Throughout the Christmas-New Year break, we feature some of The Interpreter's best pieces from 2014. More to come between now and 12 January when The Interpreter returns for 2015.
Why Bob Carr's book matters, by Sam Roggeveen, 30 April.
But whatever Carr's failures and weaknesses, they are certainly less venal than the media would have us believe. In fact, the media's response to Carr's book exposed something a little ugly about us. In the process of mocking Carr, the Australian media revealed not only its own insularity but also the flipside of what is one of the great treasures of Australian life – our egalitarianism. At our worst moments, it seems we don't just want people to be equal; we want them to be the same. Not for us the love of eccentricity that is so much a part of British identity. Nor do we idolise virtuosos as the Italians do, or iconoclasts the way the Dutch do. The most generous way to describe the character traits admired by Australians is that we love courage and stoicism; a less generous interpretation, encouraged by the early reaction to Carr's book, is that we are a nation of conformists and scolds.
But that way lies mediocrity, which is a dangerous indulgence in the cauldron of modern Asian geopolitics. To manage the US-China dilemma that Carr wrestles with throughout the book, we will need to set our sights higher.
No circuit breaker in sight in East China Sea, by Linda Jakobson, 10 January.
It seems that with each step, fewer days elapse before there is news of yet another provocation. On 8 JanuaryJapan scrambled a military jet in response to a Chinese government plane seen flying towards the disputed islands, the first such incident since China declared its ADIZ. That same day Japan announced the nationalisation of 280 remote islands in its exclusive economic zone. Though the locations of these 280 islands are not yet known and it is not clear whether they are contested, the move nonetheless will stoke suspicions in China (and South Korea) aboutJapan's pursuit of a more assertive security strategy in its region.
One can surmise that China will continue to increase pressure on Japan to recognise that sovereignty over the islands is indeed contested. Tokyo will presumably continue to push back, maintaining its position of having sole sovereignty over the islands.
Class, economy, monarchy: Thailand's multidimensional malaise, by David Camroux, 15 January.
Moreover, through the soft policing of the demonstrations, the caretaker government of Yingluck Shinawatra limited the kind of violence that the opposition had hoped would provoke a military coup and thus thwart the early elections planned for 2 February. These elections are being boycotted by a parliamentary opposition which is conscious that it would probably lose, given the popularity of the present government.
Does this mean the Thai crisis has ended? Probably not, for what is occurring in Thailand is not so much a 'crisis' but something far more serious: a profound malaise within Thailand as a whole.
If one were to seek an image, that of Russian dolls comes to mind: inside one manifestation of this malaise are to be found several others. The longstanding competition for power among elites is eclipsed by social cleavages, economic uncertainty and an almost existential angst linked to a 'fin de règne'.
India’s intelligence agencies need fresh scrutiny, by Shashank Joshi, 16 January.
Put simply, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) – India's primary foreign and domestic intelligence agencies respectively – are creations of the executive branch, and have no legal foundation. This means minimal oversight by either parliament or the public. Many Indian intelligence officers have repeatedly called for reform and greater oversight, but despite the explicit support of figures as senior as India's vice-president, this has never amounted to much. An editorial just after Christmas in Livemint again urged more legislative oversight to curb what it called 'abuse of the intelligence machinery...for partisan ends'.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.