Category Archives: Asia

If Chinese tanks take Hong Kong, who’ll be surprised? Land grabs are happening everywhere – and we’re all complicit

In the glorious world of journalism, tanks always “roll” across borders. I’ve never in my life actually seen a tank roll, but you get the point. They don’t let anything stand in their way – or nothing is supposed to stand in their way.

Hence the Hong Kong Chinese should back off if the People’s Army come “rolling” across the border; the Syrian Kurds should stand aside if the Turkish army crosses their mutual border; the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir must pay respect to the Indian army’s reinforcements; the Ukrainians or Russians hostile to Putin should not tangle with the Russian army on the Black Sea coast. Nor should the Palestinians protest when Israel’s army arrives to demolish their homes or steal more of their land.

Territorial acquisition is quite the thing these days. Whether it comes through fear of political infection – the Chinese government doesn’t want the contagion of civil chaos in Hong Kong to spread – or ethnic hatred or sectarian hatred, or nationalism, or just plain greed, we are growing dangerously accustomed to the sight of armies and paramilitary forces taking over other people’s property. Not since Saddam tried to gobble up Kuwait have we seen anything on this scale, when Iraq’s army was easily (and bloodily) sent packing.

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 19, 2019 in Asia


Tags: ,

How Tehran Fits into Russia-China Strategy

A few days after our Asia Times report, an article based on “senior sources close to the Iranian regime” and crammed with fear-mongering, baseless accusations of corruption and outright ignorance about key military issues claimed that Russia would turn the Iranian ports of Bandar Abbas and Chabahar into forward military bases complete with submarines, Spetsnaz special forces and Su-57 fighter jets, thus applying a “stranglehold” to the Persian Gulf.

For starters, “senior sources close to the Iranian regime” would never reveal such sensitive national-security details, much less to Anglo-American foreign media. In my own case, even though I have made several visits to Iran while consistently reporting on Iran for Asia Times, and even though authorities at myriad levels know where I’m coming from, I have not managed to get answers from Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps generals to 16 detailed questions I sent nearly a month ago. According to my interlocutors, these are deemed “too sensitive” and, yes, a matter of national security.

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 19, 2019 in Asia, Europe


Tags: , ,

I Entered the World’s Longest, Loneliest Horse Race on a Whim, and I Won

It was May 2013 when I was cooped up in an attic in Austria, au pairing for a family with six Ferraris. They lived in a converted hotel in the jaws of an Alpine valley.

“Lara? Larah!”

Every morning the mother shrieked my name up the endless floors. “Time to feed the baby!”

I had taken the role to practice my German, but she only spoke in English. My jobs varied from sitting with the toddler to vacuuming up the dead skin that snowed from his father’s bottom.

The family never left their house except to get in their cars, which they kept tucked up in the garage. They viewed their valley through window frames as you would a photograph. So sedentary a lifestyle in such physical surroundings made me itch. At night I hatched plans to creep up the mountain and slide down the other side into Switzerland, yet the mother looked appalled when I so much as suggested running to the church and back.

By the time she sacked me a month later, my body was rusty and yearning for usage. I returned to the silent butterflies of an England on the brink of summer, seeking an experience unlike any I’d had before. In theory, this ought not to have been difficult. The most exciting moment in my eighteen years had been collecting chickens from Dorset on the train and wrapping them up in wine crates for Christmas presents.

The next month, June, marked a year since my release from high school. Fleeing the red bricks had been my dream for years — at fourteen, I had thought of myself as the finished article, ready to either have babies or break free (to where I couldn’t say, though for many years I had been fixated on becoming a burglar). Despite my conviction that more education would poison me like pesticide on a lush forest, I had remained in London until I passed my final exams. Strangely, the dissolution of structure thereafter unnerved me.

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 13, 2019 in Asia



Why the US trade war with China is a genuine conflict

The trade war between the US and China can only fill us with dread. How will it affect our daily lives? Will it result in a new global recession or even geopolitical chaos?

To orient ourselves in this mess, we should bear in mind some basic facts. The trade conflict with China is just the culmination of a war which began years ago when Donald Trump fired the opening shot aimed at the biggest trading partners of the US by deciding to levy tariffs on the imports of steel and aluminium from the EU, Canada and Mexico.

Trump was playing his own populist version of class warfare: his professed goal was to protect the American working class (are metal workers not one of the emblematic figures of the traditional working class?) from “unfair” European competition, thereby saving American jobs. And now he is doing the same with China.


Tags: , ,

The scorched corpses of Nagasaki should be a grim restraint to the chest beating in India, America and Iran

We like our anniversaries in blocks of 50 or 100 – at a push we’ll tolerate a 25. The 100th anniversary of the Somme (2016), the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain (2015). Next year, we’ll remember the end of the Second World War, the first – and so far the only – nuclear war in history.

