Asia Maior. XXX / 2019. Asia in 2019: Escalating international tensions and authoritarian involution

Testata: Asia Maior • Anno di pubblicazione: 2019
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{{https://www.asiamaior.org/the-journal/12-asia-maior-vol-xxx-2019/chapters-asia-maior-2019/foreward-asia-in-2019-the-escalation-of-the-us-china-contraposition-and-the-authoritarian-involution-of-asian-societies.html|Foreword. Asia in 2019: The escalation of the US-China contraposition, and the authoritarian involution of Asian societies}}
Michelguglielmo Torri, Nicola Mocci & Filippo Boni

This essay, based on the articles included in Asia Maior XXX/2019 and additional sources, singles out the most significant developments in Asia during 2019. In 2019 the US’s Asia policy continued to be characterised by the abandonment of any caution in highlighting the administration’s confrontational stand vis-à-vis China and the continuation of the trade war not only on China, but on most US formal allies and non-treaty partners in the Indo-Pacific region. Beijing moved to counter Washington’s confrontational posture, but its efforts had limited or disappointing results as far as relations with the EU, Japan and India were concerned. In particular, Beijing’s rapprochement with Tokyo and New Delhi, although apparently momentous, was short on substance. The Sino-US confrontation took also place in a series of other geographical theatres, where, on the whole, its results were more favourable to China. This was the case in Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Vietnam. Conversely, in Mongolia, China, in spite of the overwhelming influence enjoyed because of the massive economic connection between the two countries, appeared to be on the losing side, as Ulaanbaatar signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Washington in July 2019. Interestingly, in its dealing with Mongolia, the Trump administration followed an economic approach at variance with the usual «America first» strategy, granting Mongolian cashmere duty-free access to the United States. In 2019, political freedom in Asia radically contracted. Examples of this involution were apparent both in the case of ‘not free’ countries, such as China, Kazakhstan and Myanmar, and ‘partly free’ countries, such as Malaysia and the Philippines, plus the ‘partly free’ territory of Hong Kong. However, by far the most worrying instance was represented by a ‘free’ country, namely India, where, after Narendra Modi’s victory at the 2019 general election, a systematic and massive assault on democracy took place. Nonetheless, some exceptions to this worrying trend were visible, represented by the cases of Taiwan, South Korea, Timor Leste and Mongolia. The democratic involution in Asia – which the anti-China discourse promoted by the Trump administration attributes to China’s malignant influence – had both endogenous causes (particularly visible in the case of India) and exogenous ones. Among the latter, together with China’s influence, another extremely dangerous one was Wahhabi Islam, assiduously promoted by Saudi Arabia, namely a country very close to the US.

Michelguglielmo Torri | University of Turin| mg.torri@gmail.com

Nicola Mocci | University of Sassari | nmocci@uniss.it

Filippo Boni | The Open University | Filippo.Boni@Open.ac.uk


{{https://www.asiamaior.org/the-journal/12-asia-maior-vol-xxx-2019/china-2019-xi-jinpings-new-era-and-the-cpcs-agenda.html|China 2019: Xi Jinping’s new era and the CPC’s agenda}}
Silvia Menegazzi

In 2019, China’s domestic politics was characterized by Xi Jinping’s striking consolidation of power. This stabilization involved three important trends. First, institutional events organized through the course of the year were all aimed at fortify a political narrative envisioning Xi Jinping as the one and only leader able to guide China toward a New Era. To this extent, total and unconditioned support to the Party was seen as essential to guarantee China’s development and stability. Political documents analysed in this article exemplify such trend and highlight the significance Xi Jinping’s political theory plays today in Chinese domestic politics. Second, ideological education was dramatically transformed into a tool in the hands of the leadership to cement support and Party’s legitimacy. Along with a «repoliticization» of the educational system, the article suggests that patriotic education was also increasingly directed toward political elites and Party cadres. Third, the Xi Jinping’s administration undertook measures to bypass economic stagnation; however, the necessity to avoid discontent among different stakeholders, from local governments to private firms, also contributed to slow down the recovery of the Chinese economy.

