The Globe as you know it is changing.
Coming June 2019

  • More thought-provoking stories that inspire
  • Independent, free and member-supported
  • Vote for, pitch and commission stories
  • Member engagement with our journalists

To understand more about why you are so important to our member-supported initiative, we encourage you to read the following from our managing editor ~ Read more

The Globe as you know it is changing.

Since 2007, Southeast Asia Globe has been a space for some of the region’s best writers and photographers to take our readers behind the headlines into the stories that shape people’s lives. Every month, you could expect to pick up our latest print edition and find high-quality journalism, analysis and artwork waiting on every page. And since 2007, we’ve fought to uphold our promise of quality and independence to you, our readers.

But, like we said, the world is changing. Print publications just aren’t reaching the audiences they need to fulfil their promise of informing, educating and entertaining the public. Advertisers continue to invest in digital platforms while printing costs creep ever higher. Print may not be dead, but it’s fighting for its life. And we’re tired of waiting by a sickbed for its condition to improve. We want to be present at the birth of something new.

That’s why Southeast Asia Globe is relaunching as a member-driven platform featuring daily long-form features combining world-class journalism with enthralling art design and data-centered tech. Through our core pillars – Power, Money, Life and Earth – we are focusing in on the central issues that our readers have always engaged with most, with the same in-depth coverage of politics, business, social affairs and the environment that you’ve come to expect since 2007.

But leaving print behind us doesn’t just save our backs from lugging stacks of magazines across Southeast Asia. It opens up a global readership who don’t just want to read the news, but have a say in the stories that we tell and the way that we tell them. We’re not asking you to take out another magazine subscription – our stories are open to all. What we’re offering our members is a space where they can pitch and vote on the stories that they think deserve to be told. We want to inspire an engaged and active community of members who vote for, comment on and contribute to the stories that matter most to them. We want to work with our members to curate the way they engage with the news – not just as readers, but as an active extension of our editorial team.

That’s how we’re changing to bring you great stories. Here’s how we’re not.

We’re independent. Always have been, always will be. We’re not owned by any corporation or aligned with any state. We choose the stories that we tell, and the way that we tell them.

We’re creative. We’re not interested in churning out breaking news stories on the hour, every hour. We believe that the best stories are the ones that come alive on the page, digging deeper into the issues that shape Southeast Asia – and bringing you along for the ride. From our dedicated designers to our new software development team, our commitment is to constantly challenge ourselves to find new ways of reaching out to our readers.

We’re open. Challenging governments, NGOs and businesses to be transparent with the public means nothing if we keep our own readers in the dark. That’s why we will be completely open about why we tell the stories that we tell – and how we pay for them. Work with us to build something that endures where many media fail, and decide with us exactly where that money is going.

Above all, we’re optimistic. And yeah, we know what you’re thinking. Faced with impending climate collapse, the rise of right-wing authoritarian governments across the world, widening wealth and income inequality and deepening divisions rooted in race or gender or creed, it’s hard not to open the papers and feel the weight of the world pressing down. But we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t believe that when people work together, they can make their little corner of the world a more just, open and equal place.

And that’s why we can’t do this without you. We believe that across the globe is a community of people who care deeply about social justice, environmental action and press freedom – and who will join in to help make those ideals a reality. We’re not just holding our hand out – we need your voice to play a vital role in building Southeast Asia Globe into a leading space for progressive causes in the region. Tell us what stories the mainstream media is missing. Share with us the causes that matter most to you, and how we can champion those causes not just across Southeast Asia, but the world.

Our vision is clear. By 2025, we want to be recognised for building a great space for outstanding journalists from across the region to explore new ways of telling Southeast Asia’s most vital stories. Let’s bring together a community of engaged and loyal members who want to help reshape the media rather than just read it. And we want to reach a point where our readers, not advertisers, are the ones working to support our shared vision of an inclusive media.

We can’t do this without you. Let’s get together and build something that we all believe in.

If you’re interested in joining us, sign up to our newsletter, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter. And watch this space.

