Asia

By Richard McGregor

When the US and Australia hold their annual top-level security consultations in Washington on Wednesday, they will doubtless exchange the usual bromides about the enduring value and strength of their alliance.

But the Australia defence and foreign ministers might also want to vent a little as well to their counterparts about the diplomatic mess that the former US intelligence contractor, Edward Snowden, has landed them in.

The revelation that the National Security Agency, America’s eavesdropping body, had bugged the mobile phone of German’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, provoked a crisis in Washington’s ties with Berlin. Mr Snowden has given Australia its own “Merkel moment” this week, with the publication of leaked documents detailing how Australia’s Defence Signals Directorate bugged the phones of top Indonesian leaders. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Foreign commentators and local bloggers regularly predict that China is heading for an economic and political crisis. But the country’s leaders are in strikingly confident mood. They believe that China can keep growing at more than 7 per cent a year for at least another decade. That would mean the country’s economy – already the second-largest in the world – would double in size. And, depending on the assumptions you make about US growth and exchange rates, it would probably mean that China becomes the world’s largest economy by 2020.

Gideon Rachman

Barack Obama with Mahmoud Abbas at the UN (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Image)

“Let there be no doubt: in the Asia-Pacific of the 21st century, the United States of America is all in”, declared Barack Obama in a speech to the Australian parliament in November 2011. But Asians might be excused for having a few doubts about that now that Obama has cancelled half of his upcoming trip to Asia – so that he can stay at home and concentrate on his budget fight with Congress. For the moment, the president is still planning to travel to the Apec summit in Bali. But even that promise is under review, depending on what’s happening in Washington. It would be acutely embarrassing if Obama cancelled the trip to Apec, since it would be the third time he has failed to show up for a scheduled trip to Indonesia. Previous efforts to visit the country that he lived in as a child were cancelled – in March 2010 and then again in June of that year – because of an argument, first over health-care and then over BP. Read more

It’s no secret that the US is at the centre of global trade. But how is what it trades with the world changing? The US International Trade Commission, the independent government agency which investigates anti-dumping cases in the US and also acts as a trade data clearinghouse, this week put out its annual “Shifts in US Merchandise” report. Here’s four things in the report worth thinking about:

1. Americans love their cars and their iPhones. They were the biggest contributors to the $10bn widening of the US trade deficit in 2012. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Japan’s public diplomacy hovers between the ludicrous and the sinister. In recent months, the country has specialised in foreign policy gaffes that seem designed to give maximum offence to its Asian neighbours while causing maximum embarrassment to its western allies.

By Gideon Rachman

The world is so busy cheering on the emergence of democracy in Myanmar that it is in danger of averting its eyes from the assault on democracy in another Asian state – Sri Lanka.

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

Sampling wine at a Shanghai wine fair (AFP)

As the China-EU solar dispute deepens, oddly enough, wine has been brought into the fray.

Here are seven interesting factoids you may (not) know about China and wine.

1. Chinese investors have bought up 30 French chateaux vineyards over the past four years and they aren’t stopping at that. There’s another 20 deals in the pipeline. Will they be affected by any probe?

2. Chinese wine importers were prominent bidders in the recent Elysee wine sale.

 Read more

By Gideon Rachman
The world will be watching the body language at this week’s US-China summit. If Barack Obama and Xi Jinping can establish a friendly rapport, they will challenge the fatalistic notion that China and the US are doomed to confrontation. That pessimistic view is underpinned by an economic shift that the Americans find uncomfortable: by 2016, Mr Obama’s last year in office, China’s economy is likely to be larger than that of the US.

Gideon Rachman

South Korea is, in many ways, an incredibly impressive place. It was as poor as India in the 1950s, but now has wealth levels comparable to Spain or New Zealand. It is also now the 12th largest economy in the world, measured according to purchasing power. It has produced world-beating companies like Samsung and Hyundai – as well as a vibrant pop-culture.

Yet, talking to South Koreans, it is pretty apparent that there is also a darker side to the country’s economic miracle. There are two particularly shocking statistics. South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the developed world. And it also has the lowest birth-rate in the developed world: 1.2 children are born for every woman. As a result, the society is ageing very rapidly. One prominent economist in Seoul told me that if the country cannot turn around its demographics, “South Korea will implode in two generations time.” Read more