Silvia Menegazzi | Luiss Guido Carli University | smenegazzi@luiss.it


{{https://www.asiamaior.org/the-journal/12-asia-maior-vol-xxx-2019/chinas-foreign-policy-2019-xi-jinpings-tireless-summit-diplomacy-amid-growing-challenges.html|China’s 2019: Xi Jinping’s tireless summit diplomacy amid growing challenges}}
Barbara Onnis

The aim of this article is to analyse the developments in Chinese foreign policy in 2019, which can be summarised by two main trends. On the one hand a strong diplomatic activism by the Chinese paramount leader aimed at both deepening the tendencies that had become apparent in 2018 – the mending of fraught relations with some neighbours and the reassurance of some partners about Chinese intentions – and confirming Beijing’s vocation to the cause of peace and global governance. On the other hand, China had to face serious challenges to its leadership and its international reputation that risked seriously undermining Xi Jinping’s long-term plans. Above all, the protracted trade war and growing antagonism with the US was certainly the greatest challenge and fraught with consequences. On this basis, the article describes the major events that best represent both trends. The final part of the article is dedicated to the 2nd BRI Forum and the increasingly heated debate around the Initiative, both domestically

Barbara Onnis | University of Cagliari | bonnis@unica.it


{{https://www.asiamaior.org/the-journal/12-asia-maior-vol-xxx-2019/mongolia-2019-crisis-obstacles-achievements-on-the-domestic-economic-and-foreign-policy-fronts.html|Mongolia 2019: Crisis, obstacles & achievements on the domestic, economic and foreign policy fronts}}
Axel Berkofsky

This article analyses the main issues and developments on Mongolia’s domestic, foreign economic and foreign policy agenda in 2019, and concludes that the country’s almost complete dependence on Russia and China in terms of trade and energy is here to stay. On a positive note, the article concludes that Mongolia’s democratically-elected institutions are able to address and reverse its president’s anti-democratic power-grabbing and is able to stand its ground in a decisively non-democratic and authoritarian neighbourhood. The resource-rich Mongolia with estimated reserves of copper, coal and other minerals valued at US $1-3 trillion, achieved economic growth close to 7% in 2019. This makes Mongolia one of the world’s fastest growing economies although the country’s economic growth rises and falls with commodity prices. Adding to its economic vulnerability is its near-complete dependence on China. In 2019, China was – as in previous years – by far the biggest purchaser of Mongolian coal and copper and China buys more than 90% of its exports. In March 2019, Mongolia experienced a constitutional controversy, which in November of the same year resulted in constitutional amendments. Mongolia’s hybrid political system remains a recipe for political stalemate and the country’s still rampant corruption contributes to that instability. In the year under review the country continued to diversify its foreign and foreign economic relations through its «Third Neighbour» Policy, i.e. the expansion of political, trade and economic and security relations with fellow democratic countries such as the US, India

Axel Berkofsky | University of Pavia | Axel.Berkofsky@unipv.it


{{https://www.asiamaior.org/the-journal/12-asia-maior-vol-xxx-2019/korean-peninsula-2019-the-year-of-missed-opportunities.html|Korean peninsula 2019: The year of missed opportunities}}
Marco Milani

Despite very high expectations for the Korean peninsula, the disappointing outcome of the summit between Kim Jong Un and Trump in Hanoi led to a progressive deterioration of the relations on the peninsula and also in the region. In South Korea, President Moon Jae-in had to struggle with a falling approval rating, mostly related to the disappointing economic results, especially in terms of economic growth and unemployment rate. This situation increased the opposition to the president from the conservative part which resulted in a re-emergence of a strong political and social polarization in the country. In North Korea, Kim Jong Un consolidated his position through a reshuffle of several key roles in the leadership. At the same time, the disappearance of any short-term possibility of sanctions relief led to a new emphasis on self-reliant economic development. For what concerns relations on the peninsula, the North Korean leadership made clear that it was not interested in continuing dialogue with the South unless Seoul was ready to pursue economic cooperation despite the existing sanctions. As for relations between Washington and Pyongyang, dialogue stalled but Trump and Kim refrained from direct personal attacks and maintained a positive personal relation. These developments pushed North Korea towards its traditional partners, China and Russia. As for South Korea, practical disagreements over defence costs with the US and historical controversies with Japan further complicated the situation also with its main ally and partner.

