital flight? Read more

David Pilling

Built five years ago, Myanmar's capital is still eerily quiet. (AFP)

At Naypyidaw’s international airport, members of staff in stylish uniforms are at their posts behind ranks of check-in counters. The large departure hall is brightly lit and the air temperature pleasantly cooled. Two pilots and a glamorous young air hostess in traditional Burmese dress breeze across the polished marble floor of a terminal that would grace any European capital.

The only thing missing in this palace of modernity is passengers.

The airport was completed last December on the edge of a ghostly city that had itself not formally existed until November of 2005. After several years of construction, the generals who then ran Myanmar announced without warning that they had built a new capital in the interior of the country 200 miles north of Yangon. Government ministries were to relocate immediately.

 Read more

David Pilling

Aung San Suu Kyi arriving in New Delhi. (AFP)

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s opposition leader, gave an exceptionally interesting interview to the Hindu newspaper ahead of her trip on Tuesday to India, her first visit since she studied there as a schoolgirl nearly half a century ago.

The interview is worth reading in its entirety.

On whether she had ambitions to succeed Thein Sein as president after elections due in 2015, the 67-year-old recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize was pretty unequivocal.

“I’d be prepared to take over the position of president. Not so much because I want to be president of a country but because I want the president of the country to be elected through the will of the people.”

She added that she believes her party, the National League for Democracy, “has the people behind it” but made no reference to the recent divisions within it.

An important test of the irreversibility of reform, she said, would be the military’s willingness to change parts of the 2008 constitution that were undemocratic. This would include sections that guarantee the military one-quarter of parliamentary seats as well as a provision – aimed explicitly against her – that bars people married to foreigners from becoming leader. Such changes would need to be made in advance of the 2015 elections, she said. Read more

David Pilling

Much of the action in China is now centred in cities you’ve probably never heard of.  Read more

David Pilling

After a murder comes disposal of the body. Neil Heywood, the British businessman who got mixed up with China’s powerful Bo family, was hurriedly cremated after police pronounced he had died of alcohol poisoning. In Pulp Fiction, when Vincent, played by John Travolta, accidently shoots an informer, he calls for a professional, Winston Wolf (Harvey Keitel), to help him get rid of the evidence.

In both cases time is of the essence. In Pulp Fiction, all traces of the body must be removed by the time Bonnie, who lives in the house where the corpse has been hidden, returns from work. In China, the mess surrounding Bo Xilai, the party secretary of Chongqing whose downfall was precipitated by Heywood’s murder, had to be dealt with by the time of the 18th Party Congress, now set to begin on November 8. Read more

David Pilling

A woman looking at social media website Weibo. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

A woman views social media website Weibo. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

In China, as is doubtless the case elsewhere, the distinction between online and offline is blurring. That presents the Communist party with a potentially dangerous problem. Online comment can serve a useful official function, allowing people to blow off steam and giving them the impression of freedom of expression. So long as it never leaves the realms of hyperspace, no harm done. Read more

David Pilling

I just came across this revamped version of what purports to be North Korea’s official website. Even if it is not, and is just a fan site, it is a credit to what is described on the homepage as a genuine workers’ state in which “all the people are completely liberated from exploitation and oppression”.

I’ve never been to North Korea (visa still pending) but, from what I can make out from this site, it sounds like a pretty wonderful place. It is apparently the only country where “the workers, peasants, soldiers and intellectuals are the true masters of their destiny” and in a “unique position to defend their interests”. Read more