Briefing MONTHLY #22 | December 2019

Holiday reading | India relations warm | Asian tourism

Holiday reading. Animation: Rocco Fazzari

TURNING THE PAGE

China rules, OK. But golden oldies are even better. That seems to be the message from Asia Society Australia’s latest selection of books to read this holiday season.

We called on our Advisory Council and Board members, along with a range of participants in our events and publications this year, to recommend some books worth reading over summer – or beyond. It is an eclectic list ranging from Chinese poetry to Polynesian navigation mysteries from some of the country’s most engaged Asianists. It says something about the interests of our diverse group of contributors that there are not a lot of novels here and quite a few choices which were published before this year. But we have used our editor’s prerogative to wrap up with our own longer list of interesting books published this year, many of which have already been noted in Briefing MONTHLY. Contributions have been listed in the order they came in. And some regular features have been curtailed to make way for our selections.

Happy reading - both this list and the books!

ANDREAS HARSONO

Blood & Silk book

Blood and Silk by Michael Vatikiotis
This is an essential book to understand why South East Asia remains a region with an anti-human rights tendency, in the name of religion or nationalism. Multiple conflicts within South East Asia have cost 1.6 million lives since 1947, making it possibly the deadliest region in the world after World War II.

Migration in the Time of Revolution by Taomo Zhou
This book provides new revelations about the 1965 Indonesian massacres. Zhou is a Chinese scholar who researched using declassified documents at the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Indonesian communist leader D.N. Aidit met China’s Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing in August 1965. Aidit was reportedly told by his Chinese comrades that the Indonesian Army might take over power from ailing President Sukarno. Aidit told Mao that he had developed plans to prevent the Army takeover when Sukarno was to die. It was not clear whether Mao agreed with Aidit’s plans.

Liem Sioe Liong's Salim Group: The Business Pillar of Suharto's Indonesia by Richard Borsuk and Nancy Chng
The authors spent eight years interviewing sources for this biography. Liem was Indonesia’s richest man during the three decades he was working with President Suharto. It is a must-read book for anyone interested to learn about ethnic Chinese in Indonesia, especially their businesses and how they seek protection from strongmen like Suharto.

  • Andreas Harsono is the Indonesian researcher for Human Rights Watch. Asia Society Australia hosted a discussion on his new book Race, Islam and Power: Ethnic and Religious Violence in Post-Suharto Indonesia.

DAVID EPSTEIN

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
While several years old, this book won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, as well as other awards for debut novelists, crime and mystery. It is an intrigue that follows a Vietnamese emigre to the US, juggling cultures, ideological tensions and tortured loyalties from serving as a nationalist mole in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Nguyen uses a largely unnamed narrator who generally refers to other characters in the abstract, which reinforces the protagonist’s detachment. He lives between worlds but is never quite part of them. There are moments when descriptive passages are over-wrought, but The Sympathizer is a powerful response to the machismo and occidentalism that dominates English language Vietnam War literature.

An Australian in China by George Ernest Morrison
I have a soft spot for George Morrison – AKA ‘Morrison of Peking’ – and in 2018 used his Diary of a Tramp to retrace his 1880 walk from Queenscliff to Adelaide via south-west Victoria. Revisiting Morrison’s own book on China might seem rustic, possibly antediluvian, but delivers historical and cultural value. It’s the story of an extraordinary journey, physically and culturally. Morrison was self-avowedly a British colonialist, but a more complex, at times progressive, outlook emerges from this book. He is quite critical of Western missionaries in China and can surprise a modern reader when contrasting what he sees as walks through imperial China with observations about the barbarity of Western institutions, such as the British penal system.

Spice & Kosher, Exotic Cuisine of the Cochin Jews by Essie Sassoon, Bala Menon and Kenny Salem
This is unlikely to be found in an Australian bookshop, but you will be rewarded with some fascinating recipes and rare cultural insights if you seek it out online. The Indian sub-continent has hosted distinct Jewish communities for over two-thousand years with descendants of the oldest community in Kerala known as the Cochin Jews. Cochin Jewish cooking, like all diaspora kosher food, is a fusion. It’s distinct in three senses, influenced by Keralan spices, light on dairy but heavy on rice. Anyone used to Ashkenazic or Sephardic food will find it quite different. Cochinim cuisine is unexpectedly flavoursome and not known widely enough.