A look at Russia’s own ‘pivot to Asia’

By: David Hutt - Posted on: September 16, 2016 | Current Affairs

Barack Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ has been snatching all the headlines, but Russia embarked on a pivot of its own well before the US

A Russian-made aircraft performs at a Moscow air show in 2015
A Russian-made aircraft performs at a Moscow air show in 2015. Photo: EPA/Sergei Chirikov

The right to bear arms

When Asean foreign ministers gathered in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in May for the first Russia-Asean summit on Russian soil, it was supposed to mark a new chapter in their relationship, rather than the last-ditch act of a liaison neither side has worked to maintain. But after two decades of the Asean-Russia Dialogue Partnership – which the summit was to commemorate – and six years after President Vladimir Putin announced Russia’s ‘Turn to the East’, the question of failure arises.

Anton Tsvetov, a Southeast Asia researcher at the Russian International Affairs Council, a Moscow-based think tank, might be excused for his subtlety when he said: “Among the Moscow foreign policy community, there is still no consensus over whether there has been any fundamental success to the Asia-Pacific pivot at all for the last decade.” In fact, there has been limited success, at least for Russia’s dealings with Southeast Asia.

Granted, Russia has seen a boost in its arms sales to the region. Vietnam now imports 90% of its military hardware from Russia, including submarines, frigates, SU-30 fighter jets and defence missile systems. In 2010, Myanmar ordered 20 MiG-29 fighters and 20 military helicopters from Russia. And last September, Indonesia ordered three submarines.

Russia’s other great export, energy, has also garnered regional interest. In 2012, the state-owned Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation secured a contract to build two nuclear power plants in Vietnam, the country’s first, which are expected to be finished by 2024. What’s more, overall trade between Russia and Asean grew fivefold between 2005 and 2014.

Yet bilateral trade amounted to just $21.4 billion in 2014, or 1% of the bloc’s external trade, making Russia its 14th largest trading partner. And in terms of investment, Russia accounted for just 0.2% of funds flowing into Asean between 2012 and 2014. Of the $698m it spent in the region, $420m went to Vietnam.

Ian Storey, senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, concluded in a 2015 report that Russia is a “very minor player” in the economy of Southeast Asia. “For Southeast Asia, there is little substance to Russia’s ‘Turn to the East’.”

Putin’s eastward expansion was motivated by necessity, not choice, despite the fact that three-quarters of Russia lies east of the Ural Mountains. In 2010, Moscow was forced to search for economic alternatives as the global financial crisis dented the country’s economy and falling oil prices put its biggest asset at risk. The eastward shift was hastened in 2014 as the Ukraine crisis soured Russian ties with the EU which, along with the US, imposed punishing sanctions in retaliation.

Russia looks east

But Southeast Asia was not Russia’s first choice – far from it. “Moscow’s Asia rebalance started with a push toward China,” said Tsvetov, “[but] immediately there was concern domestically – and some schadenfreude internationally – that this would bring Russia to an unequal and unbalanced partnership with Beijing… So it became very important to demonstrate that the pivot is not just about China.”

Japan and India were the next logical options, as two of Asia-Pacific’s largest economies. Relations with Japan warmed slightly, but it had supported fellow G7 members in imposing sanctions and bad blood flared over the Kuril Islands, over which both countries claim sovereignty. As for India, little progress was made, chiefly because its government is seeking closer ties with the US.

So, Russia turned to Southeast Asia. But, as Tsvetov said, “getting closer to Southeast Asia is not an easy thing to do for Russia. The foundations of the relations are really strong only in the case of Vietnam, while for other countries Moscow lacks a positive history of relations, though there is very little negativity as well.”

Consider this statement: “Modest attempts to open up trade with various countries of Southeast Asia were stymied by the paucity of Russian goods to be exchanged, the inadequacy of the Russian merchant fleet, and, perhaps, most seriously, an absence of the entrepreneurial spirit. But one must also remember that Russia was a latecomer to Southeast Asia; all the territories had been either taken or divided into spheres of influence.”

It could have been written today, but it is a description of Russia’s ‘turn’ to Southeast Asia in the 19th century, as penned by a reviewer of M.G. Kozlova’s Russia and the Countries of Southeast Asia. To stretch the historical comparison further, in his book Kozlova suggests that Southeast Asia was low in Russia’s interests, far behind China and Japan. As the 19th century gave way to the 20th, and Tsarism to Communism, little changed. The only anomaly was Vietnam, a situation that remains unchanged today.

