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Asia Matters Podcast

Author: Asia Matters

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In Asia Matters Podcast, we go beyond the headlines with experts from around the globe to help explain what's shaping the region.
30 Episodes
China’s growing economic clout has seen its influence rise accordingly in major international institutions — and none more so than in the United Nations. For several years now, China has spoken of the UN as the most authoritative multilateral body in world affairs - and it's put its money where its mouth is, becoming the second-biggest contributor to the UN’s finances. Meanwhile, Chinese citizens have taken several leading roles in UN organisations. But China’s growing presence in the organisation has come during a period when the UN's focus has shifted in ways that seem to run counter to Beijing’s interests and beliefs - such as its increased willingness to intervene within countries to resolve conflict or protect human rights. And some of China's actions at the UN - like vetoing attempts to put more pressure on Syria's government -  have drawn heavy criticism from major Western powers, and raised questions about whether its approach to international relations conflicts with the UN’s developing conception of its own role in global affairs.To unpick some of these issues, Andrew is  joined by Professor Rosemary Foot, a senior research fellow in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford - and  Dr Courtney Fung, associate professor in International Relations at the University of Hong Kong.  For more on this episode, including a reading list, check out our website, where you can also give us feedback and subscribe to our mailing list.
China’s rulers have been setting out their goals for the country at their big annual political meetings in Beijing. This year’s event held special significance, with policy makers revealing their latest five-year plan for China’s economy, as well as their targets for the environment among a host of other issues.We are first joined by two experts to discuss the near-term results from the meetings, and how they assess the current health of China’s economy: Tao Wang, the Hong Kong-based chief China economist and Head of Asia Economic Research at UBS; and Jinny Yan, a managing director and chief China economist at ICBC Standard Bank in London. Later we discuss one of China’s most difficult long-term problems — wealth inequality. We talk to Scott Rozelle, who is a senior fellow and co-director of the Rural Education Action Program in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. Scott’s recent book, ‘Invisible China’, is a must-read on this topic, and the growing divide between rural and urban China. 
In this episode we turn to a part of the world we haven’t discussed before — the Pacific Islands. Stretching over a vast area covering some 15% of the earth’s surface, the region is home to diverse countries and cultures, from Papua New Guinea in the West to the Cook Islands in the east, taking in countries such as Fiji and the Solomon Islands, along with smaller nations such as Nauru and Palau. Problems, though, are stacking up. The COVID-19 pandemic is devastating the region’s economy. Meanwhile climate change has become a major security threat for the often low-lying Pacific Islands. What’s more the region has become yet another area of strategic rivalry between China, and the US and other Western nations — primarily Australia.Facing these strains, the unity of the Pacific Islands has started to unravel. Five member countries of the Pacific Islands Forum have recently quit the organisation in a dispute over who should take over as its Secretary General. To discuss these and other issues we are first joined by Samoan journalist and commentator Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson. Later we get perspectives from David Ward, the UK’s high commissioner to Samoa, who previously held a similar post in the Solomon Islands; and Jonathan Pryke, director of the Pacific Islands program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney and a long time researcher on the region.
After a year-long battle behind closed doors, Vietnam has a new political leadership. At its Congress, which finished on February 1st, the Communist Party selected a new Politburo to run the country for the next five years.  In this episode of Asia Matters we find out why the Party thinks a 76-year-old man with serious health problems is the best person to lead this rapidly changing society.More than a third of the Politburo are now men with a background in the security services. What does this tell us about the Communist Party’s intentions? And how will the leadership navigate Vietnam’s relations between the United States and China? What will the next five years bring for the country, and for its place in the wider Asia region?Our presenter for this episode is Bill Hayton, Associate Fellow with the Asia-Pacific Programme at Chatham House. His guests are Nguyen Phuong Linh, Vietnam analyst with Control Risks in Singapore and Nguyen Khac Giang, researcher at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.
"Our country was a bird that was just learning to fly. Now the army broke our wings," said one activist. "What was granted by the generals is now being taken back," declared another.It’s been a dramatic few days in Southeast Asian nation Myanmar - or Burma. The country’s military has seized power again, and arrested several of the country’s civilian leaders, including national figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi. Her party, the National League for Democracy, had won a convincing victory in elections last November.To those who used to live under Myanmar’s decades-long military dictatorship, it’s a hugely concerning turn of events. Of course, Myanmar’s democratically-elected civilian government, including Ms Suu Kyi herself, has come under intense criticism from overseas in recent years owing to the alleged genocide of the Rohingya minority in the country’s north west.The situation is obviously quite fluid, but we wanted to bring you analysis of these events and their background, and ask what next for Myanmar's relationship with the outside world following this dramatic move. Joining us to do so, we are pleased to have Dr. Champa Patel (@patel_champa), head of the Asia-Pacific programme at Chatham House; and Tin Htar Swe (@tinhtarswe), the BBC’s former Burmese editor and now an independent analyst based in London.
The US and India are the world's two biggest democracies - and the relationship between them is one  of the world's most important bilateral partnerships. In political, economic and security terms, the two countries have grown closer and closer over the past two decades, with the Trump administration hailing a period of "remarkable growth" in 2020. Of course, it's no coincidence that this convergence has happened as a third power - China - continues to increase its reach and influence in the wider region - a rise both the US and India would prefer to see contained. So with President-elect Biden set to take charge imminently, what does the future hold for the US-India alliance? How will his relationship with Narendra Modi shape the wider Asian region in the decades to come? To discuss all this, our inaugural episode of 2021 draws on the insights of two remarkable guests. Nirupama Rao, a former Indian foreign secretary who has also served as Indian ambassador to both the US and China, has had a ringside seat to all these developments.  She joins Raja Mohan, widely acknowledged as one of the most perceptive commentators around on Indian strategic affairs; he is a contributing editor for The Indian Express, and Director of the Institute of South Asian Studies in Singapore. Also joining us from Singapore is our guest host, journalist and writer James Crabtree, himself an India specialist, and an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.  For more on this episode, including a reading list, check out our website, where you can also give us feedback and subscribe to our mailing list.
Southeast Asia is becoming an increasingly important geopolitical battleground - and so this week, we put the region's complex relations with China in the spotlight. Although many ASEAN nations have deepened their economic ties with Beijing in recent years, there remains a fair bit of wariness towards China's expansion of interests in the region. And of course, responses vary dramatically among individual countries - with factors like historical experience, trade relations, and security dynamics all coming into play. From China's perspective, as it seeks to cement its status as a regional - and even global - superpower, its strategy in Southeast Asia is increasingly important. It recently pledged to 'deepen cooperation with ASEAN' and 'maintain peace and stability' - but can this be taken at face value? How will China's economic interests in the region interact with some of its security disputes there? And what does China's growing influence mean for the US in the Indo-Pacific? This episode is a collaboration with Chatham House’s Asia-Pacific programme. Our guest-host Bill Hayton is joined by Pon Souvannaseng from Bentley University, and The Diplomat website's Sebastian Strangio, to talk about how closer ties with China are being seen from within the ASEAN nations themselves. Then, to get a sense of what China's strategy in the region might be, we speak to Enze Han from the University of Hong Kong.  For more on this episode, including a reading list, please go to our website, where you can also give us feedback and subscribe to our mailing list.
It took a little longer than expected but we finally know who the next American president will be: Democratic candidate Joe Biden.  The Trump era is drawing to a close then, though some of his policies' repercussions in Asia may well last longer than their instigator. The heightened tensions with China, and his unprecedented one-on-one meetings with North Korea's Kim Jong-un, are perhaps the most memorable. His presidency was also characterised by a lack of engagement with regional multilateral forums like ASEAN. So what sort of situation will the future President Biden inherit in the region - what will he choose to change - or indeed what might he decide to keep? In this episode, we've partnered with the IAFOR research centre at Osaka University in Japan to investigate what the US election outcome means for East and South East Asia. We're joined by a stellar group of guests - from Seoul, Jaewoo Choo, professor of Chinese foreign policy at Kyung Hee University; from Jakarta, Dewi Fortuna Anwar, research professor at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences; and from London Yuka Kobayashi, who’s an assistant professor in China and International Politics at SOAS. For more on this episode, including a reading list, please go to our website, where you can also give us feedback and subscribe to our mailing list.