  • David Epstein is principal of Vigot & Co and an Asia Society Australia board member.

STUART FULLER

China’s New Red Guard by Jude D. Blanchette
This is a very interesting read on the left-right factions and struggles within Chinese leadership since 1947.

The Jungle Grows Back by Robert Kagan
While more American in focus, this book makes out the case that what we are experiencing now is the norm, and that the period since World War 2 was the exception.

  • Stuart Fuller is Global Head of Legal Services at KPMG and an Asia Society Australia board member.
Third Revolution book

KEVIN RUDD

The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State by Liz Economy
This is the first considered Western biography of Xi Jinping which traces his early days as well. For those concerned about the People's Republic of China and its place in the world, it is an important read.

  • Kevin Rudd is the President of Asia Society Policy Institute and spoke at several Asia Society Australia events this year.

GRANT DOOLEY

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
A great work of fiction telling the story of four generations of a poor Korean immigrant family as they fight to control their destiny in 20th-century Japan.

Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise by Fraser Howie & Carl Walter
Must read book for anyone trying to understand the genesis and sustainability of China’s unique business model.

The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia by Peter Hopkirk
I recently re-read this entertaining account of the great imperial struggle for supremacy in Central Asia between Victorian England and Tsarist Russia. I was struck by how much of this story is still playing out today.

  • Grant Dooley is ARA Infrastructure Chief Executive and an Asia Society Australia board member.

JULIA BERGIN

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
This account of Japan after World War 2 is told through the eyes of an ageing famous painter and jumps between present and past, piecing together how the artist evolved and how Japan did the same. Not a huge amount actually happens in the present other than his daughter’s marriage negotiations. But given the transactional nature of this and the concern aired by his children that his past reputation will ruin the likelihood of a deal, he begins to revisit the many relationships he built and destroyed during his career. It’s riddled with Japanese cultural nuance and the language is quite mesmerising.

  • Julia Bergin is researcher on The Little Red Podcast, a former Asia Society Australia communications officer and a Disruptive Asia China Special Edition contributor. She lives in Japan.
Heavenly Pleasure book

DOUG FERGUSON

The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure/The Emperor's Bones/The Dragon’s Tail by Adam Williams
I have re-read this trilogy of novels by a British businessman based in Beijing and a descendent of Scottish medical missionaries in China from the mid-1800s. They cover a fascinating period from the Boxer Rebellion in 1899 and the end of Qing dynasty (The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure), China’s civil war and Japanese occupation (The Emperor's Bones) and Mao’s period leading into the cultural revolution (The Dragon’s Tail). Similar to Wilbur Smith’s novels tracing the Courtney family in Africa, Williams tells a ripping yarn of China’s 20th century. The novels are incredibly well researched and written, offering a fascinating perspective on the history and colourful characters who shaped it.

  • Doug Ferguson is KPMG Head of Asia and International Markets and Asia Society Australia chairman.

MERRIDEN VARRALL

Obedient Autonomy: Chinese intellectuals and the achievement of orderly life by Erika Evasdottir
My PhD supervisor was at me for ages to read this, and I kept putting it off. Then when I did, I was furious he hadn’t made me do it earlier. This book is an ethnography of archaeology students in China. It may not sound immediately gripping but it showed so clearly how social expectations work in China, looking at relations of power, obligation, reciprocity, etc. After I read it, I looked at Chinese politics through a completely different lens.

My Country and My People by Lin Yutang
A Chinese sociologist explores how he thinks Chinese society and culture work, in the 1930s. Totally fascinating read.

Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning narratives of Modern China by Prasenjit Duara
This book was another eye-opener. Before I read this, I hadn’t thought carefully about how profoundly history is political, and politicised by those in power to create the certain truths they find most useful.

