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China National People’s Congress 2015

7 March 2015

China’s annual legislative gathering – the third session of the 12th National People’s Congress (NPC) - was held in Beijing on 5 March.  The key words of the government’s work report were “7 percent”, “corruption” and “comprehensive”.

Premier Li Keqiang said that China will live in the “new normal” which means adjusting to slower growth. The plan is to lower the GDP growth rate to 7% (7.5% in 2014 plan) while paying more attention to dealing with the country’s massive environmental problems

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Russia/India/China Foreign Ministers Meeting

3 February 2015

The latest of the regular trilateral meetings involving the foreign ministers of Russia, China and India and which was held in Beijing ended with a joint communique.  The text makes interesting reading as it seeks to find common language to cover the major points of interest for the three partners.  For example, it calls for an end to the fighting in Ukraine and respect of the Minsk protocol; it calls for countries to respect sovereign rights over the internet; and it calls for a speedy reform of the international financial institutions. The full text is available here.

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Obama in India – Again

26 January 2015

While the EU is struggling for recognition in India President Obama pays an unprecedented second visit to New Delhi this week as guest of honour at the Republican Day celebrations. Despite a ten year travel ban to the US, Prime Minister Modi now seems to enjoy cementing relations with the world’s leading superpower.

Relations between the US and India have not always been easy. Indeed the relationship has been characterised by bouts of friendship mixed with indifference and disappointments. Obama will have a number of priorities on his agenda this week. First to demonstrate to China and other Asian states that the US-India relationship is back on track. Second to push closer business ties. Trade between the US and China is almost five times higher than with India. 

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Mogherini meets Kishida

23 January 2015

On 19 January Federica Mogherini received Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida for talks on EU-Japan relations as well as the international situation. The two ministers reviewed progress on the political and trade talks between the EU and Japan. It is hoped that they may be completed during 2015. On the international discussion the focus was on the Middle East and Ukraine.

Kishida then spoke at a public event on EU-Japan relations. He explained with specific examples that for 70 years since the war, Japan has acted with Europe to uphold and strengthen values and the systems that realize these values, and has contributed to world peace and prosperity. He emphasized that based on the \"trust\" and track record generated in that process, the Abe Administration has significantly advanced the relationship between Japan and Europe, as powerful partners in \"diplomacy that takes a panoramic perspective of the world map.\" 

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Sri lanka 1

Rajapaksa defeated in Sri Lanka

16 January 2015

Maithripala Sirisena was the surprise winner of the 8 January presidential elections in Sri Lanka, defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa, the incumbent seeking a third term in office. In a high turnout of over 70% Sirisena won 51% of the vote to 48% for the sitting president.

When he called the election last November it was widely assumed that Rajakpaksa would breeze past a divided opposition and win an unprecedented third term. In power since 2005, Rajakpaksa was a ruthless leader who crushed the Tamil separatists to end Sri Lanka\'s 26-year-old civil war in a very controversial way. Since the end of the war the economy has gradually recovered but the president was criticized for the persecution of political rivals and journalists. There was some concern that he might engineer a coup to stay in office but without the support of the army he decided against such a move

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What Now Mr Abe?

15 December 2014

As expected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe easily won Sunday\'s snap elections to choose the 475 representatives in Japan\'s lower house of parliament. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won 290 seats and his junior coalition partner Komeito won 35 seats giving them a two-thirds majority. The turnout was a record low (52%) which Abe called ‘extremely regrettable’. Many Japanese wondered why he had called elections when he had a comfortable majority for another two years. The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won 73 seats and the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) took 21 seats. According to the polls, many voters turned to the LDP as the opposition parties were weak and divided.

In Japan’s southernmost prefecture, Okinawa, Abe suffered a major defeat losing all four seats to candidates opposed to the US bases there. This will complicate negotiations with Washington about a new marine base on the island.

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taiwan local election

Ruling KMT defeated in Taiwan local elections

9 December 2014

Taiwan’s ruling Nationalist Party Kuomintang (KMT) suffered a heavy defeat in local elections on 29 November. It won only 6 out of the 22 seats compared to 14 before.  Premier Jiang Yi-huah promptly resigned while President Ma Ying-jeou also stepped down from his post as Chairperson of KMT. The KMT defeat in the local elections suggests poor prospects for the party in the presidential elections in 2016. The opposition Democratic progress party (DPP) won 13 seats while the independent Ko Wen-je whose “ideology” is closer to the DPP won the Taipei mayoral election. Ko’s victory broke 16 years of KMT rule in Taipei. 

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Another Disappointing SAARC Summit

28 November 2014

Last week’s South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Nepal proved another disappointment as leaders of the eight nation grouping only managed to sign one agreement, the creation of a regional electricity grid. Pakistan was blamed for blocking the other two agreements that were on the table, covering road and rail links. There was also no progress in agreeing on how to fight terrorism which was regarded as a top priority of SARRC leaders.

The summit did agree on a declaration setting a 15 year target for developing a regional economic community.  It contained several lofty aims to promote cooperation on cyber, culture, health, food security and so on but it is doubtful if any of the aims will be realised given the poor state of relations between the members

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handshake of xi and abe

APEC and beyond

13 November 2014

As host of the this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting China made a huge effort not only on the diplomatic and hospitality fronts, but in transferring a normally smoggy Beijing to a blue-sky Beijing. This effort to allow some sunshine onto the proceedings may have helped produce one of the main bilateral outcomes – namely the US-China agreement on reducing carbon remissions.

The biggest question on everyone’s lips before the summit was whether President Xi and Prime Minister Abe would shake hands. As is evident from the photo above, the icebreaking handshake between the two most powerful Asian leaders was ice-cold too. 

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4th Plenum

Decision of the Fourth Plenum: The Party and then the Law

30 October 2014

The text of “Decision on Several Important Issues Regarding the All-Around Promotion of Ruling the State According to Law,” passed by the Fourth Plenum on 23 October (the text is available in .pdf below) contemplates some positive legal reforms, although hardly fundamental, since institutionally speaking, the Party remains above the law.

The main positive and meaningful reform proposals include the judges’ system reform and the court system reform. Firstly, the Decision calls for the reform on the system of managing judges, for instance, in Section 6, Subsection 1, it says that the aim is to establish essentially a career civil-service model for the judiciary. Unlike now when a young graduate can be directly hired by the high-level court, the Decision says that the junior judges should be selected by provincial-level courts and should start their careers in basic-level courts. 

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