Asia

By Richard McGregor

Shinzo Abe’s visit to the US this week is by any measure a significant moment. Japan’s prime minister will with President Barack Obama consecrate revised guidelines for the US-Japan security treaty, described by one close observer of Japan as the longest surviving alliance between great powers “since the 1648 Peace of Westphalia”.

The pair will also oversee the final negotiations of one of the largest trade pacts in two decades that will bring together 12 Asia-Pacific countries. Finally, Mr Abe will become the first Japanese leader to address a joint session of Congress.

In a week of landmarks, then, it may be surprising that much of the focus ahead of Mr Abe’s visit is whether he will “apologise” for Japan’s role in the second world war, which ended in Tokyo’s crushing defeat nearly 70 years ago. Read more

Rush to join China-led bank embarrasses Washington
It seems odd that an international bank for building roads and airports in Asia should become a yardstick for the rise of China as a global power and of the relative decline of the US. But that is what Beijing appears to achieved with its Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. Some of Washington’s closest allies have signed up even though it had lobbied furiously to dissuade them from doing so. Ben Hall discusses the development with Alan Beattie and Ed Luce.

The scramble by European countries to join China’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is a powerful symbol of the eastward shift of global power

Soldiers of fortune from apartheid-era South Africa that inspired the Hollywood thriller ‘Blood Diamond’ are starring in Nigeria’s attempt to flush out Boko Haram terrorists

Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen’s civil conflict has turned up the heat on a simmering cold war between regional Sunni Arab states and their Shia rival, Iran

If the cries of ‘Je suis Charlie’ were sincere, the western world would be convulsed with worry and anger about the Wallström affair, argues Nick Cohen (The Spectator)

Chad’s strongman president, Idriss Déby, says Nigeria is absent in the fight against Boko Haram as Chadian troops defend Nigerian territory from the extremists (New York Times)  Read more

  • An economic crisis in the Russian hinterland of Karelia, which exposes over-reliance on resource extraction and state jobs, is emerging as a microcosm of Russia’s woes
  • The rare spectacle of a banking chief behind bars is part of an unfolding crisis in the minuscule state of Andorra, wedged between France and Spain
  • Britain’s decision to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, seen as China’s answer to the World Bank, is a sensible decision – though not without risk, argues Martin Wolf
  • A former facial reconstructive surgeon turned bike gang leader has become a Russian patriotic leader, proponent of ultra-conservative views and vocal supporter of Vladimir Putin (Vice News)
  • How a slain Afghan woman became an unlikely champion for women’s rights (Washington Post)

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The death of Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of modern Singapore, has focused attention on the economic miracle he helped to create.

In the three decades since Lee first became prime minister in 1959 until he stepped aside in 1990, per capita income in the city-state rose by a factor of 29, jumping from around $435 to more than $12,700. Nearby Malaysia only managed a ten-fold increase, from $230 to around $2400.

Yet economists remain divided over the causes behind this remarkable take-off.

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  • Lee Kuan Yew, the founder and patriarch of modern Singapore who has died at the age of 91, was one of postwar Asia’s most revered and controversial politicians
  • In a fight between whales, the shrimp’s back is broken, according to a South Korean expression that sums up the country’s struggle to balance its strategic relationships with China and the US
  • Can economic optimism return quickly enough in Europe to prevent the further rise of extremist political parties? asks Gideon Rachman
  • Despite brutal punishments under Saudi justice drawing comparisons to Isis, avenues for mercy are built into the system that allow reprieves (New York Times)
  • It is used by almost a tenth of the world’s population, gives a buzz equivalent to six cups of coffee and is a symbol of love. But the humble betel nut is also sending tens of thousands to an early grave (BBC)

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By Gideon Rachman
The story of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is turning into a diplomatic debacle for the US. By setting up and then losing a power struggle with China, Washington has sent an unintended signal about the drift of power and influence in the 21st century.

