Philip Bowring

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Indonesia & China The Sea Between

Indonesia has long been cautious in confronting China’s claims in the South China Sea, so its announcement on July 14 that it was renaming a part of the area the “North Natuna Sea” may have come to many as surprise. The new name encompasses a region north of the Natuna islands that partly falls within the infamous “nine dash line”, by which China claims the sea stretching fifteen hundred miles from its mainland coast almost to the shores of Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, and Indonesia. China immediately demanded a retraction—which it will not get.

The naming was a reminder of how seriously Indonesia treats its position as the seat of ancient trading empires and location of some of the world’s strategically most important straits—Melaka, Sunda, Lombok, and Makassar.…  Seguir leyendo »

The more one compares the 1997 Asian crisis and the ongoing Western-centered one, the gloomier one gets about prospects for the latter.

The feared “double dip” in economic output may not happen, but from this Eastern perspective, sustained Western recovery looks very difficult because the trajectories of the two crises have been so different.

Worse, the structure of global finance that has provided the West with a cushion now makes it more difficult for other regions to help pull the West back up in the same way as the West helped Asia.

Within two years of the onset of the Asian crisis, not only had recovery begun but most of fundamental causes of the crisis had been addressed.…  Seguir leyendo »

Two apparently unconnected stories made the front pages of newspapers last week: The story behind a massacre in the Philippine province of Maguindanao and a decision by India’s central government to divide the state of Andhra Pradesh into two. But they are linked — by the issue of decentralization in developing democracies. They are two examples of governments attempting to balance stability with diversity.

The Philippine massacre stemmed from rivalry between two political clans. The alleged perpetrators are connected to the family of the governor of the province and of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, of which Maguindanao is the largest part.…  Seguir leyendo »

The threat of Dubai’s billion-dollar debt default is casting a shadow here in Malaysia, the would-be global center of the fast-growing Islamic finance industry. Islamic finance is designed to comply with Shariah law, forbidding interest on loans and investment in gambling, alcohol and other industries deemed unethical in Islam. It substitutes profit-sharing for interest, though profit shares can be pre-set to mirror interest on conventional loans.

It may seem unlikely that a country where only half the population is Muslim would seek to be the standard-setter in this field. But if Islamic finance keeps growing, Malaysia’s comprehensive system of products and regulation may enable it to become a significant trading center.…  Seguir leyendo »

Thais are naturally preoccupied with immediate issues — their convoluted politics and the succession to the revered but ailing King Bhumibol, 81. But in the long term they may need to be thinking about how the country will rate 20 years from now against its traditional rivals, Vietnam and Myanmar, long-established nation states of roughly similar size, as well as against the nearby giants, India and China.

As of now, Thailand is well ahead of all but China when measured by G.D.P. per capita and all of the other countries by most social and quality of life indicators. But there is a sense of unease that the nation has lost its momentum and that others, perhaps even Myanmar, are catching up.…  Seguir leyendo »