Indonesia

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 Luisa Frey

♦ The Indonesian province of Aceh, devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, has become a model for reconstruction operations and might offer useful lessons for rebuilding the Philippines.

♦ Hairy crabs – delicacies which used to be one of China’s many currencies of corruption – are feeling the impact of new abstemiousness, reports FT’s Patti Waldmeir. After launching an austerity drive last year, Xi Jinping has announced further measures.

♦ China’s President, Xi Jinping, has admitted watching “The Godfather” and seems to have learned a lesson from it: “the art of amassing and applying power in a small, secretive circle of men”, according to The New York Times’ blog, Sinosphere.

♦ The New York Times also reports on the refugees who try to travel from Indonesia to Australia’s Christmas Island, hoping for better living conditions. More than a thousand have already died on the journey.

♦ After attacking immigrants, Dutch politician Geert Wilders and France’s Marine Le Pen have shifted their focus to the European Union. Both want to form a new Eurosceptic bloc and “fight this monster called Europe”, writes The Economist. Read more

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

By Catherine Contiguglia
♦ Germany gets a lot of advice – good and bad – about how it should be handling the situation in Europe, the FT’s Tony Barber writes, when its greatest contribution would be to reform and modernise its own economy.
♦ Indonesia has enjoyed remarkable economic and political transformation, but the first regime change in the country’s democratic era will be the true test of the country’s resilience.
♦ Russia’s awkwardly worded ban on “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors” has sparked international condemnation, as well as crackdown within Russia on those who question it – even in jest.
♦ With Larry Summers as a top pick to replace Ben Bernanke as chairman of the US Federal Reserve, there are a lot of questions about whether his connections with Wall Street make him better informed for the position, or whether they present a conflict of interest, especially as the Fed works to complete regulatory legislation.
♦ The mother of Neil Heywood, the British businessman whose murder led to the downfall of Chinese Communist official Bo Xilai and the conviction of his wife, has broken her silence in a statement saying that Chinese officials have still given her neither a full account of the murder nor compensation, leaving Heywood’s two children without financial provision. Read more

♦Cecile Kyenge, Italy’s first black minister, is confronting the country’s culture of casual racism, but the success of her proposed legislation depends on her fellow parliamentarians – some of whom have not been entirely complimentary about her.
♦ China is pushing to water down the World Bank’s Doing Business report, showing its increased assertiveness at international bodies and its willingness to challenge liberal economic prescriptions.
♦ Growth in Indonesia has reached its slowest pace in two years, hit by the slowdown in China and India, but investors are still feeling confident.
♦ David Gardner argues that Israel’s latest attacks on Syria play right into Assad’s hands supporting conspiracy theories about a western-conceived attempt to destroy Syria.
♦ Somalia’s president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, calls for a Marshall plan to help his country recover from decades of poverty, civil war and terrorism.
♦ Roberto Azevêdo of Brazil and Herminio Blanco of Mexico are scrambling to secure last-minute votes in a tight race to become the next head of the troubled World Trade Organisation.
♦ Hollywood film-makers are going to great lengths to satisfy the whims of Chinese censors. However, appearances by Chinese actors in the Chinese version of Iron Man 3 have not been to everyone’s taste – “
One microblogger named Bumblebee Marz compared the new scenes to chicken ribs — a common expression denoting the most tasteless and undesirable cut of meat in Chinese cuisine.
♦ Dexter Filkins looks at the White House debate over Syria. According to Gary Samore, who was President Obama’s chief adviser on weapons of mass destruction until February,
“All the options are horrible”.
♦ Obama’s off-the-cuff remark about large quantities of chemical weapons crossing a “red line” have now put him into a bind, “his credibility at stake with frustratingly few good options.”
♦ Gabriel Kuris at Foreign Policy looks at how Latvia’s anti-corruption bureau managed to pass through reforms and take down oligarchs. Read more

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Here’s today’s food for thought: