Ear to Asia

by Asia Institute, The University of Melbourne

On Ear to Asia, we talk with Asia experts to unpack the issues behind news headlines in a region that is rapidly changing the world. Ear to Asia is produced by Asia Institute, the Asia research specialists at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Podcast episodes

  • Season 2024

  • How China safeguards its interests amid conflict in Myanmar

    How China safeguards its interests amid conflict in Myanmar

    With escalating military conflict between Myanmar's ruling junta and various ethnic armed organisations (or EAOs) in recent months, China is pursuing a delicate balancing act along their shared 2200 km border, juggling its economic interests, security concerns, and regional reputation. While Beijing has traditionally supported the junta, recent events have signalled the limits of such backing as the regime appears to weaken. In Northern Shan State, a region with a rich tapestry of ethnic groups and militias – many at odds with the central government – China has attempted to position itself as a mediator, convening peace talks and exerting pressure on various factions. Meanwhile, reverberations of the unrest have been felt across the border in China's Yunnan Province, impacting trade, border security, and prompting calls for a potential Chinese security presence in Myanmar. So what’s really at stake for China as events in Myanmar become increasingly uncertain? How much do Beijing’s aspirations in the region rely on continued support for the ruling junta? And what constructive role, if any, could Beijing play in a more peaceful future for Myanmar? Jason Tower, Myanmar country director for the United States Institute of Peace, and Dr Pascal Abb, China foreign policy analyst at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt, examine the intersection of Myanmar's fate and China's interests with Ear to Asia host Sami Shah. An Asia Institute podcast. Produced and edited by profactual.com. Music by audionautix.com. Further reading Transnational Crime in Southeast Asia: A Growing Threat to Global Peace and Security https://www.usip.org/publications/2024/05/transnational-crime-southeast-asia-growing-threat-global-peace-and-security Road to Peace or Bone of Contention?: The Impact of the Belt and Road Initiative on Conflict States https://www.prif.org/en/publications/publication-search/publication/road-to-peace-or-bone-of-contention Do regime differences shape developmental engagement? How China and Japan compete in post-coup Myanmar https://blog.prif.org/2023/12/20/do-regime-differences-shape-developmental-engagement-how-china-and-japan-compete-in-post-coup-myanmar/ Myanmar’s Collapsing Military Creates a Crisis on China’s Border https://www.usip.org/publications/2024/04/myanmars-collapsing-military-creates-crisis-chinas-border

  • The geopolitics of undersea cables in the Indo-Pacific

    The geopolitics of undersea cables in the Indo-Pacific

    Undersea cables underpin global communication and the digital economy, with between 95-99% of data for international banking, e-commerce, video calls, and intelligence sharing travelling via these largely hidden transoceanic routes. However, this critical multi-billion-dollar infrastructure faces increasing risks from shipping accidents, natural disasters, geopolitical tensions, and sabotage threats. Meanwhile, in the Indo-Pacific region US-China tech competition is leading to a fragmented cable network with contrasting standards and governance models. Great power competition is forcing Southeast Asian nations into making political choices over what should be engineering decisions. So how are nations navigating this difficult balancing act and what role should regional frameworks play? And with digital data flows rising sharply, what steps are needed to enhance the resilience and protection of undersea cables? Maritime security researchers Elina Noor from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Cynthia Mehboob from the Australian National University take a deep dive into the world of these ocean-spanning data conduits. With host Sami Shah. An Asia Institute podcast. Produced and edited by profactual.com. Music by audionautix.com.

  • As Vietnam scales the global value chain, what does it mean for its workers?

    As Vietnam scales the global value chain, what does it mean for its workers?

    Almost four decades since Vietnam abandoned Marxist central planning in favour of market socialism, Vietnam is now well integrated in the global supply chain and is an important manufacturing hub for labour-intensive industries like textiles, electronics, and even automobiles. The economic expansion -- powered by foreign investment and exports -- has reshaped Vietnam's labour market, creating higher-skilled jobs but also challenges like wage stagnation and worker abuse. For all the fanfare over investment dollars from the likes of Apple, Samsung, and Intel -- as well as a host of Chinese companies -- there are signs that the welfare of workers, both in terms of pay and working conditions, is far from a top priority. Meanwhile, restrictive policies around unionisation and dissent have served to hamper labour advocacy. So how to make sense of an uneven labour landscape overseen by a Communist party with long ties to workers? What can be done to ensure Vietnam’s workers truly benefit from the country’s hard-won place in the global value chain? And what can policymakers, businesses and civil society actors do better to protect the very people who underpin Vietnam’s economic future? Vietnam labour experts Prof Angie Tran from Cal State Monterey Bay and Dr Tu Nguyen from Asia Institute examine the often fraught labour relations in Vietnam with host Sami Shah. An Asia Institute podcast. Produced and edited by profactual.com. Music by audionautix.com. Further Reading Prof Angie Tran Ethnic Descent and Empowerment: Economic Migration Between Vietnam and Malaysia https://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/?id=p085277 Dr Tu Nguyen Law and Precarity Legal Consciousness and Daily Survival in Vietnam https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/law-and-precarity/CDA947232EBCB9E5392F6674095F8E1B

  • The outsized influence of the military in Pakistan’s politics

    The outsized influence of the military in Pakistan’s politics

    For the nearly eight decades since its founding, Pakistan has struggled to find a balance between civilian democratic governance and the power wielded by its armed forces. The military has directly ruled the country for almost half of its existence through coups d’etat and martial law. Even during periods of civilian rule, its influence has loomed large, often described as a "state within a state." The result has been a democracy where no prime minister has ever completed a five-year term. So what were the historical circumstances and power dynamics that elevated the military to such a dominant position? And does such an imbalance between civilian institutions and the military mean for Pakistan's democratic development and ability to create and enforce effective public policy today? Seasoned Pakistan watchers Dr Ayesha Jehangir from University Technology Sydney and Mosharraf Zaidi from Tabadlab, an Islamabad-based think tank, join presenter Sami Shah to examine Pakistan military's outsized presence in the political life of the South Asian nation. An Asia Institute podcast. Produced and edited by profactual.com. Music by audionautix.com.

  • Iran’s strategy of outsourcing warfare in the Middle East

    Iran’s strategy of outsourcing warfare in the Middle East

    For decades, Iran has skillfully employed a network of proxy militant groups across the broader Middle East to project power and advance its interests, while maintaining an impression of plausible deniability on the global stage. At its core lies a "forward defence" strategy: pushing away or pre-empting threats from Iranian soil. Yet while this approach prioritises security, it also carries risks. As conflict in the region has intensified in recent months with the Israel-Gaza war, we ask how much control Iran truly enjoys over these forces. How sustainable is outsourcing warfare via proxies? And what are the risks for Teheran of miscalculation, sparking a wider conflagration? Ear to Asia host Sami Shah is joined by Prof Shahram Akbarzadeh, Research Professor of Middle East & Central Asian Politics at Deakin University, and author of the 2023 book “Middle East Politics and International Relations: Crisis Zone” from Routledge. And also by international relations expert Dr Andrew Thomas, also from Deakin University. Andrew’s new book which relates to our topic is entitled “Iran and the West: A Non-Western Approach to Foreign Policy”, published by Routledge. An Asia Institute podcast. Produced and edited by profactual.com. Music by audionautix.com.