By Gideon Rachman

The British are used to syrupy American tributes to the “special relationship” that binds the US and the UK together. But this week, the Brits heard rather different noises coming from Washington: growls of frustration at the direction of UK foreign and security policy. Read more

By Jennifer Thompson

Singaporean executives were the highest paid in Asia last year, while the Hong Kong-China pay gap narrowed.

Base salaries for executives in 2014 were highest in Singapore, with an average base bay of $586,000 a year – compared to $445,000 a year in Hong Kong, according to a report on global pay by consultancy Towers Watson. Read more

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Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha Copyright: Getty

Thailand’s military junta is delivering an Asian masterclass in the kind of tin-eared elitism that is galvanising support for new anti-establishment parties across Europe, writes Michael Peel in Bangkok. While tensions linked to the country’s class system, political representation and the division of economic spoils are simmering in the pot, the ruling generals seem to have chosen to screw the lid still more firmly on. Read more

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The recent Sri Lankan presidential election was remarkable for several reasons.

First, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the over-confident incumbent, lost the vote, despite a booming economy. Second, Mr Rajapaksa – who was often accused of authoritarian and dynastic tendencies – seems to have accepted the voters’ verdict without a fight. His best riposte to those who accused him of not being a democrat may turn out to be the way in which he accepted unfavourable election results, and allowed his rival, Maithripala Sinisena, to assume power. The change of government in Sri Lanka also has a wider geopolitical significance. Read more

Japan’s snap elections
Shinzo Abe’s decision to call snap elections only two years into his term perplexed many people. Was it simply cover for a U-turn on a planned rise in consumption tax or was the prime minister seeking a renewed mandate for more radical measures to kick-start growth? Ben Hall discusses what the elections mean for the future of the world’s third-largest economy with Ben McLannahan and David Pilling.

  • After a bitter election campaign in which she eschewed market economics and painted her main opponent’s party as bloodsucking bankers, Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff is now adopting the more orthodox economic policies of her defeated rival
  • The “disappearance” and presumed murder of 43 students in Mexico, along with claims of impropriety surrounding president Enrique Peña Nieto, has raised doubts over his ability to deliver much-needed reform
  • Asia cannot replace the west as a source of financing for Russia’s sanctions-hit economy, according to a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, who downplayed Moscow’s attempt to pivot east as Russian companies seek to refinance $40bn in debts maturing this year
  • Turkey must continue the peace process with the Kurdistan Workers Party to prevent sectarian and ethnic bloodshed from spilling over from neighbouring Syria
  • A landmark climate change deal will cut China’s emissions for more than a decade and it is going to be tough for the US to meet its requirements. But it is a good start (Foreign Policy)

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By Gideon Rachman

This weekend America announced that it was sending more troops to Iraq, Russia allegedly sent more troops into Ukraine and President Barack Obama set off for Beijing.

  • Relations between Beijing and Tokyo are at a 40-year low amid territorial disputes and rising nationalist rhetoric, but with the leaders set to meet, can they do anything to ease tensions?
  • Catalans will turn out on Sunday to cast votes on the region’s independence despite Spanish courts suspending the ballot, said a leading grassroots activist who called for unity in the separatist movement
  • After mass protests in Taiwan earlier this year against perceived moves towards closer ties with China, Beijing’s plan to lure back Tapei into its embrace risks backfiring
  • Myanmar has given its Rohingya minority a dispiriting choice: prove your family has lived here for more than 60 years and qualify for second-class citizenship, or be placed in camps and face deportation, reports NYT
  • A chilling video dispatch by Vice on the creeping presence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) in Lebanon

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What hopes for detente between Japan and China?
What are the prospects for some form of detente between Japan and China? Ahead of next week’s Apec summit, where leaders of the two countries are expected to meet, Ben Hall discusses the reasons for the strained relations between the two countries with Beijing bureau chief Jamil Anderlini and David Pilling, Asia editor.

Hong Kong’s political crisis
The scale and persistence of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have taken many by surprise. Gideon Rachman is joined by David Pilling, Asia bureau chief, and Tom Mitchell, Beijing correspondent, to discuss the crisis and China’s response.