Asia Maior. Vol. XXVI / 2015. The Chinese-American Race for Hegemony in Asia

Testata: Asia Maior • Anno di pubblicazione: 2016
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{{|China 2015: Implementing the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road}}
Francesca Congiu

The present article sees as the most important political-economic development in Chi-na in the year 2015 the fulfilment of the first phase of a gargantuan political-eco-nomic project: the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, known also as the «One Belt, One Road» (OBOR) initiative. This project, launched by the Chinese government in 2013, was institutionalized in a programmatic do-cument in 2015. Therefore, the present article analyses the OBOR initiative from several different perspectives. First, the Silk Road project is presented as the current phase of a long-term political-economic strategy aimed at internationalizing the Chi-nese state-owned and private enterprises. Then, the article examines the OBOR’s programmatic official document, published during the year under review, and goes on to explore the OBOR’s geographic extension and its implementation. Finally, the article deals with the OBOR’s main financial mechanism, known as the Asian Infra-structure Investment Bank, and with the Western countries’ divided reactions when confronted with the opportunity to become founding members of this new China-led multilateral financial institution.

Francesca Congiu | University of Cagliari |

{{|Korean peninsula 2015: One step forward and two steps back}}
Barbara Onnis & Marco Milani

In 2015, in South Korea, President Park Geun-hye’s decline in popularity, which had begun in the previous year, further accelerated. In particular, the outbreak of the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) crisis between May and June contributed, once again, to show the government’s inability to act quickly and effectively. The already difficult situation worsened in Autumn, following the vehement protests or-ganized by different sectors of the South Korean civil society against the school history textbooks reform and the new labour legislation. North of the 38th parallel, President Kim Jong Un moved quickly to definitively strengthen his power. A new series of purges hit the members of the political and military leadership. At the same time, there was the consolidation of the new Kim-inspired political line. Part of it can be considered the announcement that the Seventh Plenary Congress of the Party was to be held for the first time after 36 years in 2016. In May and June, a severe drought affected North Korea. However, the limited 2013 agricul-tural reforms, avoided the outbreak of a real famine. A major crisis in inter-Korean relations was triggered by the explosion, in August, of two landmines in the southern side of the de-militarized zone. However, the two parts reached an agreement that, besides solving the landmines issue, paved the way for a new round of family reunions and a new series of high-level inter-governmental talks. 2015 saw the consolidation of the excellent relationship between Seoul and Beijing, highlighted both by the participation of South Korean President Park Geunhye – the only US ally – in the military parade that took place in early September in Tiananmen square, and by the signature, in December, of a bilateral Free Trade Agreement. Also the relations between South Korea and Japan improved significantly after almost three years of diplomatic freeze. The rapprochement materialized with a bilateral summit between the leaders of the two governments, in November, and with a historic agreement on the vexed issue of the «comfort women», signed on 28 December. This was welcomed by the US, which had made significant efforts to favour this result. There were also positive repercussions on the relations among the three Northeast Asia powers. 2015 was the year of North Korea President Kim Jong Un «missed debut» on the international scene. Although Kim was expected to take part in several important international events, this did not happen. Nonetheless Pyongyang further deepened the already positive relations with Russia. On the contrary, the difficult Sino-North Korean relations, after a moment in which they seemed headed for an improvement, remained strained. Regarding the relations with Japan, the deadlock on the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean secret agents in the 1970s and 1980s put an end to a timid improvement in the Tokyo-Pyongyang relations.

Barbara Onnis | University of Cagliari |

Marco Milani | Università di Bologna |

{{|Japan 2015: Confronting East Asia’s geopolitical game of go}}
Giulio Pugliese

This essay1 focuses on the mounting geopolitical tensions around the South China Sea so as to gauge Japan’s growing assertiveness in foreign and security policy there. It defines regional strategic interaction in 2015 along the lines of a «game of go» (known as go or igo in Japan, and as weiqi in China): China calmed the situation in the East China Sea in the face of Japan’s economic and military-diplomatic pushback, but it has refocused its energies to building massive constructions on disputed coral reefs and rocks in the South China Sea’s Spratly Islands. Key events of 2015 hinted at the insufficiently noted drivers behind Tokyo’s response to Chinese actions in the South China Sea. This study argues that the new US-Japan security guidelines and the Abe government’s security laws have sown the seeds for a progressive institutionalization of Japan’s higher military profile, because these norms granted the United States leverage vis-à-vis Japan. Finally, the essay analyzes the state of Sino-Japanese relations throughout 2015 to find little-appreciated conciliatory overtures that nonetheless clashed with progressively heightened military and constabulary activities. In that spirit, it analyzes the 14 August Abe Statement and accompanying exegesis in order to stress the Janus-face quality to the Sino-Japanese cold peace. In conclusion, the essay pits the logic of power politics against liberal theories of international relations to find that international economic initiatives in 2015 clearly favored strategic and geopolitical imperatives over economic considerations. The essay concludes with an assessment of regional stability, finding mounting turbulence in the short-to-medium term.

Giulio Pugliese | Heidelberg University & Pacific Forum CSIS Non-Resident Fellow |

{{|The Philippines 2014-2015: Domestic politics and foreign relations, a critical review}}
Salvador Santino F. Regilme Jr. & Carmina Yu Untalan

This article analyses some of the key issues in Philippine domestic politics and foreign policy during the years 2014 to 2015. The analysis is divided into two main parts. First, the article examines domestic politics from the lens of political corruption, President Aquino’s good governance programme, and electoral politics. Second, the article examines the principal patterns of power relations and key issues in regard to the Philippine government’s foreign policy and international diplomacy strategy — with a particular focus on bilateral relations with the United States, the rise of China and the territorial disputes, and regional economic integration in the context of the ASEAN. The main argument here is that the key patterns of domestic and foreign policies and strategies of the Philippine government under the Aquino administration reveal historically constituted shortcomings of the Philippine state in autonomously steering its own long-term development outcomes, primarily because of two factors: the internal struggles amongst various elite factions within the state-society nexus and the peripheral and US-centric roles that the country plays in the international system.

Salvador Santino F. Regilme Jr. | Northern Illinois University, USA; De La Salle University-Manila |

Carmina Yu Untalan | Osaka University, Japan |

{{|Indonesia 2015: The first year of the «People’s President»}}
Elena Valdameri

Joko Widodo’s election in 2014, after a long and harshly contested presidential race, raised great expectations: not beholden to the military and political elites of the Su-harto era, Indonesian people considered him a representative of new democratic forces vis-a-vis the deep-seated «New Order» legacy. Accordingly, 2015 was important to see the extent to which these great expectations would be fulfilled. Unfortunately, the new President’s record was a mixed one, as the hoped-for change, although not completely absent, was greatly constrained by Joko Widodo’s inability to overcome the resistance of the conservative forces, still well entrenched both in the opposition and inside the ruling coalition who exerted their sway against Widodo’s advanced pro-poor and reformist pro-gramme. In fact, the new President had to come to terms with these conservative forces, allying himself with at least some of the most influential politicians of the «New Order» Suharto era. Of course, this could not but adversely reflect on Joko Widodo’s credibility. To make things more difficult, Indonesia in 2015 continued to be characterised by strong internal tensions. These were caused by the persistent discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities, by the militarisation of the outermost region of West Papua, and by a comparatively new political development in Indonesia, namely the rise of radical forms of Islam, represented by domestic organisations which claimed to be linked to the murderous Middle Eastern Islamic State (IS). Given this back-ground, in 2015 Joko Widodo was unable to clearly take a firm stance on these issues, in spite of their potential danger of destabilisation. Finally, the global economic crisis represented a further considerable challenge for the new President who, in 2015, was unable to fulfil his electoral promise to free the largest economy in South East Asia from the slowdown which had begun during his predecessor’s (President Yudhoyono) last term.

Elena Valdameri | Asia Maior – An Italian think tank on Asia |

{{|Singapore 2011-2015: A tale of two elections}}
Stephan Ortmann

The electoral authoritarian regime of Singapore has experienced two very different general elections in 2011 and 2015. The first was a watershed election that allowed the opposition to capture the largest number of seats ever, including a group represen-tative constituency, which was once believed to be impossible. It had also fielded the most candidates ever, running in all but one constituencies. The latter, however, was a major setback for the opposition which had to suffer a significant reduction in the share of popular vote. As the ruling party won in a landslide, the opposition Workers’ Party even lost one seat that it had gained in a by-election in 2013. Opposition sup-porters, who had hoped to make additional gains, were devastated. Observers even saw in the election result a clear victory for the soft-authoritarian regime. This paper, however, argues that Singapore, in spite of the 2015 election, continues to be on the path to a fundamental political transformation. The majority of Singaporeans still wants a responsive government with sufficient checks on arbitrary power. The ruling party now has to be much more responsive to popular desires and quirks than in the past and can no longer act according to what it claims to be the long-term interests of the country. In addition, it is important to recognize that the 2015 election was conducted under extremely favorable conditions for the ruling party including Sin-gapore’s 50 year celebrations and the death of the «founding father» Lee Kuan Yew. Overall, this demonstrates that the ruling party’s hegemonic position is in decline while it remains to be seen how the ruling party will fare in the upcoming leadership transition amid growing challenges and the lack of a clear successor.

Stephan Ortmann | City University of Hong Kong |

{{|Malaysia 2015: Najib Razak’s hardest year}}
Stefano Caldirola

In 2015 Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s leadership was badly shaken by the eruption of a huge corruption scandal in July. This same scandal contributed to making the Malaysian economic outlook negative, while the national currency fell to an all-time low against the US dollar. This was accompanied by a massive protest movement (Bersih 4.0), aimed at forcing Najib’s resignation, a goal that, however, at least up to the time of writing, has not been reached. At the same time, clear signals of discontent towards Najib’s leadership started to become visible even within UMNO, the Prime Minister’s own party. In November the announcement was made that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement had been signed by the Trade Ministers of 12 countries, including Malaysia. As the TPP is considered an important aspect of the US strategy to counter China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific region, Malaysia’s presence among the TPP signatories highlighted its role as a US strategic partner in the region. That same role was highlighted once again by Barack Obama’s November visit to Kuala Lumpur, on the occasion of the US-ASEAN meeting. However, Malaysia’s behaviour vis-à-vis China, in the months before the TPP announcement, showed that Kuala Lumpur’s closeness with the US was qualified by the need not to enter on a collision course with Beijing. Although Malaysia too has been involved in the disputes pitting China against several ASEAN countries in the South China Sea, Kuala Lumpur’s protests against Beijing’s assertiveness have been particularly weak. Indeed, Malaysia appears to be trying to perform a kind of balancing act, trying to appease both the US and China. At the same time, Malaysia, as Chairman of ASEAN for 2015, maneuvered to moderate the more aggressive anti-China positions of some of the other ASEAN members.

Stefano Caldirola | University of Bergamo |

{{|Thailand 2015: Anxiety over the royal succession in the post coup 2014}}
Pavin Chachavalpongpun

The military staged a coup on 22 May 2014, overthrowing the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Outwardly, the military justified its political intervention with the classic claim that corruption was the rot of Thai politics and the coup was needed to purify the political domain. At a deeper level however, the military intervened at a time when a critical transition in Thai politics is on the horizon: the imminent royal succession. For decades, the traditional elites, of which the military is a part, have long dominated Thai politics. This changed with the arrival of the Shinawatras who set huge socio-economic changes in motion. They then took advantage to empower themselves politically, and in doing so, shook the old political structure. In today’s Thailand, the power struggle between elective and non-elective institutions is now reaching its peak because the era of King Bhumibol Adulyadej is closing. Haunted by anxiety over a future without the charismatic King, the traditional elites are vying to manage the royal succession and maintain their power position. The paper argues that the military government led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha is seeking to accomplish three missions: to reconstruct the electoral system that will benefit the traditional elites; to eliminate political enemies though the legal system, particularly the lèse-majesté law and other non-legal means; and to reinforce the position of the palace to ensure that the monarchy will continue to be at the centre of power in the post-Bhumibol days. It is unlikely that these undertakings will stabilise Thai politics, and as voters become alienated in the political process à la Prayuth, large-scale violent protests may be seen as unavoidable in order to restore democracy.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun | Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University |

{{|Cambodia 2015: 30 years of Hun Sen’s government and the progressive centralization of power}}
Nicola Mocci

In 2015 Cambodia celebrated the anniversary of 30 years of Hun Sen’s government. This article argues that this anniversary coincided with a crisis of hegemony of both the leadership and the Hun Sen’s government. During 2015 Hun Sen tempted to face the crisis without a precise strategy. The most important was the so called «culture of dialogue» with the opposition coalition and its leader Sam Rainsy. In a first stage this dialogue was unexpectedly fruitful, but after a few months was interrupted and the two parties plunged in the traditional clash. In terms of international relations, the Cambodian government has further strengthened its relations with China. The solid relationships with Beijing have allowed Phnom Penh an approach more assertive in respect of Vietnam and of others ASEAN members.

Nicola Mocci | University of Sassari |

{{|Vietnam 2014-2015: The strengthening of relations between Vietnam and the United States}}
Michela Cerimele

The strengthening of Vietnam-US relations in recent years has been one of the most interesting traits of the so-called US Pivot to Asia. Such a strengthening needs to be understood at the intersection between geopolitical and geo-economic factors and in triangulation with the rise of China. While in many regards the emerging of Vietnam as a privileged interlocutor of US attempts at «disciplining» China is a fascinating historical development, it also entails important elements of historical continuity. Interestingly, the evolution of Vietnam-US relations in the two years 2014-2015 – which have been characterized by important developments in both military, economic and political terms – show both faces of this coin. Going through these recent evolutions is a particularly fascinating exercise in light of the series of historically significant anniversaries that marked 2015.

Michela Cerimele | University of Naples L’Orientale |

{{|Myanmar 2015: Political turning point, economic and social challenges}}
Pietro Masina

The year 2015 will be remembered as a watershed in the political evolution of Myanmar. After 5 years of semi-civilian government, the country was allowed to hold free elections for a new national parliament and regional assemblies. In No-vember, the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi won by a landslide obtaining almost 80% of votes throughout the country, including in ethnic states in which it scored much better than expected. The incumbent Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) – the party created by the army – suf-fered a crushing defeat: it got only 8% of the votes, while many party leaders had hoped it would get up to one third of the national popular vote. The scale of the NLD victory will allow it to choose the new president and to form the new go-vernment. However, the constitution approved by the outgoing military regime has created a number of important obstacles to real regime change. First, the Tatmadaw (the army) will continue to nominate 25% of parliamentary members and will have the power to veto constitutional changes. Second, the Tatmadaw will continue to appoint the ministers of Defence, Border Affairs and Home Affairs. This implies that the army will maintain control of the police as well as of the General Admini-stration Department, which forms the backbone of the administration at the local level. Third, a clause in the constitution prevents the election of Aung San Suu Kyi to the presidency, thus confronting the NLD with two equally risky choices, ei-ther selecting a non-entity as president, potentially damaging the reputation of the NLD, or endangering the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi by choosing a capable politician for the state’s highest political office. The limits imposed to far-reaching political change help to explain why the army accepted the transition and immedia-tely recognized the electoral results. The complexity of the political and institutional transition is bound to cause con-tinuing difficulties in addressing the main national challenges. A ceasefire with eight ethnic armies reached in October 2015 was an important result, but the ethnic conflict remains rampant. Political and ethnic tensions in Rakhine state between the Buddhist majority and Muslim minorities have become particularly severe, and the dramatic conditions of the Rohingya produced an international crisis in spring 2015. To a very large extent, these ethnic conflicts are the result of both the conditions of poverty in which the large majority of the population live and the political, cultural and economic suppression of ethnic minorities since national independence.

Pietro Masina | University of Naples «L’Orientale» |

{{|Bangladesh 2015: The emergence of radical Islam}}
Marzia Casolari

The main issues that shaped Bangladeshi politics in 2015 were the emergence of radical Islamic terrorism, the continuation of the trial related to the war crimes com-mitted by pro-Pakistan organizations during the 1971 war of independence, the con-tinuation of the Rana Plaza case, and the positive evolution of the bilateral relations with India. It is difficult to define the dividing line between the domestic and IS-related roots of the wave of political violence which engulfed the country in the year under review. But it is a fact that in 2015 Bangladesh was wracked by continuous attacks against exponents of civil society, Christians, and foreigners. In 2015 the targets of and strategy behind political violence changed. Unlike in 2013, when political violence reached heights unprecedented since 1971 and was aimed mostly at political activists and agents of law enforcement, in 2015 violence was directed mainly against common people, including children. The dimensions of political unrest were such as to make many analysts fearful of there being serious adverse consequences for the promising Bangladeshi economy. The mas-sive infrastructure investments in 2015 had a setback and foreign investors withdrew from Bangladesh’s industrial sector. However, in 2015 Bangladesh maintained its approximately 6% GDP growth rate. Ties with India were strengthened, in spite of the misgivings caused by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s anti-Bangladeshi statements during his 2014 electoral campaign.

Marzia Casolari | University of Turin |

{{|India 2015: The uncertain record of the Modi government}}
Michelguglielmo Torri & Diego Maiorano

Narendra Modi’s 2014 election generated enormous expectations in the economic sphe-re. However, in 2015, on the one hand, Modi was unwilling or unable to push through any «big bang» reforms; on the other hand, jobs generation – one of Modi’s key electo-ral promises – proceeded at an excruciatingly slow pace. At the macroeconomic level, the Indian GDP grew by 7.3% during 2014/15, making India the fastest growing among the major economies. However, these data were the result of a new methodo-logy, and most economists, including some politically close to the Modi government, were uncertain about its reliability. Moreover, when applied to the previous years, the new methodology unequivocally showed that the positive turn-around in the economy had happened before Modi’s government came to power. The Indian economy was also severely affected by a deepening rural crisis. Some of its causes were beyond the reach of Modi’s government, but it is a fact that its response was disappointingly inadequate. Domestic politics was a constant source of difficulty for Modi. First, state elections in Delhi and Bihar dispelled the myth of the invincibility of the Modi – and Amit Shah – led BJP, which was soundly defeated by local outfits. Second, the government struggled to pass key legislation in Parliament, also thanks to the unexpectedly suc-cessful opposition of the Congress party. Finally, the most worrying development on the domestic front was the rise of intolerance against non Hindus, who were victims of Fascist-like, sometimes deadly, aggressions by Hindu outfits. This happened while the Prime Minister appeared basically unconcerned about the climate of growing violence and some members of his government went so far to openly justify this state of affairs. The aim of Modi’s foreign policy was projecting India as a major power on the world stage and getting all the possible foreign help in promoting India’s economic deve-lopment. To this end, India’s foreign policy was articulated along two main axis: the India-US connection and the India-China connection. In turn, the latter had two faces: engaging China and containing China. At the end of the day, the India-US connection was high on hype but low on content, among other reasons because the US business community, after its initial enthusiasm for Modi, had come to perceive him as well intentioned but unable to further liberalise the Indian economy. India’s economic en-gagement with China brought about the signing of several MoUs and China’s promise to invest in India. However the concrete fall-out of all this was limited. More concrete

Michelguglielmo Torri | University of Turin |

Diego Maiorano | University of Nottingham |

{{|Sri Lanka 2015: The downing of a new era?}}
Danila Berloffa

At the beginning of the year under review, the Opposition common candidate, Mai-thripala Sirisena, emerged as the winner of the January presidential election. The new Presidency brought with it the promise of a new political phase, characterised by the restoration of both democratic institutions and the rule of law, seriously eroded during the previous ten year long Rajapaksa’s presidencies. However, the shift of power at the presidential level was not immediately accompanied by an analogous shift in the Parliament, which at first precluded the possibility of a wide-ranging change of policies. Nevertheless, the Sirisena administration was able to tackle at least some of the most compelling issues affecting the country, in particular by limit-ing the extensive powers attributed to the Presidency by Rajapaksa in 2010. Despite this and other unquestionably positive political developments, other critical matters – among which the heavy militarization of the Northern region, the maintenance of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act and some restrictions on media freedom –were left unsolved. In foreign policy, the shift was substantial, resulting in the cooling down of relations with Beijing and in a new closeness between Colombo and both New Delhi and, par-ticularly, Washington. This realignment involved on the one hand the interruption of numerous Chinese funded infrastructural projects in Sri Lanka, and, on the other hand, a dramatic shift in the United Nations Human Right Council (UNHRC) attitude towards Sri Lanka. The UNHRC had previously issued three resolutions, sponsored by Washington, harshly criticizing the war crimes occurred in Sri Lanka during the long and gory 1986-2009 civil war. However, in October 2015, a new UNHRC issued resolution on the same topic saw the involvement of Sri Lanka in its drafting, which, not surprisingly, took into account the Sirisena administration demands and needs. From an economic standpoint, the year under review opened on a rather bleak situa-tion, to which the government reacted by promoting an expansive policy. Although not devoid of positive results, this policy brought about a surge in the debt and a worsen-ing of the balance of payments. After the parliamentary election held in August, which saw the victory of the pro-Sirisena political forces, the resulting new government launched a novel economic policy, presented by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesing-he in his 5 November speech. Wickremesinghe outlined a «Third Generation Reforms Plan» made up by a complex set of socio-economic reforms which, while beingmain-ly congruent with neo-liberal orthodoxy, nevertheless included numerous provisions aimed at promoting the economic welfare of the lower social strata. The budget, pre-sented on 20 November, reflected this dual aspect. At the end of the year, in spite of the many continuing difficulties, the Sri Lankan economy still managed «a respectable growth», exemplified by a full year GDP increase equal to 4.8%.

