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Bending Adversity – Japan and the Art of Survival

Book Review:Bending Adversity – Japan and the Art of Survival

By Fraser Cameron

15 December 2014

David Pilling’s Bending Adversity – Japan and the Art of Survival is a masterful account of how the nation that was about to take over the world in the 1990s slipped into a semi-permanent recession and how it copes with this relative decline in living standards. During his six years (2002-08) as the bureau chief of the Financial Times in Tokyo, Pilling immersed himself in Japanese culture and politics. He makes the point that Japan still counts in the world with 8% of global output compared to less than 4% for the UK. It is the world’s biggest creditor and has the second highest holding of foreign exchange.

Following the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 that destroyed the Fukushima nuclear reactor, Pilling made several visits to Japan to assess how the country coped with the disaster. His account is a sympathetic portrait of a country that is less open to outside influences than any other major Asian country. There is a Japanese way of doing everything, from making tea to bowing to one’s colleagues.

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without you there is no us

Book Review:‘Without You, There Is No Us’

By Fraser Cameron

10 December 2014

Suki Kim’s ‘Without You, There Is No Us’ is a fascinating account of teaching at the exclusive English language high school for Pyongyang’s elite. Part of a Christian faculty of English-language teachers, the Korean born Kim recounts a boring daily grind, rising at 5am, lessons for 12 hours six days a week, and in bed by 8pm as there is no power or heating. Her students have never travelled outside the DPRK, have never heard of the Internet and are imbued with the constant propaganda of the regime. Television and radio only cover the speeches and appearances of the Great Leader. Many subjects in class are off limits such as the American way of life, the Bible, or questions about the Great Leader. Students have no idea about life outside, whether fashion, pop culture or even the Pyramids. Kim describes the amazing ability of the students to brazenly lie about everyday life in the DPRK. Outside the classroom contact is limited to stilted conversation in the cafeteria.

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thai military leader

A Coup Ordained? Thailand’s Prospects for Stability

By International Crisis Group

3 December 2014


On 22 May, for the twelfth time in Thailand’s history, the army seized power after months of political turbulence. This is not simply more of the same. The past decade has seen an intensifying cycle of election, protest and government downfall, whether at the hands of the courts or military, revealing deepening societal cleavages and elite rivalries, highlighting competing notions of legitimate authority. A looming royal succession, prohibited by law from being openly discussed, adds to the urgency. A failure to fix this dysfunction risks greater turmoil. The military’s apparent prescription – gelding elected leaders in favour of unelected institutions – is more likely to bring conflict than cohesion, given a recent history of a newly empowered electorate. For the army, buyer’s remorse is not an option, nor is open-ended autocracy; rather its legacy, and Thailand’s stability, depend on its success in forging a path – thus far elusive – both respectful of majoritarian politics and in which all Thais can see their concerns acknowledged.

please refer to the full report here

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Eu-Asia Centre

Baluchistan – Briefing Paper

By EU-Asia Centre

30 November 2014

Baluchistan is one of the poorest parts of south Asia and riven by conflict. The term ‘Baluchistan’ refers to two different areas - Pakistan’s largest and poorest province; and the wider geographic area that is regarded by Baluch nationalists as Baluchistan. The latter includes the Baluchistan province in the Southwest of Pakistan, the Sistan and Baluchestan province of south-eastern Iran, and the small Afghan region of Baluchistan. The great majority of the region’s inhabitants are Sunni Muslims. The biggest part of the Baluchistan region is in Pakistan (the province of Baluchistan) and its capital is Quetta. The section of Baluchistan that lies in Afghanistan includes the Chahar Burjak District of Nimruz province as well as the Registan desert in southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces. These parts have been part of Afghanistan since 1747. The governors of Nimruz and Helmand provinces in Afghanistan both are ethnic Baluch.

The focus of this background briefing is on Baluchistan as a province in Pakistan and political groups located there demanding different degrees of autonomy for the province or greater Baluchistan. However, it also includes some information about Sistan and Baluchestan, and, to a lesser degree, about the Baluch in Afghanistan.

For details of this briefing paper, please refer to the .pdf below

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Why the Election Mr Abe?

By Fraser Cameron

24 November 2014

Few Japanese understand why Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called a snap election for 14 December when he still had a clear majority in the Lower House and two years before he had to go to the polls. The reason given, that he wanted a fresh mandate for his economic policies, seems strange and unconvincing to most Japanese.