“Superficial at best”

Still, Russia’s few historical ties in Southeast Asia could have been countered by diplomatic intensity. In 1996, Russia become a ‘Dialogue Partner’ of Asean, and, with the US, joined the East Asia Summit in 2011. There have now been three Russia-Asean summits: in Kuala Lumpur in 2005, Hanoi in 2010, and Sochi this year. However, “Russia’s engagement with Asean has been superficial at best,” wrote Storey. Its preference for dealing with states rather than multinational institutions is doubly prohibitive; it has fewer relations with state actors in the region than with forums and institutions, of which it does not participate as fully as it could. President Barack Obama, for example, has attended four East Asia Summits. Putin has attended none.

Russia’s ‘pivot’ to Asia is a good example of actions being judged by reputation, and not the other way around. The Russian government would be hard-pressed to come up with more self-aggrandising language than Harry B. Harris Jr, commander of the US Pacific Command, who told a Senate panel earlier this year that the Asia-Pacific region is witnessing “an increasingly revanchist and assertive Russia”.

A submarine made by Russia for Vietnam is released into the sea south of Hanoi
A submarine made by Russia for Vietnam is released into the sea south of Hanoi. Photo: VNA/Xinhua Press/Corbis

The pundits Southeast Asia Globe spoke to were quick to write this off. “Russia is much more like a country that supports the regional order [in Asia-Pacific] than one going to overthrow it,” said Ekaterina Koldunova, associate professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations’ Department of Asian and African Studies. “Russia is not interested in being a real security factor in the Asia-Pacific,” added Vitaly Kozyrev, associate professor of political science and international studies at Endicott College, in the US.

Many have noted the rise of Russia’s military. Putin pumped more than $650 billion into the armed forces in 2010 as part of a decade-long scheme of modernisation and, today, it is estimated to have the world’s third-largest defence budget, behind China and the US. And, in 2014, Russia secured a deal with Vietnam to allow its Pacific Fleet to access the military facilities at Cam Ranh Bay. From there, Russia’s nuclear-capable TU-95 bombers patrol waters near Japan and the US island territory of Guam. Yet Russia does not appear to be trying to conquer territory or win back lost allies. Nor does it intend to offset the hegemony of the US and China in the region.

“Southeast Asian countries would have probably wished to see Russia as a third centre of power in the region to counterbalance the other two. This was the logic of inviting Russia to the East Asian Summit in 2010 along with the US,” said Koldunova. “However, so far, Russia is trying to keep neutrality in all cases when US-China contradictions aggravate regional problems.”

Indeed, Russia would prefer to sell arms and fighter jets to Southeast Asian governments than use them here. It has made few antagonising comments about US power in the region, compared to, say, its rhetoric about US interests in the Middle East or Eastern Europe. And on the South China Sea issue, Russia has been deftly silent. This has much to do with the fact that its two most important allies in Asia-Pacific are China and Vietnam – historic enemies and contemporary rivals over islands in the disputed waters – and Russia is keen to avoid offending either.

Russia’s global standing

But why is Russia so timid in Asia-Pacific when it is not elsewhere?

In his new book, 2017 War with Russia, former Nato deputy commander Richard Shirreff predicts a conflict between Russia and the West within the year. Russia will invade the Baltic states, first Latvia, and threaten a nuclear attack if Nato responds, he posits, under an “aggressive and opportunistic” Putin who aims to “make Russia a great power again”.

Putin has shown little aggression in Asia-Pacific, however. Instead, he is being opportunistic, using the region as a vehicle to improve Russia’s global standing. The ‘turn’ to Southeast Asia is little more than a PR stunt.

“Russia will be mostly interested in projects that generate significant propaganda value, supporting the narrative of Russia as a global, economically successful power that is conducting a comprehensive rebalance towards Asia,” wrote Tsvetov.

Because Russia’s interest in Southeast Asia is chiefly superficial, its relationships lack conviction and are, instead, composed of rhetoric and future promises. And the message is not designed for the people of Southeast Asia, but rather, the West. Russia’s ‘Turn to the East’ is a misnomer – at a glance it is a twist of the head to the east, but with the eyes still firmly staring westward.

According to Storey, if tensions are resolved in Europe, “Russia’s Western-centric elite [will] resume normal interaction with Europe and America and turn its back on Asia”.