Marco Milani | University of Sheffield | m.milani@sheffield.ac.uk


{{https://www.asiamaior.org/the-journal/12-asia-maior-vol-xxx-2019/japan-2019-inaugurating-a-new-era.html|Japan 2019: Inaugurating a new era?}}
Giulio Pugliese & Sebastian Maslow

2019 ushered in a new era for Japan. The Cabinet framed the Reiwa era through a committee of experts responsible for its christening. The name was chosen with reference to a well-known medieval text of Japanese poetry, rather than ancient Chinese literature, a notable first. But did the imperial succession and the start of Reiwa actually reflect the dawn of a new era in Japanese domestic and international politics? By taking stock of primary sources, including a substantial number of interviews with scholars and policy-makers in Japan, Washington DC and elsewhere, this article suggests that the dawn of the Reiwa era appears to be characterised by a return to the conservative camp’s grip on domestic politics, suspiciously similar to Japan’s old way of doing politics. Yet, a stable prime ministerial executive, which is front and centre of the decision-making machine, has allowed for considerable change in Japan’s diplomatic and security policies. This has taken place during heightened US-China strategic competition and greater volatility in the international system. Aside from an ongoing (in fact, deepening) US-Japan entente vis-à-vis China, the year under review testifies to new developments in Japan’s international relations. Particularly worth noting are Japan’s acquisition of offensive capabilities, its expanding strategic horizons, its careful balancing act in the Middle East, and its rounder engagement with economic statecraft. These events provide a testament to important developments in Japan’s standing in world politics and to Abe’s legacy.

Giulio Pugliese | King’s College London | giulio.pugliese@kcl.ac.uk

Sebastian Maslow | Sendai Shirayuri Women’s University | s-maslow@sendai-shirayuri.ac.jp


{{https://www.asiamaior.org/the-journal/12-asia-maior-vol-xxx-2019/hong-kong-2019-anatomy-of-a-social-mobilisation-through-the-lenses-of-identity-and-values.html|Hong Kong 2019: Anatomy of a social mobilisation through the lenses of identity and values}}
Angela Tritto & Alkan Abdulkadir

Our contribution analyses the Anti-Extradition Bill protests in Hong Kong, which constitute the largest mobilisation of people in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China so far since the handover in 1997. We examine the dimensions and stakeholders of this protest, arguing that its roots reside in the shift of values and identity of the next generation of Hong Kong people. In our analysis, we use first-hand experiences, informal interviews, and secondary materials to illustrate the underlying triggers of this mobilisation, which come from a combination of political, economic, and social factors. We situate this analysis in the context of China’s increasing global reach through foreign policy and outward investments, for which Hong Kong constitutes a key node.

Angela Tritto | Institute of Emerging Market Studies The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology | tritto@ust.hk

Alkan Abdulkadir | Independent scholar | a.alkan@my.cityu.edu.hk


{{https://www.asiamaior.org/the-journal/12-asia-maior-vol-xxx-2019/taiwan-2019-and-the-2020-elections-tsai-ing-wens-triumph.html|Taiwan 2019 and the 2020 elections: Tsai Ing-Wen’s triumph}}
Aurelio Insisa

The year in review was one of the most tumultuous in the recent history of Taiwan and cross-Strait relations. At the beginning of 2019, President Tsai Ing-wen appeared destined for an ignominious defeat after the Democratic Progressive Party’s rout in the 2018 local elections. By the end of the year, her victory in the presidential election looked certain. On 11 January 2020, Tsai won her second term in office beating the controversial Kuomintang candidate Han Kuo-yu. Cross-Strait, international, and domestic factors converged to realise this improbable electoral comeback. The stagnation of China’s Taiwan policy over the «1992 Consensus» and the «one country, two systems» formula largely opposed in Taiwan, coupled with the increasingly assertive posture of the People’s Republic of China under the leadership of Xi Jinping, worried the Taiwanese public and revitalised Tsai and the pan-Green camp. The resonance in Taiwan of the unexpected eruption of violent protests in Hong Kong against the local and central government then cleared a path for Tsai’s electoral victory, while exposing the inherent contradictions of the Kuomintang’s own China-friendly approach to cross-Strait relations. Tsai’s recovery benefited also from the deepening support provided by the Trump administration, and from the positive spillover effects of the Sino-American trade war, which fostered a convincing economic growth in the period leading up to the election. Within Taiwanese politics, the populist wave raised by Han Kuo-yu swept over the Kuomintang and appeared ready to conquer national politics throughout the first half of 2019. However, it ultimately failed to address the concerns of the domestic electorate over the future status of Taiwan and also dragged the pan-Blue camp to defeat in the legislative election, in which the Democratic Progressive Party obtained a stable parliamentary majority to support Tsai’s second term in office.