  • Merriden Varrall is Director, KPMG Australia Geopolitics Hub and was a member of the Disruptive Asia China Special Edition Sydney panel. 

JALEH DAIE

Out of Gobi by Weijian Shan
This is a compelling story from when the author was sent to Gobi as a young boy during the Cultural Revolution when Mao Zedong wanted to stop chaos by sending the youth to the countryside to learn. I went to a lecture he gave in August as part of his book tour. One statement he made has stayed in my mind: “To understand today’s China, you must know its history, especially the recent history.” He is now a US citizen.

  • Jaleh Daie is Founder/Chair of AgriFood Tech, Band of Angels and an Aurora Equity partner. She was a panellist at Asia Society Australia’s Asia Briefing LIVE conference.
Golden Country book

SU-MING WONG

The Golden Country by Tim Watts
As a Chinese Malaysian migrant, this book helps me to understand the historical background of the White Australian policy and the significant changes (for the better) which have happened in the past 20 years in Australia. A readable re-imagination of Australia’s identity.

Macro Polo’s Series on the Supply Chain
Macro Polo is the in-house think tank of the Paulson Institute in Chicago. I recommend their current digital project on the global supply chain, although there is a wide range of interesting topics here.

Australianama: The South Asian Odyssey in Australia by Samia Khatun
During a visit to see Lake Eyre in August 2019, I came across a basic structure in Marree which supposedly a mosque built by Afghans. Our guide spoke highly of the contributions by the Afghans to the opening up of Central Australia which led me to this book. It is academic, but an important record of the contributions by the South Asians.

  • Su-Ming Wong is Chief Executive of Champ Ventures and an Asia Society Australia board member.

MELISSA JARDINE

Women in the Hong Kong Police Force: Organizational Culture, Gender and Colonial Policing by Annie Hau-Nung Chan and Lawrence Ka-Ki Ho
When the authors published this book in 2017, it is clear they were aware that the socio-political conditions which enabled more women to integrate into the Hong Kong Police Force in recent decades were precarious. With references to the 2014 and 2016 protests, they leave open the prospect for more unrest - which 2019 has delivered in spades. Unfortunately, the impact this unrest could have on police organisational culture, may not only dent the gains made towards gender inclusion but unwind the 'service-oriented' culture which had been building. Overall, a fascinating account of HK policing under two colonial governments and the nature of women's integration.

  • Melissa Jardine is a Regional Research Lead on law enforcement in ASEAN with UNODC and UN Women. She was an Asia 21 Young Leader in 2017.

FRAN MARTIN

Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie Chang
Even though it’s ten years since Chang’s book was first published, the phenomenon it focuses on – young rural women’s migration to China’s east coast cities in search of factory work – continues today, and the book remains highly relevant. Authored by a seasoned journalist and based on original research of truly impressive depth, this extremely readable and engaging book provides a unique window into the everyday world of a remarkable group of young women, whose mobility and labour are fundamentally transforming Chinese society as well as their own lives and identities.

Cosmologies of Credit: Transnational mobility and the politics of destination in China by Julie Chu
Julie Chu has written an outstanding anthropological study of a village in Fujian province where human smuggling has made illicit journeys to the US virtually a standard rite of passage to adulthood, especially for young men. Embedding herself in the village, Chu reveals how the opportunity opened up by overseas travel impacts on the lives of this formerly agricultural population, whose young people transform themselves from village folk to waiters, waitresses and dishwashers in the Chinese restaurants of US cities. This is an excellent academic study as well as a compelling read that illuminates the human side of people smuggling.

Leftover women book

Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China by Leta Hong Fincher 
This extremely readable, deeply engaging book is required reading for anyone who wants to understand how neo-traditional gendered power relations are impacting on women’s lives in post-Mao China. A journalist as well as a scholar, Fincher demonstrates how the rollback of women’s rights and opportunities in the period of economic reforms equates to structural discrimination, especially in real estate ownership. The voices of her interviewees permeate the text and make this a lively and extremely thought-provoking read.

  • Fran Martin is a reader in cultural studies at the University of Melbourne and a Disruptive Asia China Special Edition contributor.

GEOFF RABY

The Mekong: turbulent past, uncertain future by Milton Osborne
Indochina is one of those areas that many people visit, attracted by infinitely rich cultures, some wonderful weather, beaches, rivers and mountains, but know little about its complex history, internal politics and geopolitical significance. Former Australian diplomat and intelligence analyst Milton Osborne does and so dashing out the door for a few days in Luang Prabang, in Laos, I grabbed his 2000 book. The still sleepy town is just the place to immerse oneself in the history of this extraordinary, much neglected river and the knotted cultures and histories of the five states past which it flows. It is part travelogue, part rich memoir and always rigorous and humorous. But there is no need to wait for a trip to read this book, it is as relevant today as 20 years ago.

  • Geoff Raby is a company director, former ambassador to China and a participant in 52 Artists, 52 Actions.
Banished Immortal

LINDA JAIVIN

The Banished Immortal by Ha Jin
Ha Jin’s new, lively and fond literary biography of the Chinese poet Li Bai shines a light on the often difficult but endearing personality of one of China’s greatest poets. At the same time, it illuminates the society and politics of the Tang dynasty in which he lived. We meet Li Bai’s fellow poet Du Fu, a friend and a genius too, but painfully, not one Li Bai treated as an equal, as well as other people in his orbit - women, fans, patrons and officials on the receiving end of his awkward attempts to get recommended for service to the imperial court. Ha Jin delves deep into contemporary Tang sources for this gem of a biography. He weaves into the narrative the stories behind the creation of Li Bai’s most outstanding poems, providing both the Chinese originals and his own translations, as well as commentary. Reading the book I realised how little I knew of a man whose poems I first fell in love with some forty years ago. This leads me to also recommend Ha Jin's own poetry and fiction.

  • Linda Jaivin is a translator, essayist, novelist and sinologist. She was a participant in 52 Artists, 52 Actions.

MICHAEL WESLEY

Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia by Christina Thompson 
An entrancing combination of anthropology, archaeology, intellectual history, tied together with a beautifully crafted narrative, Sea People stands above the 20+ other books I have read during 2019. Thompson sets out to chart how the western mind attempted to solve “the puzzle of Polynesia”, or how a seemingly primitive people could have settled all of the major island groups in the earth’s largest ocean long before Europeans “discovered” it. Polynesian migration in the Pacific clearly proceeded west-to-east, and yet the currents and prevailing winds flow east-to-west; how then could a people without western science and learning have achieved this feat? The result is a journey along the pathways of western understanding, marked by ethnocentricism, racism, occasional insight and inspiration, and just plain weirdness. But there is evolution – the gradual realisation that the Polynesians are the greatest navigators ever produced by humanity – and along the way, an uplifting story of the rediscovery of their genius.

  • Michael Wesley is Deputy Vice-Chancellor International at the University of Melbourne and was a panellist at the GEN A China Matters Young Professionals Debate.

JAMES BOWEN

Superpower: Australia's low carbon opportunity by Ross Garnaut
Superpower may be the most hopeful book to deal with the climate change era published in the world this year. It is certainly a rare and welcome source of optimism in the current Australian context. While acknowledging that Australia’s recent political response to this issue positions us near the bottom of the developed world, Garnaut argues persuasively for a national ability to enjoy a more prosperous engagement with a low- to post-carbon world than the vast majority of other advanced economies. As with Australia's past economic successes, much of the opportunity Garnaut identifies stems from external forces and a fortuitous natural endowment.

  • James Bowen is a research fellow at the Perth USAsia Centre and a Disruptive Asia China Special Edition contributor.

MARI PANGESTU

The Indonesian Economy in Transition: Policy Challenges in the Jokowi Era and Beyond by Hal Hill and Siwage Dharma Negara
This is an excellent book comprising recent, well-researched papers on various aspects of the Indonesian economy.  The topics range from the mainstream such as finance, sectoral analysis of manufacturing, agriculture and services, key issues which are the government’s current priorities such as infrastructure and education, and also political economy such as rising nationalism and distributional politics. This is a must-read for anyone wanting to know about the Indonesian economy.

The Third Pillar: How Markets and the State Leave the Community Behind by Raghuram Rajan
This book deals with one of the fundamental issues we are facing today, as we see a rise in populism and political polarisation to the left in various countries which has emerged from those left behind by development, growth and technological advancement. The book focuses on how we balance the state, markets and most importantly what is termed as the neglected third pillar - society.  The diminishing role of the community is part of the problem.  This is a good read for understanding current issues from a fresh but very important perspective.

Pulang book

Homecoming by Leila Chudori (Pulang in Indonesian)
This is a wonderful novel which I read both in English and Bahasa. It recounts the period in Indonesian history in the 1950s when those considered to be of left leanings were branded as communists leaving some people stranded abroad, including the protagonist in the novel. Through very visual writing around food as well as history and politics, the love of country comes through. with a homecoming not through the protagonist but through his child. This is a very good novel from one of our most talented writers.

  • Mari Pangestu is an economist and former Indonesian trade minister. She was a member of the Asia Society Policy Institute Trade Commission visit to Australia.

JETTE RADLEY

Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China by Jung Chang
If you’re a Sinophile you’ll be familiar with the names and events in the tumultuous period from monarchy to republic. It is generally about strong men battling it out for ideological supremacy but Jung Chang’s latest book tells another story. It follows the remarkable lives of three sisters who helped shape modern China. Privileged, cosmopolitan, intellectual and ambitious, the Soong women through marriage and alliance wielded their influence on China’s revolutionary leaders for the best part of a century. Red sister married Sun Yat-sen and became Mao’s vice-chair, Little Sister married Chiang Kai-Shek and became China’s first lady and Big sister became one of China’s wealthiest women. Assiduously researched from archives, memoirs, correspondence and records this group biography is a reminder of how intimately intertwined the lives of China’s revolutionary leaders were. Murder, love, intrigue, betrayal, exile and family all played a part in building the China we know today.

  • Jette Radley is Asia Society Australia's Associate Director, Programs.
Japan Story book

PETER GREY

Japan Story: In search of a nation by Christopher Harding
This is a cultural history which underlines the point that we don’t focus enough on popular Japanese culture, let alone the factors which shaped it. Maybe next year with the Olympics would be a good time.

  • Peter Grey is MLC Life Insurance chairman and a former senior diplomat. He was a member of the Asia Society Policy Institute Trade Commission visit to Australia.

HUONG LE THU

Under Beijing’s Shadow: Southeast Asia’s China Challenge by Murray Hiebert
This is the book I most look forward to in 2020. It is meticulously researched and based on decades of work and experience in Southeast Asia. Hiebert promises to give a granular and balanced view on these complex and long-standing relationships.

The Ocean Outlaw: The journeys across the last untamed frontier by Ian Urbina
New York Times writer Ian Urbina gives one of the most fascinating and comprehensive accounts of criminality, exploitation and lawlessness on the world's oceans - arguably the wildest and last frontier of our planet. The book disturbs in its reportage of the reality but grips the reader with adventure at the same time.

  • Huong Le Thu is a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and was a panellist at Asia Briefing LIVE.

GREG EARL

Peak Japan by Brad Glosserman
Glosserman, a lifelong Japanophile, says the 2020 Olympics will mark the end of Japan’s ambitions to be a major global power due to the country’s inability to deal with deep-seated problems and shrinking horizons.

Fall Baby by Laksmi Pamuntjak
After a year of intrigue in Indonesia over the election and the direction of the country, this story by a novelist and poet from a new generation of female Indonesian writers takes readers much deeper into the emotional, cultural and family life of a country undergoing massive social changes.

New Kings of the World: Dispatches from Bollywood, Dizi and K-Pop by Fatima Bhutto
Bhutto says that American pop culture may still be ubiquitous in the west but no longer provides answers for a new generation of young Asians forced to live in a modern competitive world but still trying to maintain some traditional values.

Democracy on the Road by Ruchir Sharma
A great companion for anyone visiting India during one of its many elections and the result of election travelling by Sharma, an investment banker, and friends over 25 years. He says that despite imperfections, democracy is thriving in India.

Great Successor book

The Great Successor by Anna Fifield 
Anna Fifield, a US journalist working across north Asia, has brought her reporter's eye for detail to this exhaustive search for the origins of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, without falling into the common media trap of simply publishing the most lurid, wild rumours.

Stranded Nation: White Australia in an Asian Region by David Walker
This is a history of race and white insecurity in a world transformed by decolonisation told with authority and wit by one of our foremost historians of engagement with Asia. It picks up where his earlier Anxious Nation finished and is essential for understanding insecurities which remain today.

Thailand: History, Politics and the Rule of Law by James Wise 
With Thailand struggling to revive its democracy after military rule, James Wise, a former Australian ambassador, delves into Thai culture and history to explain the country’s chronic political instability amid economic success. He suggests there will be more instability.

A Savage Dreamland by David Eimer
This account of travels to remote corners of Myanmar as it finally opens to the world, leaves the impression the country has a long way to go resolving old separatist tensions, ethnic disputes and the insidious power of the military before really joining the mainstream of South East Asia.

The Anarchy: The relentless rise of the East India Company by William Dalrymple
In an era where the greed of global corporate capitalism is in the spotlight, this book reminds us that it may have reached its zenith 400 years ago when a joint stock company with its own army conquered much of India laying foundations for the British empire.

The Trouble with Taiwan: History, the United States and a Rising China by Kerry Brown and Kally Wu Tzu-hui
Just in time for January’s presidential election in Taiwan, where the street protests in Hong Kong seem to have tipped the balance towards incumbent Tsai Ing-wen, this book argues that democracy is now a central part of being Taiwanese, and that’s a problem for China.

  • Greg Earl writes about Australia and Asia. He is editor of Briefing MONTHLY and Disruptive Asia Special China Edition.

ASIAN NATION

Asian Nation

Peter Varghese (left) and Anil Wadhwa in Sydney

INDIA WARMING

The Indian diplomat overseeing his country’s strategy for deeper economic ties with Australia has flagged a wider ranging report than Australia’s India Economic Strategy (IES) released last year. Speaking at the Australia-India Business Council’s annual address in Sydney on December 12, Anil Wadhwa said his report would be broader than the ten industry sectors in the EIS overseen by University of Queensland chancellor and former Australian diplomat Peter Varghese. He said it would parallel the Varghese report but look further ahead at emerging industries and opportunities. “We think that emerging industries will become equally important in future. And so, it’s a much broader brush approach,” Wadhwa said. He was expected to sign off on his report in late December ahead of releasing it when Prime Minister Scott Morrison visits India in early January. The Morrison visit is expected to reopen bilateral trade deal negotiations between the two countries after India’s failure to remain inside the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade group and facilitate closer security ties.

BEYOND ASEAN

Former Indonesian foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda has warned Australia against trying to join the Association of Southeast Asians Nations (ASEAN), saying it should focus its attention on the larger East Asian Summit (EAS). Speaking at the Perth USAsia Centre WA-ASEAN Trade and Investment Dialogue, Wirajuda said the EAS should be expanding its agenda in economics and security and “Australia could play an important role.” Meanwhile WA’s Minister for Asian Engagement Peter Tinley made a remarkably strong call from a WA minister for the State to look beyond its traditional resources strength in engaging with Asia. He said: “We’ve ignored the resources above the ground in favour of the resources below the ground.”

LANGUAGE WARNING

A survey of Chinese language study in Australia has warned that domestic students are pulling back from studying Chinese just when the bilateral relationship needs more expert knowledge. It found undergraduate programs in Sydney and Melbourne were at least retaining enrolments due to international students, but the domestic student body was in decline. Elsewhere enrolments were stagnant or in decline. Melbourne University Professor of Chinese Studies Anne McLaren outlined the findings from the study at a symposium run by the Asian Studies Association of Australia at the Australian National University in November. It raises doubts about the long-term sustainability of Chinese programs if they are propped up by overseas Chinese students.