Abenomics, as the PM’s policies have become known, promised to move Japan out of its decade-long stagnation. But so far the results have been mixed. This year Japan fell back into recession with GDP shrinking 1.6% in the third quarter.  It had fallen 7.3% in the second, but that followed the April sales tax hike from 6 to 8%.  The surprise was that there was no third-quarter bounce-back. The news was so grim that Prime Minister Abe said he would delay by 18 months the final tax hike (to 10%) set for next October, and promised to increase government spending.  

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Myanmar: The Politics of Rakhine State

By International Crisis Group

22 October 2014

The International Crisis Group’s latest report, Myanmar: The Politics of Rakhine State, looks at how the legacy of colonial history, decades of authoritarian rule and state-society conflict have laid the foundation for today’s complex mix of intercommunal and inter-religious tensions. Rakhine State, whose majority ethnic Rakhine population perceive themselves to be – with some justification – victims of discrimination by the political centre, has experienced a violent surge of Buddhist nationalism against minority Muslim communities, themselves also victims of discrimination. The government has taken steps to respond: by restoring security, starting a pilot citizenship verification process and developing a comprehensive action plan. However, parts of this plan are highly problematic, and risk deepening segregation and fuelling tensions further, particularly in the lead-up to the 2015 elections.

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Yang Yanyi

Forging a China-EU Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Global Influence

By Yanyi YANG

18 September 2014

In spring this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid state visits to the Netherlands, France, Germany, Belgium and the EU headquarters all for the first time in his presidency. The historic visits aimed to chart the course for China’s relations with Europe, step up cooperation and upgrade our strategic partnership. Leaders of the two sides not only reviewed and assessed progress of bilateral relations so far, but also planned for the future to ensure our relations take on greater global, strategic and exemplary relevance in the new era.

The China-EU relationship is one of the world’s most important bilateral relationships, with strategic significance for regional and global peace and development. China and the European Economic Community established diplomatic relations in 1975, opening a new chapter in bilateral exchanges. Since the late 20th Century, our relations have progressed, in line with the long-term vision and trend of our times, from constructive partnership to comprehensive partnership and further to comprehensive strategic partnership. 

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Spanish Business Presence SG

How to boost Spain’s business presence in Singapore: opportunities in the wake of the Free Trade Agreement with the EU

By Maria Garcia and Clara Portela

5 August 2014

The recently signed Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Singapore opens up new business opportunities for Spanish companies on the island, which is already Spain’s top trading partner in South-East Asia. One highlight of the accord is the elimination of restrictions on the percentage of foreign investment in financial services and sectors such telecommunications, engineering and shipping. At the same time, the possibility of being able to bid on more government contracts can help companies involved in environmental protection and construction firms. The food industry will benefit from the novel creation of a registry of geographical indications.

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China Japan

Old Scores and New Grudges: Evolving Sino-Japanese Tensions

By International Crisis Group

24 July 2014

The deterioration in relations between China and Japan has spiraled beyond an island sovereignty dispute and risks an armed conflict neither wants. A November regional summit is a fence-mending opportunity – if the two countries’ leaders rise above nationalism and manage multiple flashpoints.

Politically viable options to bridge the wide gap on the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute remain elusive. New frictions have arisen: China’s declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) above the East China Sea deepened Tokyo’s anxiety that it desires both territory and a new regional order; Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine and statements that suggest a retreat from past apologies for the Second World War atrocities reopened old wounds. Asia’s two most powerful countries increasingly prioritise defence build-up over diplomacy.

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ASEAN-EU to Talk Trade, Security

By Shada Islam

22 July 2014

Asia remains high on the European Union’s foreign and security policy agenda as foreign ministers from the EU and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations[1]) meet in Brussels on July 23, their first such gathering since talks in Brunei over two years ago.

Next month, security discussions will dominate EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s participation in the influential ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Naypyidaw, Myanmar. And mid-October, European and Asian leaders will gather in Milan for summit talks on injecting new life and momentum into their 18-year old ASEM (Asia Europe Meetings) partnership. (read more)

Asia and Europe have worked hard to maintain momentum in their relations despite pressing - and difficult - domestic and regional concerns. Such endeavours are to their credit. However, the challenge facing participants at both the upcoming ASEAN and ASEM meetings is to build more trust and understanding - and take their relationship to a higher, more strategic level.

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