Aurelio Insisa | The University of Hong Kong | insisa@hku.hk


{{https://www.asiamaior.org/the-journal/12-asia-maior-vol-xxx-2019/the-philippines-2018-2019-authoritarian-consolidation-under-duterte.html|The Philippines 2018-2019: Authoritarian consolidation under Duterte}}
Sol Iglesias & Lala Ordenes

Philippine democracy has crumbled under President Rodrigo Duterte. This article reviews the main political and economic developments in the country from 2018 to 2019. It argues that a process of authoritarian consolidation occurred during this period. This is not the result of a sudden breakdown or suppression of civil and political institutions for democracy, as would occur in a military takeover, but of democratic erosion and deconsolidation, catalysed by a popular but norm-breaking elected leader. An unprecedented scale of state-sponsored violence, President Duterte’s so-called «war on drugs», preconditioned the transition from democratic to authoritarian rule. The Duterte government and his allies then marginalised the opposition and vilified the media, politically captured the judiciary, broke the prevailing norms against martial law normalising emergency rule, as well as withstood pro-democracy influence from institutions like the European Union by aligning economically with China.

Sol Iglesias | Independent scholar | sol.iglesias@u.nus.edu

Lala Ordenes | Independent scholar | lalaordenes@gmail.com


{{https://www.asiamaior.org/the-journal/12-asia-maior-vol-xxx-2019/timor-leste-1945-2019-from-an-almost-forgotten-colony-to-the-first-democratic-nation-of-the-21st-century.html|Timor-Leste 1945-2019: From an almost forgotten colony to the first democratic nation of the 21st century}}
Rui Feijó

This article has two main aims: to give a comprehensive view of the transformation of Timor-Leste from an almost forgotten colony of Portugal to the first independent country of the 21st century, and to analyse its attempt, as an independent state, to create a nation based on democracy. This very long and winding road underwent four stages which are contemplated in turn: the late years of Portuguese colonialism, the quarter-century neo-colonial domination by the Republic of Indonesia, the two-and-a-half year transitional period under the auspices of the United Nations, and the period after the official restoration of independence on 20 May 2002.

Rui Feijó | Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra Institute for Contemporary History, NOVA University of Lisboa | ruifeijo@gmail.com


{{https://www.asiamaior.org/the-journal/12-asia-maior-vol-xxx-2019/malaysia-2019-the-politics-of-fear-and-umnos-renewed-relevance.html|Malaysia 2019: The politics of fear and umno’s renewed relevance}}
Saleena Saleem

The Barisan Nasional (BN) opposition coalition led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) won four out of five by-election contests in 2019. The relatively short time frame between BN’s by-election wins and its historic electoral defeat in May 2018 convinced UMNO’s leadership that its party recovery strategy was fruitful. This strategy entailed the forging of a political cooperation around the theme of Malay unity with its long-time Islamist rival, the Parti Islam Se Malaysia, and the instrumentalisation of Malay fears over the loss of constitutional birth rights under the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition government. A number of ethno-religious controversies at the national level also contributed to a polarised social and political context that exacerbated inter-ethnic distrust and benefitted BN in the by-elections. Both Malays and ethnic minorities perceived the PH’s government’s disjointed responses to these controversies as ineffectual. Malaysians across the ethnic divide also experienced little improvement on their cost of living woes. The PH government’s attempts to boost the economy saw it re-establish large-scale projects with China. Yet the pragmatic realities of Malaysia’s economic interests constrained its new foreign policy approach of positioning itself as a leader in the Muslim world. This was evident in Malaysia’s muted response to China’s treatment of the Uyghurs at the inaugural Kuala Lumpur Summit on Muslim issues. This contrasted with the organised protests by Malay groups at the Chinese embassy in the nation’s capital as the year came to a close. These factors cumulatively contributed to an overall citizenry disillusionment with the PH government.

Saleena Saleem | University of Liverpool | ssaleem@liverpool.ac.uk


{{https://www.asiamaior.org/the-journal/12-asia-maior-vol-xxx-2019/vietnam-2019-pursuing-harmonious-labour-relations-and-consolidating-its-reliable-international-role.html|Vietnam 2019: Pursuing harmonious labour relations and consolidating its reliable international role}}
Nicola Mocci

During 2019, the political debate focused on identifying the most effective tools to realise «harmonious labour relations». This resulted in the ratification of some fundamental conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the adoption of the new labour code. Among the different stakeholders involved in this debate, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL), the sole national trade union centre in Vietnam, played an unprecedented key role, achieving some important success on the workers’ side. At international level, the party-state strived to increase its international prestige, trying to strike a balance between relations with the US and China.

Nicola Mocci | University of Sassari | nmocci@uniss.it


{{https://www.asiamaior.org/the-journal/12-asia-maior-vol-xxx-2019/myanmar-2019-the-lady-and-the-generals-redux.html|Myanmar 2019: «The Lady and the generals» redux?}}
Matteo Fumagalli

The year 2019 has been extremely eventful for Myanmar, at home and abroad. Nearly three years have passed since the Myanmar military’s ‘clearance operations’ in northern Rakhine state, which led to the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they are still temporarily settled in refugee camps south of Cox’s Bazar. Despite several aborted repatriation attempts, there is still no sign of a process that would not only see Rohingya refugees return to Rakhine state, but also of a system that would force the Myanmar authorities to regularise their status, let alone kick-start a reconciliation process. Politics in the country remains in flux, with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi («the Lady», as she is commonly known in the country) and the military (the «Generals») at times agreeing and coordinating their actions, whilst at others competing with each other. Throughout the year, this has taken the form of a multi-cornered struggle over constitutional reform, with the political conflict set to intensify as the campaign for the 2020 parliamentary elections gets underway. Overall, three issues defined the year: first was the outbreak of a new insurgency in Rakhine state led by the Arakan Army, which later spread across the country’s northern and eastern borderlands. Next was the start of pre-election manoeuvring, with different parties vying for popular support. Last but not least, was the hearing at the International Court of Justice in The Hague in December, where State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi represented Myanmar, accused of genocide and failure to prevent genocide against the Rohingya in August 2017.

Matteo Fumagalli | University of St Andrews, Scotland | mf29@st-andrews.ac.uk


{{https://www.asiamaior.org/the-journal/12-asia-maior-vol-xxx-2019/india-2019-the-general-election-and-the-new-modi-wave.html|India 2019: The general election and the new Modi wave}}
Diego Maiorano

In the first part of 2019 India was shaken by two major political events. In February, a major terrorist strike hit Pulwama, in Jammu and Kashmir, which was followed by airstrikes by the Indian Air Force into Pakistani territory. This episode set the tone for the 2019 general elections, which were held in April-May. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which focused its campaign on national security issues in the wake of the Pulwama attack, won a resounding victory, improving both its vote and seat share. This article argues that the main factor that contributed to the exceptional performance of the BJP was the popularity of the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. His image as the strong leader that the country needed to both protect it from external and internal enemies as well as promoting development was crucial for many voters, who decided not to punish the ruling party for a far from spectacular economic performance over its term in office.

Diego Maiorano | National University of Singapore ISAS (Institute of South Asian Studies) | dmaiorano@nus.edu.sg


India 2019: Assaulting the world’s largest democracy; building a kingdom of cruelty and fear
Michelguglielmo Torri

The seven months starting with the formation of the second Modi’s government in May 2019 and the end of the year were characterised by the systematic and massive assault on democracy launched by the incumbent government. The highpoints of this assault were basically two. The first was the hollowing out of two key articles of the Constitution, which had guaranteed the autonomy of Jammu & Kashmir, the only Union state with a Muslim majority, followed by its dismantling as a state and its transformation into an internal colony brutally ruled through military force. The second highpoint was the attempt to modify the concept of Indian citizenship by introducing a religious criterion aimed at excluding persons of Muslim religion. Both moves appeared to be in contrast with the Indian Constitution; however, the Supreme Court studiously avoided contrasting the Modi government’s policies. The most important Supreme Court’s sentence in the period under review, far from being related to the possibly unconstitutional activities of the government, dealt with the Ayodhya question and de facto justified the destruction of the Babri Masjid by Hindu extremists in 1992. Eventually a reaction to the country’s slide towards authoritarianism set in at the beginning of December, when a mass movement against the modification of the secular concept of citizenship spread in large parts of India and was harshly repressed in the Union states governed by Modi’s party, the BJP. Modi and his closest aides, while focussing their efforts on the assault on democracy, seemed to be disinterested in the disappointing economic situation, possibly as a consequence of their inability, during the previous term, to manage it properly. Hence, the real dimensions of the slowdown, resulting from the first Modi government’s mismanagement of the economy became increasingly evident. As evident became the inability of the new finance minister to redress the situation. Ominously, by the end of the period the GDP appeared to be sliding back to the infamous «Hindu rate of growth», namely the slow growth characterising the years from 1950 to 1980.