Danila Berloffa | Asia Maior - An Italian think tank on Asia |

{{|Pakistan 2015: Domestic and foreign policy challenges}}
Marco Corsi

In Pakistan, the period under review (January–December 2015) was characterised by the overall stable rule of the Nawaz Sharif-headed government of the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz) of the Prime Minister. The main challenge to the Nawaz Sharif government was the internal militancy. The cruelty of the 2013 attack on an army-run school in Peshawar that killed 149 people, including 132 children, had started what appeared to be a watershed moment in the savagery of domestic terrorism. In the period under review, a clear message was sent by the Pakistani in-stitutions to the perpetrators of the deadly assault and to the militancy in the country at large: zero tolerance and no more safe havens allowed in Pakistan or Afghanistan. The special measures taken to fight the militants represented a change of direction after the initial tendency of the Nawaz Sharif government to engage in dialogue with the fighters operating in the North West areas of the country. A similar iron-fist approach was taken by the military-led paramilitary forces in its effort to fight the violent crime affecting Karachi, the country’s most populous city. This policy, however, triggered political instability, as the strongest political party in town was the main target of the crackdown. Developments in Pakistan-China bilateral relations led to the formalisation of an im-portant economic agreement for the creation of a trade corridor linking China to the port of Gwadar in Balochistan. The strategic implications of the accord can be better understood in the context of the announced disengagement of the United States from Afghanistan. Moreover, the agreement contributes to explaining Islamabad’s decision not to support militarily its traditional ally Saudi Arabia in its campaign against Houthi rebel fighters in Yemen. Overall stable bilateral relations between Pakistan and India at the highest diplo-matic level did not prevent tensions from escalating on the international border in Jammu and Kashmir, where exchanges of fire and civilian casualties were reported, beginning in the summer of 2015.

Marco Corsi | Asia Maior – An Italian think tank on Asia |

{{|Afghanistan 2015: The national unity government at work. Reforms, war, and the search for stability}}
Diego Abenante

The end of the Karzai era and the establishment of a coalition government were the most important events of 2015 in Afghanistan. After the disputed 2014 presidential election, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah signed an agreement for the formation of a government of national unity. On this basis, Ghani took office as President, while Abdullah was appointed Chief Executive Officer, a position that corresponds roughly to that of a prime minister. Despite high expectations, the government faced enormous difficulties because of the disagreement between the two leaders. This division also cha-racterized the reform agenda, which was an integral part of the 2014 deal. Ghani and Abdullah pledged to change the electoral system and to reform the Constitution. However, the two leaders have found themselves in disagreement on the contents of the reforms, particularly in relation to the electoral system. The dispute has therefore caused a climate of political uncertainty. Meanwhile, the military situation has deteriorated because of the intensification of the offensive of the Taliban. The military mission «Re-solute Support» has seen the international forces reducing their activity to a consulting and training role. This has highlighted the weakness of the Afghan National Army. However, in mid-2015 the Taliban faced an unexpected internal crisis, with the death of their leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar. With regard to foreign relations, Ghani successfully sought to re-establish positive relations with the United States, and vigo-rously pursued the peace process. The two main changes in this regard were the search for a direct approach with Pakistan and the formal inclusion of China – along with the United States – in what has become the «Quadrilateral Approach» to the peace process. Finally, this essay summarizes the evolution of the Afghan economy, which appears once again to be conditioned by the uncertain political framework and by the negative effects of reduced foreign military presence, despite an improvement in tax revenue.

