Asia

Mr Abbott looms over Mr TurnbullMALCOLM TURNBULL had always seemed to be what Australians call a “small-l liberal”. Unlike many in the Liberal Party, which despite its name is Australia’s main conservative force, he was a defender of progressive causes. In 1986, as a lawyer, he successfully challenged a bid by the British government to prevent the publication in Australia of the memoir of a former British spy. He led the failed campaign in 1999 for Australia to become a republic. And unlik...
TWO years ago voters in Delhi, the Indian capital, whistled a warning to prime minister Narendra Modi. It was less than a year since he had led his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power in a sweeping general-election triumph. Yet suddenly, at the very seat of the national government, a puny upstart party running a shoestring anti-corruption campaign had nabbed no fewer than 67 of the 70 seats in the city’s main legislature. The BJP had captured a paltry three. Could it be that Mr Modi’s vaun...
“IT IS 2017. Moon Jae-in just opposed homosexuality,” thundered the headline of a newspaper following a live television debate among South Korea’s presidential candidates. Gay sex is legal in South Korea, but stigmatised. Mr Moon, a former human-rights lawyer and the liberal candidate, who leads the polling for the election on May 9th, had just confirmed that he disapproved of it.Mr Moon’s statement caused a stir on social media, but his view is not that unusual. Of the five main preside...
FOR the past year 1MDB—a Malaysian state investment firm at the heart of one of the world’s biggest financial scandals—has been locked in dispute with IPIC, a sovereign-wealth fund from the oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi, with which it was once chummy. Terse statements released on April 24th suggest the pair are finally making up. 1MDB has agreed to pay IPIC $1.2bn, reportedly to settle a complaint that it reneged on the terms of a bail-out IPIC provided in 2015. The two companies have...
ANY excuse for a party. On April 25th North Korea celebrated the 85th anniversary of the founding of its glorious army. Ten days before its young despot, Kim Jong Un, had marked the 105th birthday of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, the country’s founder, with a vast military parade. Mr Kim loves fireworks, too. He set off a ballistic missile in honour of his grandpa, though it fizzled on launch. Rumours of a nuclear test still hang in the air. Of North Korea’s five underground blasts to date, ...
KATHERINE LEUNG was hunting for birds—black-tailed godwits to be precise. Armed with a wide net, she stood at dusk amid the Mai Po Marshes, a wide expanse of mudflats, mangroves and shrimp ponds on Hong Kong’s border with mainland China, trying to nab a couple of birds as they came to roost after feeding. In her pocket were two tiny and expensive radio transmitters. An employee of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which manages Mai Po, she was hoping to affix them to the backs of two god...
Diplomacy by other meansNEAR the point where Vietnam bulges deepest into the South China Sea lies Cam Ranh Bay, perhaps the finest natural deepwater harbour in South-East Asia. France based a fleet there in colonial times. Russian ships made use of it in the Russo-Japanese war, Japanese ones during the second world war and American ones during the Vietnam war.After the American withdrawal and communist triumph, the government of the newly reunited Vietnam leased the naval base to the Soviet Unio...
FOR several weeks Japan’s Diet has been debating a law that would punish people who plan to commit crimes. The government says the conspiracy bill will protect the nation from terrorism. In a country where crime has fallen to a record low (a single fatal shooting was recorded for the whole of 2015) and where the last big terrorist attack was more than 20 years ago, that justification sounds feeble to many.Japan’s federation of bar associations questions whether the police need more powers. I...
IN THE room of Mashal Khan, a student at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, a dusty town in north-west Pakistan, the late occupant’s handwriting is on almost every surface. Some of his scribblings in felt-tip pen are banal (“You beauty”) or crude (“Get your burger-flipping ass outta here”). But many hint at an idealistic and fiercely independent young mind: “Freedom is the right of every individual” and “Be crazy, curious and mad!” These were injunctions that Mr Khan, a jour...
MUCH of the language used by Mike Pence, America’s vice-president, on his three-day trip to South Korea this week was familiar: America stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with South Korea in an alliance that is a “linchpin” for peace, he said; its commitment to its ally is “ironclad”. The partnership, Mr Pence insisted, will be stronger under Donald Trump than under his predecessor, Barack Obama.The vice-president’s trip provided a little reassurance to South Korean officials, who hav...
How would God vote?THE mood in Jakarta was jittery in the days leading up to its gubernatorial election on April 19th. Around 64,000 police, soldiers and other security personnel were deployed to keep the peace. At least one policeman guarded every one of the 13,000-odd polling stations.Islamist agitators implied the incumbent governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, was planning to steal the election, and threatened to flood the city with supporters to safeguard the vote. They accused A...
ENGULFED by India, its giant neighbour to the west, north and east, Bangladesh can look small. But it is the world’s eighth most populous country, with one of its fastest-growing economies. And its location, between India and South-East Asia, with a long littoral on the Indian Ocean, puts it in the thick of things, geopolitically speaking.China clearly sees some potential. Xi Jinping, its president, visited last year and pledged $15bn in loans. China is Bangladesh’s biggest trading partner...
IT TAKES a little over 90 seconds. At the government-subsidised ration shop in Sargasan, a village in Gujarat, Chandana Prajapati places her thumb on a fingerprint scanner. A list of the staples she and her family are entitled to this month appears on the shopkeeper’s computer: 10kg of rice, 25kg of wheat, some cooking oil, salt and sugar. The 55-year-old housewife has no cash nor credit card, but no matter. By tapping in an identifying number and presenting her thumb one more time, Mrs Prajap...
THE Imperial Rescript on Education was issued on behalf of Emperor Meiji in October 1890. In 315 flowery characters, it urged his subjects to cultivate loyalty, filial piety and, above all, a readiness to dedicate their lives to the survival of the imperial house. Certified copies of the rescript were housed in small shrines to the imperial family in every school. Children committed the rescript to memory. It was a founding document for the notion of kokutai, a mystical state-forming bond betwee...
Not as blissful as it looksFIVE months after the tsunami that led to his family’s evacuation from Fukushima, the boy enrolled at a new school in Yokohama. His new classmates were pitiless. They called him “germ boy”. They stole his things. They punched and kicked him and threw him down the stairs; they took him to a “study” room and beat him some more. He was eight years old.The abuse went on for nearly three years before the bullies added extortion. In 2014 they told the boy to hand o...
IT IS hard to know how many people governments execute, as the most bloodthirsty regimes do not make the data public. Amnesty International, a pressure group, documented 1,032 executions in 2016, but believes the true number is much higher. The good news is that that figure represented a 37% drop from the previous year. Two countries, Benin and Nauru, abolished capital punishment, and others are moving towards abolition. In all, 141 countries have got rid of the death penalty in law or in practi...
THE government of South Korea describes Cheonan prison, south of Seoul, as “the world’s first specialised foreigner correctional facility”. It must also be one of the most humane, with its gallery of softly lit art and its designated smile zones (for guards and inmates alike). There are sing-alongs to Korean pop music, language classes over hot tea and snacks, and a library stocked with over 5,000 foreign books. Foreign lawbreakers are usually sent to the prison, which opened in 2010 (and ...
CHINESE parents pride themselves on the importance they attach to education; it is, they say, the most important gift they can bestow on the next generation. That makes them all the more willing to shell out, if they can afford it, on expensive boarding schools which they believe will enable their children to concentrate fully on their studies. Poor families in the countryside pack their children off to board, too. But that is because they have no choice: daily commuting would be too expensive o...
RARELY does a politician admit that his child is an addict. When Bob Hawke, a former prime minister, did so more than 30 years ago, many parents could identify with him: Australia was sliding towards a nasty heroin problem. Use of the opioid, which became popular during the Vietnam war, rose fourfold during the 1990s. By the end of the decade, almost 150,000 Aussies were shooting up regularly. As overdoses and blood-borne virus transmissions increased, wonks in Canberra devised a “Tough on Dru...
IT WAS with trademark braggadocio that Donald Trump told the Financial Times, just days before meeting his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, that if China failed to “solve” the problem of North Korea’s nuclear programme, it was “totally” possible that America would do so alone. “China will either help us with North Korea, or they won’t,” said Mr Trump. “If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don’t, it won’t be very good for anyone.” Mr Trump’s remarks ...