Michelguglielmo Torri | University of Turin | mg.torri@gmail.com


{{https://www.asiamaior.org/the-journal/12-asia-maior-vol-xxx-2019/india-2019-foreign-policy-dilemmas-and-their-domestic-roots.html|India 2019: Foreign policy dilemmas and their domestic roots}}
Yogesh Joshi

If the shifting balance of power and the triangular strategic competition between the US, China and Russia were not troubling enough, in 2019 Indian foreign policy had to also contend with the global ramifications of Narendra Modi’s polarising domestic politics. Dwindling power resources – both material and ideational –severely hampered India’s foreign policy. Modi’s «Neighbourhood First» policy faced the full brunt of Bharatiya Janata Party’s agenda of Hindutva. Revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy and introduction of the Citizenship Amendment Act created both anxiety and fear among India’s neighbours. On the other hand Modi successfully cultivated the middle power across three important regions: the Middle East, the Indo-Pacific and Europe. This was the only success story of Indian foreign policy in 2019. Support from these middle powers helped India tide through a difficult period characterised by both economic underperformance and domestic unrest. However, sustaining these relations would ultimately hinge upon Modi addressing India’s economic and domestic fault lines. Lastly, India’s policy vis-à-vis the great powers was characterised by a gradual but increasingly closer strategic embrace of the US. In spite of President Trump’s reconfiguration of the American approach towards India from one of «benign hegemony» to a strictly reciprocal relationship, Modi continued to base his approach to the US on his firm belief that his own personal diplomacy would overcome Trump’s transactionalism. Modi’s attempt for a détente with China, which began with the Wuhan informal Modi-Xi summit, continued without much success, as the growing Sino-Russian entente was narrowing India’s options considerably. Overall, the year 2019 made evident the correlation between domestic instability and foreign policy troubles. How Modi will resuscitate India’s ailing economy, recuperate its injured and polarised body-politic, and reclaim its moral leadership in the region and the world would fundamentally determine the success and failures of India’s foreign policy.

Yogesh Joshi | Institute of South Asian Studies | National University of Singapore | yogeshjoshi@nus.edu.sg


{{https://www.asiamaior.org/the-journal/12-asia-maior-vol-xxx-2019/nepal-2019-attempts-at-mediation-in-domestic-and-foreign-policies.html|Nepal 2019: Attempts at mediation in domestic and foreign policies}}
Matteo Miele

The article outlines the key issues related to international relations, domestic politics and the economic situation of Nepal in 2019. In the first section, particular emphasis is given to Xi Jinping’s visit in October 2019. A separate paragraph is dedicated to the non-signature of the extradition treaty between China and Nepal and the issue of Tibetans in the Himalayan country. Furthermore, the Indo-Nepalese crisis relating to the territory of Kalapani is outlined. In terms of domestic politics, the paper addresses the issue of internal balances of power in the Communist Party of Nepal, resulting from the fusion of Marxist-Leninists and Maoists in 2018. In addition, the analysis focuses on the birth of a new political party, the Samajbadi Party-Nepal, from the union of the Madhesi FSFN party with the Naya Shakti Party. This new party therefore stands as the second subject, together with the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal, within a unification process aimed at forming a great unitary force in support of the Madhesi demands. Finally, Nepal’s economic scenario is outlined. From the data provided, the known critical issues of the Himalayan country are reiterated, in particular the heavy trade deficit. The numbers of the first eight months of the fiscal year 2018/2019 show a strong growth in imports from China, without, however, a similar growth in Nepalese exports to the north. Quite the contrary, there is a clear drop. The volume is certainly revealing considering the recent role of Nepal within the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Matteo Miele | Center for Southeast Asian Studies CSEAS – Kyoto University | mmiele@cseas.kyoto-u.ac.jp


{{https://www.asiamaior.org/the-journal/12-asia-maior-vol-xxx-2019/afghanistan-2019-between-peace-talks-and-presidential-elections-another-year-of-uncertainty.html|Afghanistan 2019: Between peace talks and presidential elections, another year of uncertainty}}
Filippo Boni