Diego Abenante | University of Trieste |

{{|Kyrgyzstan 2015: A country adrift}}
Matteo Fumagalli

In August 2015 Kyrgyzstan completed the accession process to the Eurasian Eco-nomic Union (EEU). Bishkek now firmly gravitates in Russia’s orbit. In October parliamentary elections returned a six-party national assembly, where the president, Almazbek Atambayev, could count on a strong pro-presidential power base, consisting of the «president’s party», the Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), and the new «Kyrgyzstan» party. Suggesting that Kyrgyzstan is a country adrift might appear counter-intuitive. However, the impression resulting by an in-depth analysis is that the Central Asian country’s political system and society are presently floating, without trajectory or leadership. In fact, the government has been unable to resolve the never-ending controversy over the Kumtor gold mine. The authorities are also showing signs of preoccupation due to the threat posed by the Islamic State (IS). This being the situation, the chapter reviews two economic issues that largely shaped political and social developments in 2015: the first is the accession to the Eurasian Union and the effects that the economic crisis in Russia had on the Kyrgyz economy. The second is the turbulence surrounding Kumtor. Next, the chapter analyzes the results and effects of the October parliamentary elections. The remainder of the chapter focuses on some controversial legislative initiatives and concludes by discussing the threat posed by the IS to Kyrgyzstan.

Matteo Fumagalli | Central European University |

{{|Turkmenistan 2015: Existing challenges to the permanent neutrality and the strategic development of the multivector energy policy}}
Fabio Indeo

As the country with the fourth largest natural gas reserves in the world, Turkmenistan is aiming to diversify its energy export routes in order to enhance its strategic role as an energy supplier. In 2015, this central Asian republic paved the way for the imple-mentation of the eastward and westward export corridors, starting the completion of the TAPI pipeline and completing the national East-West gas pipeline. Even while Turkmenistan confirmed its twenty-year adherence to permanent neutra-lity in its foreign policy, in the year under review President Gurbanguly Berdimuha-medow faced growing and dangerous threats along the Turkmen-Afghan border, re-presented by potential incursions of the Afghan Taliban or other armed groups, which could affect both Turkmenistan’s national stability and its domestic security. In this situation, and considering that Turkmenistan’s armed forces may not be ready to face this challenge along the eastern border, President Berdimuhamedow, in the year un-der review, reiterated Turkmenistan’s refusal to cooperate with Russia in the Collecti-ve Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) framework. However, unconfirmed reports have suggested that Uzbek and Russian military units have already been engaged along the Turkmen-Afghan border, reinforcing Turkmenistan’s border defence capa-city. Likewise, according to some sources, military cooperation between Turkmenistan and the US appear to be in the offing.

Fabio Indeo | Hanyang University, Seoul |

{{|Iran 2013-2015: In the midst of change}}
Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi & Claudia Castiglioni

Iran has gone through great changes in the past two and a half years. After Has-san Rouhani’s election in June 2013, the country has reached a deal with the P5+1 (the permanent five members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) that promises to bring an end to the twelve-year old dispute over its nuclear program. Consequently, Iran has managed to improve its international ties, engaging in direct talks with the United States, resuming diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom, and attracting an increasing number of political and trade delegations to Tehran from all over the world. In the aftermath of the nuclear agreement, Iran has then focused on regional issues and, by securing a seat at the Syria peace talks in Vienna, has been recognised as «part of the solution» to solving current crises in the Middle East. This successful record on foreign policy issues, however, has not been matched by deve-lopments on the domestic front. Despite rising expectations by the Iranian populations after Rouhani’s advent to power, particularly with regard to political and social freedom and to the improvement of the economic situation of the country, the current government has not managed to achieve its stated goals. Starting from these premises, the present chapter explores the major changes introduced by Rouhani and his Cabinet in the past two years in the social, economic, political, and diplomatic sphere. In so doing it ad-dresses the complexities of Iran’s political system and power hierarchy, most notably the relation between President Rouhani and the Supreme Leader Khamenei, the impact of the nuclear deal on the domestic front, the frustrations voiced by the reformists, and the recent hardliners’ attempted comeback to the Iranian political scene.

Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi | Royal United Services Institute |

Claudia Castiglioni | University of Florence |