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With Jonathan Pearlman

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The elephant next door

Within the next six years, Indonesia plans to complete a 142-kilometre high-speed rail link, the first such network in South-East Asia. The line, which will connect Jakarta to Bandung at speeds of 350 kilometres an hour, will reduce the current journey time from more than three hours to forty minutes.

Despite delays and uncertainty, the project …

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Is democracy normal?

When countries in Eastern Europe broke from the Soviet bloc thirty years ago, their next step seemed obvious: they began turning into Western-looking liberal democracies.

Back then, this shift seemed inevitable. 

“What everybody said they wanted in 1989 was ‘we want to be normal’,” the journalist Anne Appelbaum noted recently. …

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Protecting our patch

In the past three weeks, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop have conducted a flurry of meetings with leaders of small Pacific island nations, ranging from Palau to Vanuatu.

This diplomatic frenzy contrasts with the limited attention that Australia typically pays to its Pacific neighbours – with …

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China’s overt coercion

Recent efforts to combat China’s covert interference in Australia have led to heated public debate. But there is a growing area of meddling that receives less attention, even though it has potentially greater consequences: China’s use of economic clout to influence Australian corporations and governments, and those of other Asia-Pacific nations. 

Such …

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No great shake

The encounter between US president Donald Trump and North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore on Tuesday started with a grand handshake and ended with a detail-free agreement, deflating hopes of a historic breakthrough.

The summit was difficult to process, perhaps because it was not like other dramatic encounters between adversaries …

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The risky summit

Next Tuesday at 9.00 am in Singapore, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un will meet at the Capella hotel, the first such encounter between a US president and a North Korean leader. The aim is to negotiate a far-reaching deal to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program, but the two sides have already struggled to resolve who should pay for North Korea’s …

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The China influence debate

A glance at any segment of life in Australia today reveals China’s breathtaking influence: it is the biggest foreign purchaser of Australian property and commodities, and the largest source of tourists and students.

But there are concerns about whether there may also be a hidden price.

As the impact of China’s economic miracle becomes …

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China’s world-shifting actions

One of the extraordinary features of China’s rise is that the pace of change is so quick that it is possible to identify world-shifting events in real time.

Last Friday, for instance, a Chinese Xian H-6K bomber landed on a narrow airstrip on Woody Island, a disputed speck in the South China Sea.

This was the first time such a plane, …

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Trump’s endgame diplomacy

Triumphant celebrations were expected in Jerusalem following Donald Trump’s decision to move the United States embassy and recognise the city as Israel’s capital, but these were joined this week by scenes of deadly chaos in Gaza. In an episode as laden with symbolism as the embassy itself, television broadcasts switched to split screen: pomp …

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Australia’s island pivot

Australia’s budget on Tuesday included funds for a foreign policy enterprise that, in less interesting times, may have seemed surprising.

In the coming year, the Turnbull government plans to send a handful of diplomats to set up a high commission in Tuvalu, a Pacific nation that, at 26 square kilometres, is one of the smallest countries …

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