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.
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.
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.
Protesters remain on the streets of Hong Kong’s central commercial district on Tuesday, following three days of demonstrations. They are calling for changes to the way Hong Kong chooses its chief executive, its top politician. Here’s an explainer of what’s going on.
By Gideon Rachman
The demonstrations on the streets of Hong Kong present China with its biggest political challenge since the pro-democracy movement was crushed in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989. The parallels between the demonstrations in Hong Kong now and those in Beijing, 25 years ago are eerie – and must be profoundly unsettling to the Communist party leadership. Once again, the demonstrations are led by students demanding democratic reform. Once again, the central authorities have lost control – and risk facing a choice between repression and a humiliating climbdown. Once again, the ultimate question is the power and authority of the Communist party in Beijing.
By Gideon Rachman
In 1990 Kenichi Ohmae, a management consultant, published a book called The Borderless World, whose title captured the spirit of globalisation. Over the next almost 25 years developments in business, finance, technology and politics seemed to confirm the inexorable decline of borders and the nation states they protected.
By Gideon Rachman
At the beginning of the year, I gave a talk about “geopolitical risk” to a big conference of investors. I trotted briskly around the course: Russia, the Middle East, the South China Sea, the eurozone. Afterwards, I was having coffee with one of the other speakers, a celebrated private-equity investor, and asked him how much he thought about geopolitical risk.
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
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
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.