Afghanistan in 2019 was characterised by the Presidential elections, held on 28 September, and whose results were announced at the end of December 2019, and by the peace talks between the US and the Taliban. Against such backdrop, the analysis presented in this article traces the evolution of peace talks between the US and the Taliban during the year under examination, and accounts for the developments that characterised the peace process. The latter had also an important intra-Afghan dimension, with the Consultative Loya-Jirga, which was held between 29 April and 3 May 2019. The socio-economic situation of Afghanistan is also analysed, with a specific focus on the role of women in the country’s political and economic life. With regards to Afghanistan’s international relations, this study dissects the geopolitical alignments taking place in 2019, with an assessment of the role that Russia, India, Pakistan and China played in the country during 2019.

Filippo Boni | The Open University | Filippo.Boni@Open.ac.uk


{{https://www.asiamaior.org/the-journal/12-asia-maior-vol-xxx-2019/pakistan-2019-the-challenges-of-the-first-pti-government.html|Pakistan 2019: The challenges of the first PTI government}}
Marco Corsi

The 2018 electoral success of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was based on its commitment to improve economic conditions in Pakistan and the lives of the less advantaged sections of society, and to combat the endemic corruption and cronyism of Pakistan’s political and institutional establishments. Once in power, the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan was forced to go back on its campaign pledges in an attempt to rescue the country from the macroeconomic emergency triggered by the inherited pressing debt and by both a budgetary and a balance of payments crisis. The Khan administration tried to mobilise support from friendly countries, to curb imports, to depreciate the currency, and to reduce non-developmental expenditures. The PTI, when it was in opposition, had firmly rejected the idea that further agreements should be reached with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, the dire economic conditions forced the new administration to negotiate Pakistan’s thirteenth loan with the IMF since the 1980s. The bailout was accompanied by an agenda of reforms and austerity measures aimed at reducing the fiscal and account deficits, bolstering international reserves, and improving social protection and governance. The approval of the loan was subject to the implementation of preparatory actions, including a national budget aimed at meeting required targets. The regional context of changing power scenarios has offered Pakistan the opportunity to pursue a nonaligned approach in its relations with the major powers, and to aim at establishing friendly relations with its neighbours in furtherance of its national interest. Pakistan is playing a strategic role in the peace talks and in shaping Afghanistan’s future to gain influence in the potentially promising geopolitical and economic environment that will follow the withdrawal of the American troops. Although tensions with India remained high in 2019 and the two neighbouring countries engaged in military clashes following a terrorist attack on Indian troops on 14 February 2019, Islamabad made efforts to revive a dialogue with New Delhi and to de-escalate bilateral tensions. Nevertheless, bilateral relations deteriorated significantly, and a new crisis was ignited following the decision by the government of India on 5 August 2019 to revoke the special status accorded to its state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Marco Corsi | Asia Maior - An Italian think tank on Asia | macorsi@gmail.com


{{https://www.asiamaior.org/the-journal/12-asia-maior-vol-xxx-2019/kazakhstan-2018-2019-change-and-continuity-amid-economic-stagnation.html|Kazakhstan 2018-2019: Change and continuity amid economic stagnation}}
Paolo Sorbello

Stability has been Kazakhstan’s political mantra since the early years of independence from the Soviet Union. Despite an unexpected transition of power in early 2019, the outgoing president continued to play an important role in the institutional structure of the country. Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ruled for three decades and curtailed opposition forces, ceded his post to Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Speaker of the Senate and seasoned diplomat. Yet, Nazarbayev continued to have an authoritative voice both at home and abroad, as he participated in meetings of heads of state even after his resignation. Another word that entered the vocabulary of Kazakhstan’s recent history is «crisis». Whether their origin was domestic or global, several crises and tragedies conditioned the behaviour of the people and government of Kazakhstan. A fire that killed five children in the capital city at the beginning of 2019 became a trigger for protests and showed how fragile the connection between resource wealth and socioeconomic welfare could be in an economy that failed to diversify. Internationally, Kazakhstan reduced its PR effort, perhaps in response to c GDP growth. In addition, however, human rights watchdogs have condemned the continued repression of opposition forces and journalists, tainting the pristine image of harmonious stability that Kazakhstan has tried to publicise for years.

Paolo Sorbello | University of Glasgow / Ca’ Foscari University of Venice | paolo.sorbello@unive.it