This week marks only the 74th anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It doesn’t fit in to our journalistic scorecards and “timelines”. Over the past few days, I’ve had to look hard to find a headline about the two Japanese cities.

But, especially in the Middle East and what we like to call southeast Asia, we should be remembering these gruesome anniversaries every month. Hiroshima was atomic-bombed 74 years ago on Tuesday, Nagasaki 74 years ago on Friday. Given the extent of the casualty figures, you’d think they’d be unforgettable. But we don’t quite know (nor ever will) what they were.


Tags: , , , , , ,

Bali is not an eco-tourism destination – but plans are in place to drastically reduce marine plastic pollution

The Bali Partnership, an organisation created to help Indonesia reduce ocean plastics by 70 per cent by 2025, and supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also found that each of the island’s annual 16 million tourists – about six million of whom are from overseas – generates 3.5 times more waste per day than a local resident. In total, they account for 13 per cent of Bali’s total waste.There are green initiatives already in place – 400 of them, according to the Bali Partnership’s research – but activities need to be expanded to areas where the need is greatest, to maximise the environmental impact. If it were to focus its efforts on just 15 of Bali’s 57 subdistricts, the organisation estimates that the amount of plastic pollution finding its way into Bali’s waters could be reduced by 44 per cent. To achieve this, “the Bali Partnership will raise funding to conduct a pilot using this powerful, multi-stakeholder approach in one of the highest leakage sub-districts”. Whatever that means.

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 8, 2019 in Asia


Tags: ,

The other opioid crisis

Dr M. R. Rajagopal has been called the “father of palliative care in
India”. He has spent more than two decades doing clinical work and
advocacy to improve care for the dying and those suffering from
life-threatening illnesses. The use of opioids for pain relief is
crucial to this work. Yet he has had to fight to prescribe them,
including amending the country’s legislation. “Only a tiny, tiny
minority of people in India have access to pain relief,” he says. “We
have people travelling as far as 300km to get their refill of morphine
prescriptions. There are many states where it is totally unavailable.”
According to Human Rights Watch, 96 per cent of needy patients in India
can’t access opioids. Now Rajagopal is worried that the dependency
crisis in the US will harm the slow progress being made in India.

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 7, 2019 in Asia, Reportages


Tags: ,

The imperial rivalry between the US and China means the left must choose the EU it wants

The US has declared China a “currency manipulator” — which, on the face of it, is like a bear declaring that another bear defecated in the woods. But the formal act of designation is a big deal.

Under a law passed in 1988, when the US first discovered that its global dominance might be under threat from trade competitors, the president is empowered to “initiate negotiations … on an expedited basis” to force China to raise the value of the renminbi against the dollar.

The act includes sanctions such as banning Chinese firms from US contracts, and was described at the time by critics as “the economic equivalent of civilian bombing”. But in truth the economic war between China and the US is already under way, and is wholly framed by Trump’s skewed vision of American geopolitics.

1 Comment

Posted by on August 7, 2019 in Asia, Economy, European Union, North America


Tags: , , , ,

The prison inside: Japan’s hikikomori lack relationships, not physical spaces

Fifty-three-year-old Kenji Yamase doesn’t fit the traditional image of a hikikomori, but then perceptions of Japan’s social recluses are changing.

“People think of hikikomori as being lazy young people with
personality problems who stay in their rooms all the time playing video
games,” says Yamase, who lives with his 87-year-old mother and has been a
recluse on and off for the past 30 years.

“But the reality is that most hikikomori are people who can’t get
back into society after straying off the path at some point,” he says.
“They have been forced into withdrawal. It isn’t that they’re shutting
themselves away — it’s more like they’re being forced to shut themselves

A hikikomori is defined by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry
as someone who has remained isolated at home for at least six
consecutive months without going to school or work, and rarely interacts
with people from outside their own immediate family.

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 3, 2019 in Asia


Tags: ,

QR is King

This summer I spent a month in Beijing. I’d last lived in China in 2016,
and I was relieved to find my favorite noodle shops in their usual
niches. But this time round, navigating the city felt inexplicably
different. The cabs I tried to hail passed me by. On the subway, other
riders jostled past me, swiping their phones at the turnstiles as I
fumbled with my ticket. When I tried to sneak into the cafeteria in
Renmin University for a cheap lunch, clutching my grubby backpack, I
made it past the guards only to be stopped at the cash register—apart
from student cards, the only form of payment accepted was Alipay.

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 3, 2019 in Asia


Tags: ,