When Joko Widodo, widely known as Jokowi, became president of Indonesia in 2014, it completed a stunning rise for a political outsider who had spent much of his previous life running a furniture making company.With his mastery of retail politics and business know-how, Jokowi seemed set to cut through the bureaucracy and corruption that have bedevilled the development of Indonesia, one of the world’s most populous nations with around a quarter of a billion people.Six years on, and now into his second term as president, it’s time for a report card on Jokowi’s presidency. In this episode, we are joined by Ben Bland (@benjaminbland), a long time journalist and now director of the South East Asia programme at the Lowy Institute. Ben’s recently published book ‘Man of Contradictions’ charts Jokowi’s rise and assesses his presidency to date, explaining why he has disappointed so many expectations both at home and abroad. Later in the programme Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a former senior official and research professor at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, gives us the view from inside the country of why it has been so hard for Jokowi to achieve his goals. For more on this episode, including a reading list, please go to our website, where you can also give us feedback and subscribe to our mailing list.
This week's episode is a deep dive on a company that's transforming not just Asia, but arguably the entire global tech sector - Japan's Softbank. Even if you've never heard of Softbank, you'll have heard of the companies it's invested in - from Alibaba to Uber to Tiktok owner Bytedance - and more recently, and disastrously, US property firm WeWork. Phred Dvorak, a special correspondent with the Wall Street Journal in Tokyo, joins us to discuss the rise of the company and its charismatic founder, Masayoshi Son. Then we step back and look at Softbank's impact on the world with Steve Kaplan, professor of entrepreneurship and finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Like so many other companies Softbank has suffered big losses as the global economy reels from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. But with its $100 billion Vision Fund, set up three years ago with the backing of the Saudi Arabian government, Softbank looks set to remain a major force for years to come. As ever, let us know what you think - leave a review, or get in touch with us directly at And there's plenty more details and content on our website at the show (
In the second of our special editions recorded at the Association for Asian Studies' annual conference, we turn our focus to India. Our guest is Pratap Mehta (@pbmehta), one of the country's best-known public intellectuals, who's also the former president of the Centre for Policy Research. India has the world's second-highest coronavirus caseload and has been averaging 90,000 cases daily in recent weeks. So how has the pandemic changed Indian politics, both at the domestic and international level? What are the main challenges confronting Narendra Modi's government - or could these strange times even present it with new opportunities? As in other countries, in some areas the pandemic has not so much altered as revealed the way things really operate. India, long seen as a key democratic ally to the West, is grappling with internal issues of identity, belonging and justice; and externally, trying to carve out a place for itself in the post-pandemic global world order. Our guest presenter this week is Yuka Kobayashi, political scientist at SOAS in London.As ever, do let us know what you think of this episode - you can leave a review on your favourite podcast platform, and get in touch with us at And there's plenty more details and content on our website at the show (
South Asian countries are facing a double whammy -- the effects of the global pandemic and an increasingly urgent battle against pollution and the effects of climate change. The World Bank predicted in the spring that the region would suffer its worst economic performance in four decades this year. Severe flooding in recent weeks has further damaged prospects.In this episode, recorded as part of the annual conference of the Association for Asian Studies, we discussed these issues with two experts. Mushfiq Mobarak, a professor of economics at Yale University, has been advising the Bangladeshi and Nepalese governments on their response to the pandemic. And Yamini Aiyar, president and chief executive of the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, whose work has long focused on social policy and development.We talk about the policy dilemmas facing governments of countries for which lockdowns can have disastrous side effects, such as a breakdown of food supply chains and the wipe out of household incomes. And we discuss the longer-term impact the pandemic could have as governments divert resources from areas such as environmental protection to deal with rebuilding their economies.Let us know what you think of this episode! Leave a review on your favourite podcast platform and get in touch with us at Visit our website at for more details and content!
This week, we present - the inaugural Asia Matters Book Club episode. China has dominated the headlines this summer - and if you're looking for a good book to help you understand the country better, we have three excellent suggestions. The Wall Street Journal's Lingling Wei is back to talk through her new book, Superpower Showdown. Co-authored with her colleague Bob Davis, it's a detailed look at the US-China trade war and what its lasting effects on both countries might be. If you're not in the mood for current affairs, veteran journalist Michael Schuman's Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World, takes readers back thousands of years. As the name suggests, it's a rundown of the country's history as it's perceived in China itself, rather than by external observers. And finally Bloomberg Economic's chief economist Tom Orlik has written China: The Bubble That Never Pops, to explore the resilience of the modern Chinese economy. Despite years of dire warnings it's on the brink of collapse, it hasn't yet - but why?