D DAY FOR AID

The newest institution on Australia’s international relations landscape – Asia Pacific 4D – is trying to break down some of longstanding silos that have existed between different policy making arms. The inaugural Development, Diplomacy and Defence Dialogue held in early November sought to bring together ideas from these three spheres of policy-making to promote strategic cooperation. Its chairman’s statement said: “Australia’s geostrategic approach should not rely on military means alone and to be effective over the long term, must always include non-kinetic aspects such as statecraft, peace-building and efforts to support resilience, including development assistance to reduce poverty.” The new group coincides with the Federal government’s review of its $4 billion a year development aid program with a tight turnaround for submissions by the end of January. In a pointer to how aid may be redefined, the announcement says the review “will cover development program activities as well as wider government initiatives that support international development.”

FREE ADVICE

One of the curious features of modern Australia is the abundance of former prime ministers trying to stay relevant after the recent rapid leadership turnover. While they are mostly better remembered for their domestic triumphs and failures, they are more likely to be found commenting on foreign policy in retirement. One week in November was a classic with Paul Keating (1991-1996) assailing lack of strategic coherence on China, John Howard (1996-2007) saying that visiting Australian soldiers overseas was a highlight of his prime ministership, Kevin Rudd (2007-2010, 2013) reviving his call for a 50 million population to make the country secure and Tony Abbott (2013-2015) chiming in from India about it being a “democratic superpower.”


DEALS AND DOLLARS

Asian currency stock

MENGNIU’S MILK SHAKE (UP)

China’s second biggest milk producer Mengniu has cut a swathe through the Australian milk products industry with two purchases amid some claims Chinese investors were manipulating the value of potential takeover targets. Bellamys shareholders have overwhelmingly backed the sake of the infant formula company to Mengniu for $1.5 billion with the Foreign Investment Review Board requiring most board members to be Australian and a $12 million investment in local factories. Meanwhile Mengniu has also taken control of leading brands including Dairy Farmers, Farmers Union and Big M after agreeing to buy Lion Dairy & Drinks from Japanese company Kirin for $600 million. The Lion business had been on the market for a year. Mengniu says it will leverage its position in Asia to expand Australian milk product exports, although that had also been the Kirin strategy.  

DIASPORA BUSINESS

Businesses exporting to Asian countries say diaspora communities in Australia are more important to their export success than businesses exporting to other parts of the world.  The latest Australian International Business Survey included a question this year that draws out the importance of migrant communities in facilitating offshore business. It found that 26 per cent of businesses surveyed thought that multicultural communities were either essential or very important in international market development. And businesses making their highest offshore revenue in South East Asia, Hong Kong, China, Japan and India were more likely to regard the local diaspora communities as important. These businesses were also more likely to be in the education and training sectors.


DIPLOMATICALLY SPEAKING

“As long as the people concerned genuinely repent and redress their mistakes, view China with objectivity and reason, respect China's system and mode of development chosen by the Chinese people, the door of dialogue and exchanges will always remain open.” - Chinese embassy statement on the rejection of visas for Liberal MPs Andrew Hastie and James Patterson to visit China.


DATAWATCH

INSIDE ASIA’S TOURISM BOOM

Where Asians travel to:

Asian travel 1

Where non-Asians travel to :

Asian travel 2

Travel within Asia by Asians grew eight per cent in 2017 to 320 million people, while visits by people from outside the region to Asia grew seven per cent to 88 million. Source: ADB


ON THE HORIZON

CHINA’S DEMOCRATIC DIVIDEND?

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen is set to ride Hong Kong’s street protests to re-election on January 11 possibly furthering inflaming civil disobedience by the democracy activists in Hong Kong. Earlier this year Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) seemed set for a national loss after losing local elections last year.  But China’s mishandling of the Hong Kong protests has now boosted the stature of the more independent DPP and diminished the image of the more pro-China long-ruling but now opposition Kuomintang.


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