Asia

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

By Gideon Rachman
Atlanta coined the catchphrase that it was the city that was “too busy to hate”. During the past 30 years, the countries of Asia have informally adopted that slogan and transferred it to a whole continent. Since the end of the 1970s, the biggest Asian nations have forgotten about fighting each other – and concentrated on the serious business of getting rich. The results have been spectacular. But there are now alarming signs that East Asia’s giants are pursuing dangerous new priorities, and diverting their energy into angry nationalism and territorial disputes.

Chuck Hagel, the US defence secretary, has accused China of using intimidation and coercion to assert its territorial claims in the South China Sea and said America “will not look the other way”.

Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue Asian defence forum, Mr Hagel said China ​had in recent months undermined​ its own claims that the South China Sea was a “sea of peace, friendship and co-operation”. Read more

Gideon Rachman

Park Geun-hye (Getty)

This is obviously the week for international conferences. The global elite have just convened at the Bilderberg conference in Denmark. Asian politicians and generals have descended on Singapore for the International Institute for Strategic Studies annual “Shangri-La dialogue” – which was opened with a keenly-awaited speech by Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister. Meanwhile, I have just spent a couple of days at the Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity – which is billed as the Korean Davos.

The weather in Jeju is a considerable improvement on Davos, as is the fact that the event takes place in a single resort hotel – rather than being spread all over town. However, like Davos, Jeju covers an eclectic range of topics. The core of the discussions are security issues – which is unsurprising given that North Korea is just an hour’s flight away. Read more

Protesters holding Vietnamese flags attempt to push down the front gate of a factory in Bien Hoa (Getty)

By Ben Bland

Prompted by anger over Beijing’s assertive stance in the South China Sea, the deadly anti-Chinese riots sweeping through Vietnam’s industrial parks have highlighted just how important the country has become to global supply chains.

This has been good for Vietnam too.

With the crucial banking and state-owned enterprise sectors hamstrung by huge debts and a lack of reform since Vietnam started overheating in 2008, it is the thriving manufacturing sector that has kept the economy ticking along, accounting for 17 percent of GDP and generating much-needed foreign exchange.

What’s behind this manufacturing boom? Read more

By Simon Mundy in Seoul

North Korea’s recent slurs against the presidents of the US and South Korea exemplify a high-pitched, extravagant and often venomous propaganda style unmatched by any other nation – as well as the inherent contradictions and hypocrisy within much Pyongyang propaganda.

Despite the country’s well-documented human rights abuses, North Korea‘s state media has sought to promote a message of opposition to discrimination. Two weeks ago it published a report attacking racism and other problems in the US, which it described as “the world’s worst human rights abuser”. In March it gave extensive coverage to International Women’s Day, trumpeting the rights accorded North Korean women and highlighting complaints about sexism in South Korea.

All this sits awkwardly with recent, repeated descriptions of US President Barack Obama as a “monkey” and of South Korean President Park Geun-hye as a “prostitute” – among other racist and sexist insults.

 Read more

Obama’s state visit to Japan
This week, we look at Japan, where President Barack Obama is concluding a state visit. The US leader and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have vital business to discuss, from Japan’s delicate and rather dangerous relationship with China, to the state of the Japanese economy and hopes for a major new trade deal. David Pilling, Asia editor, and Lindsay Whipp, former Tokyo correspondent, join Gideon Rachman to discuss

Geoff Dyer

President Barack Obama will conduct a four-country Asia trip from April 23 to 29. He will visit Japan, South Korea and Malaysia, before finishing the trip in the Philippines. These are 10 discussions that will be on the various tables:

1) Don’t Forget the Pivot Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Ukraine is a distraction. Syria is a distraction. For believers in America’s “pivot to Asia”, the centre of Barack Obama’s foreign policy must remain the region of the future – Asia. The pivoters will be delighted that this week – despite a raging crisis with Russia – the president is embarking on a four-nation tour of Asia, beginning in Japan.