This week, in a collaboration with the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, we turn our attention to Japan - specifically, its foreign policy. Against a backdrop of rising tensions between the US and China, what are Japan's priorities when it comes to managing its relations with the two countries? As the world's third largest economy, it holds considerable clout both within the Asia region and globally. But how can it best utilise this influence, and what does it perceive its role to be within a shifting world order?Andrew is joined by Akio Takahara, a law professor at Tokyo University and an adjunct fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs; and Yuka Kobayashi, a China and International Politics scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). 
The world is still very much in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic - but the blame game has already begun. China, where the virus was first reported last December, has been singled out by many countries as the culprit - or scapegoat, depending on your viewpoint. One major consequence of the scramble to apportion guilt has been a surge in anti-Asian sentiment, especially in the US. But how new is this phenomenon there? What are its roots, and how has it changed into what we see today? To discuss this, we're joined by Christine Yano, professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and President of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS). And we also speak to Jennifer Pan (@jenjpan), a political scientist at Stanford University, about her study on how anti-Chinese discrimination seems to boost support for the Chinese political system among Chinese students in the US. 
We often talk about geopolitics in terms of superpower competition - at the moment, particularly between the US and China. But where does this leave mid-sized countries like the UK? How should they respond to China’s already large and ever-growing influence over global affairs - do they need to pick sides, or is a more delicate balancing act required? Issues like Huawei and Hong Kong lend these questions a particular prominence in the UK at the moment, so this week we've invited two former British diplomats to debate them. Kerry Brown is Professor of Chinese Studies at King’s College London and an Associate Fellow at Chatham House; and Matthew Henderson is Director of the Asia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society. What does the UK's experience of dealing with China teach us about an emerging new world order? And most pressingly for the UK and countries like it - what leverage - if any - do middle powers have in it?
The pandemic-related lockdown continues in much of the world but in China they are getting back to work. That gives us a chance to look into a major scandal from the business world that’s come to light in recent weeks at a company called Luckin Coffee, once billed as China’s answer to Starbucks.The company, whose shares are listed in New York, shocked investors in April when it emerged it may have simply fabricated over $300 million of revenue last year.It’s an extraordinary story, with big questions not just for Luckin’s management but also the banks and accounting firms that backed it.This week, Andrew turns to Nana Li, research and project director for China at the Asian Corporate Governance Association and Jacky Wong (@jackycwong), a columnist at the Wall Street Journal, both in Hong Kong. We then speak to Catherine X. Pan-Giordano, who leads New York-based Dorsey & Whitney’s U.S.-China transactional practice. 
There was plenty to digest from China's coronavirus-delayed 'Two Sessions' (Lianghui) annual political gathering last week - so much so that we've got a bumper episode for you. The new national security law for Hong Kong is what's grabbed most of the headlines, but eyebrows were raised too by the absence of an annual growth target for the country, for the first time in many years. In the latest of our socially distanced podcasts, Andrew and Vincent are joined by guests from the UK, the Netherlands and China. Professor Shaun Breslin of the University of Warwick, and Professor Dingding Chen (@ChenDingding) of Jinan University in Guangzhou discuss the political fallout from the meeting. And then Dr Jue Wang (@JueWangLeiden) takes us through what the Lianghui revealed about China's economy, and how it's faring in a pandemic-stricken world. 
Welcome to another episode of Asia Matters, lockdown style.This week, Vincent and Andrew are joined by Courtney Fung (@CourtneyFung) of the University of Hong Kong and Rush Doshi (@RushDoshi) of the Brookings China Strategy Initiative in Washington, to discuss whether the pandemic really represents a moment for China to subvert the global order?Is this conversation more about Beijing’s readiness to usurp Washington’s leading role or the US’s inability to get its act together in this particular event? And are we too obsessed with the US vs China paradigm when speaking about this issue?Let us know what you think at We are also on Twitter, @AsiaMattersPod.
In the latest of our lockdown podcasts, we turn to Myanmar. Andrew and Vincent are joined by one of the country's best known historians and analysts, Thant Myint-U, for a wide-ranging discussion informed by his book The Hidden History of Burma. How has Myanmar fared so far in the coronavirus pandemic? What of the Rohingya, whose exodus from Rakhine state continues even amidst the pandemic? And did the West get Myanmar totally wrong because of Aung San Suu Kyi? If you've ever wanted to know more about Myanmar, this is the episode for you.
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