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Out of Breath

Inside our December 2019 issue: Cover Package, Dabate, Features, In Focus and Book Reviews

  • Letter from the Editors

    Despite the science, climate change remains for some a matter of faith; there are those who believe in it and those who do not. The same cannot be said about air pollution — especially in Asia. Of the world’s 100 most polluted cities, 99 are in Asia. The vast majority of those are in India and China, but even in Southeast Asia, the skies are annually choked by fires set to clear forests for oil-palm plantations and other commercial uses. Air pollution is a peril literally visible to Asians every day. Whether democratic or authoritarian, governments across the region are waking up to the challenge, if for no other reason than that their people are clamoring for solutions.

    To be sure, Asia’s air pollution problems — most of them, at least — are self-inflicted, the product of the breakneck, fossil-fueled growth that has catapulted the region into being the most economically dynamic in the world. Unfortunately, the trade-off between growth and clean air is still tilted toward policies that ensure faster growth at the lowest possible cost for energy inputs. Few political leaders are willing to sacrifice employment numbers in the short term for sustainable energy policies in the long run. As a result, the policy-making machinery kicking into gear from one country to another in Asia to address air pollution is centered around an awareness that the path forward will take time and will also, inevitably, involve cooperation with other countries in the region. Air recognizes no borders, so that pollution in one country often becomes pollution in another. Even nature itself is not immune to blame. The sand and fine dust that are annually swept eastward by winds from West Africa through the Middle East and Central Asia put at risk people across China, South Korea and Japan — and have been found as far away as California.

    In our cover package this issue, we look at the myriad air pollution problems faced by the major economies in the region, and how governments are responding. Progress is indeed being made, but the magnitude of the issues is daunting. But one thing is sure: As an increasing number of Asians literally choke for breath, governments themselves have little room left for failure.

    Elsewhere in this issue, our Features section looks at the emergence of the Indo-Pacific as a defining geopolitical concept and its implications; how the erratic diplomacy of the Trump administration risks losing both North and South Korea and undermining US interests in the region; the limited but important role the EU can play in maintaining stability on the Korean Peninsula; and the reason India at the last moment decided to opt out of the historic Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and what it will take to get New Delhi to reconsider.

    Our In Focus section looks at what Joko Widodo’s election to a second term as president of Indonesia will mean for the political and economic reform effort in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

    We devote our Debate section to the question of whether the US is losing influence in Southeast Asia to the benefit, ultimately, of China.

    Finally, our Book Review section, as always, highlights some of the best works on the region.


    Sincerely yours,


    Chung-in Moon



    David Plott

    Managing Editor

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