Middle East

Police stand guard near the parliament building in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 17 May 2022. (Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP)

Families that rule: Thoughts about Asia's political landscape

The political environment in Asia has been marked with upheavals and instability. While each country has their own system of democratic elections in the modern sense, they appear to share a number of common themes that resembles the backward political practices of 19th century Europe. Academic Chen Liujun assesses the regional developments.
In this photo taken on 18 February 2022, a Taliban fighter stands guard at the entrance gate of the Afghan-Iran border crossing bridge in Zaranj, Afghanistan. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP)

Afghanistan's role in changing the power balance in Eurasia

Afghanistan has proved to be a quagmire, whether for the British, Russians or Americans. While it seems that the US exit leaves a power vacuum eagerly filled by regional challengers, Afghanistan’s unique set of attributes seems to be running strategic stakeholders ragged. In the event, the Afghan exception could offer lessons for constraining rivals in other spheres such as the Taiwan Strait.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud in Jiangsu, 10 January 2022. (Xinhua)

Chinese academic: Beijing does not want China to replace the US in the Middle East

While it is a fact that China and countries in the Middle East region enjoy closer ties, China is still far behind the US in terms of its regional influence. At the same time, the countries are also more attracted to the US and European powerhouses than China. Thus, it would be unwise to overthink the recent slew of visits to Beijing by foreign ministers of countries in the Middle East region.
People walk on the pedestrian bridge at the Bluewaters Island in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 8 December 2021. (Satish Kumar/Reuters)

US-China competition in the UAE: A tussle in the desert

Unlike the Soviet Union, China has an arsenal of economic tools at its disposal in wooing US allies. This is plainly seen in the UAE-China relationship, in which bilateral trade in 2021 was more than double that of UAE-US trade for the same period. Security and defence ties are also strengthening. As dictated by the laws of the free market, the one who offers the best deal wins. As such, the US will have to do better than just rely on coercive tactics.
Taiwan Armed Forces soldiers crew a CM-11 Brave Tiger main battle tank during a military combat live-fire exercise in Hsinchu, Taiwan, on 21 December 2021. (I-Hwa Cheng/Bloomberg)

If China strikes Taiwan, can it bear the punishment from the US and its allies? 

Cross-strait relations look set to remain tense, with mainland China increasing its military might and the US continuing to provide support to Taiwan, says Cambodian commentator Sokvy Rim. But despite the rhetoric, the mainland will be cautious. Even if Beijing can launch a first strike, the US and its allies will give a formidable response, not forgetting that they are in a position to choke off China’s energy supply route through the Indian Ocean and Strait of Malacca.
Paramilitary police officers keep watch as people climb the Great Wall of China in Beijing, China, 1 October 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Wang Gungwu: China, ASEAN and the new Maritime Silk Road

Professor Wang Gungwu was a keynote speaker at the webinar titled “The New Maritime Silk Road: China and ASEAN” organised by the Academy of Professors Malaysia. He reminds us that a sense of region was never a given for Southeast Asia; trade tied different peoples from land and sea together but it was really the former imperial masters and the US who made the region “real”. Western powers have remained interested in Southeast Asia through the years, as they had created the Southeast Asia concept and even ASEAN. On the other hand, China was never very much interested in the seas or countries to its south; this was until it realised during the Cold War that Southeast Asia and ASEAN had agency and could help China balance its needs in the maritime sphere amid the US's persistent dominance. The Belt and Road Initiative reflects China’s worldview and the way it is maintaining its global networks to survive and thrive in a new era. This is an edited transcript of Professor Wang’s speech.
In this photo taken on 6 August 2021, police officers walk beside the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, as it was known before 1945 and now called the Atomic Bomb Dome, as the city marks the 76th anniversary of the world's first atomic bomb attack. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP)

The real reason why Japan is following the US’s lead

Academic Toh Lam Seng traces Japan’s long-held foreign policy stance of “following the US’s lead”. Circumstances of history led to this default pattern, even though Japan did try to break out of this straitjacket. Domestic opposition aside, under the US's watchful eye, Japan has not been able to possess nuclear weaponry or have a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. But with the changing situation of a rising China, might Japan move closer to getting what it has always wanted?
People walk past a Chinese flag near the Forbidden City during National Day holidays in Beijing, China, 5 October 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

China will be the US's most difficult opponent

While there may have been some minor tweaks from the US side to smoothen relations with China, the overall suppression and containment of China remains unchanged from the Trump to Biden eras as fundamental differences exist between the two countries, says Wu Guo.
Afghans walk along fences as they arrive in Pakistan through the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing point in Chaman on 24 August 2021 following Taliban's military takeover of Afghanistan. (AFP)

Afghanistan in the calculations of India, Pakistan and China: Is there common ground among rivals and allies?

A triumphant Taliban presents unique and unprecedented challenges for Afghanistan’s neighbours. As the international spotlight continues to shine on the Taliban, it remains difficult to discern between reality and ruse in the Taliban’s rhetoric. The future of Afghanistan appears uncertain, and most countries remain watchful. India has refrained from advancing a clear diplomatic position while China and Pakistan have shown a cautious willingness to engage with the Taliban. While all three countries view Afghanistan with diverging agendas, a stable, inclusive Afghanistan remains in their mutual interest.