ASPI suggests

The world

It’s the end of an era in Japan—literally. This week, the 30-year Heisei Era came to an end with the abdication of Emperor Akihito, and the Reiwa Era began with his son Naruhito’s ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne. See CNN reporter Will Ripley’s short documentary series for more on the first emperor to abdicate in more than 200 years. There’s concern about a dwindling number of heirs in the world’s oldest continuing hereditary monarchy. Women aren’t currently allowed to inherit the throne, though a poll this week found that nearly 80% of the Japanese people would support a change.

Following Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido’s call for open rebellion against President Nicolas Maduro, thousands have taken to the streets. For what we know so far, see the New York Times, and for more on the history behind the crisis, The Strategy Bridge has you covered. While the rest of the world watches on, National Interest claims the US must intervene or face the challenge of millions of refugees fleeing to the American border. And DW analyses the impact the turmoil is having on Venezuelans.

Iran has threatened (yet again) to close the Strait of Hormuz—through which 20% of the world’s petroleum passes—due to renewed US sanctions. Al Jazeera examines what the consequences of shutting the Strait would be [25:15]. The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article outlining the impacts on the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the US as the kingdom looks to boost its oil output in response to the sanctions on Iran. Here are some BBC charts illustrating the effect the sanctions are having on Iran. Brookings looks into the many unanswered questions surrounding President Donald Trump’s goals in increasing the Iranian sanctions. See The Strategist for how the sanctions could lead to increased instability in the Middle East.

In this great New York Times piece, Ameena Hussein, a Muslim living in Sri Lanka, describes how the Easter bombings affected her life. Hussein questions why and how violent extremism began to take over in her Muslim community, one which is now facing ostracism from the wider Sri Lankan population. See Chatham House for the wider implications of the attacks on Sri Lanka.

The Council on Foreign Relations has all you need to know on the Russia – North Korea relationship following the meeting between the countries’ leaders and during which Russian President Vladimir Putin highlighted the importance of denulcearisation and Russia’s relevance in the Korean peace process. For analysis of what Putin actually wants from North Korea, see the National Interest.

For those with an interest in anthropology and archaeology, a jaw bone found on the Tibetan Plateau has been revealed to be 160,000 years old, proving that early humans—in this case, Denisovans—lived in the area long before previously thought.

If you haven’t yet caught the latest episode of Game of Thrones, avert your eyes now. Those of you who have seen it may be, like us, perplexed at some of the choices made by the defenders of Winterfell in trying, and coming ever so close to failing, to defeat the Army of the Dead. Examining everything from spectacularly poor use of airpower to confused defensive positioning and Custer-like cavalry charges, Wired has the tactical analysis of the battle you’re looking for.

Tech geek

There’s an interesting story on China’s growing naval capability and ambitions, including the rapid growth of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, and how it is set to eclipse the US Navy in the Western Pacific. With that in mind, an important report on how the PLA plans to wage ‘systems confrontation and system destruction warfare’ has been released by the RAND Corporation.

There are some challenges ahead for NASA in achieving the current goal of returning humans to the moon by 2024. Ars Technica published a really hard-hitting piece on problems with funding, congressional resistance to commercial solutions and internal NASA resistance to an accelerated timetable.

Sticking with space, and keeping with China’s plans, there was an important session of the US–China Economic and Security Review in Congress this week which went into depth on China’s strategic space ambitions.

And who says the US military doesn’t do pop culture? Three advanced software labs have sci-fi names: ‘Kessel Run’ in Boston and ‘Bespin’ in Montgomery, Alabama, are both of Star Wars fame, and ‘Kobayashi Maru’ in Los Angeles comes from Star Trek. What they do at these labs is highly classified … of course!

In aircraft news, Popular Mechanics has given us the first glimpse inside the cockpit of the B-2A Spirit stealth bomber, and the US Air Force’s F-35A has had its first combat operation over Iraq.

Finally, evidence has emerged that Russia may be using beluga whales to spy on NATO bases in Norway. But the Russians aren’t the only ones putting marine mammals to military work.

This week in history

On 30 April 1945, Adolf Hitler died. The Nazi leader committed suicide in his Berlin bunker as the Red Army took the city street by street. Hitler’s death has long been the subject of conspiracy theories, including that he fled to Argentina in a submarine, though last year French scientists published analysis of bone and dental records they say proves he did indeed die in 1945.


Human Rights Watch has released an interactive report on its findings that authorities in China are engaging in mass surveillance and detention of Muslims in Xinjiang with the help of an app. The app has been ‘reverse engineered’ to show that the illegal monitoring of legal behaviour is being used to target the people of Xinjiang. See how the app works here.

See this Al Jazeera documentary for a look at what happens after a mass shooting in the US. Fault Lines examines the impact on survivors and the families of victims once the immediate media attention and calls for ‘thoughts and prayers’ fade away. [26:00].


On History Hit, Dan Snow speaks to Alexandra Churchill, who’s looked through the UK’s Royal Archives to uncover the real role of King George V of Saxe-Coburg Windsor in World War I. [27:00].

In this two-part series, Planet Money investigates how Chilean economists who studied at the University of Chicago helped dictator Augusto Pinochet take their country from socialism to capitalism at a huge human cost. Part 1 [24:27], part 2 [27:27].


Sydney, 4 May, 2–3 pm, University of Sydney: ‘Islands, encounters and adaptations in the Pacific’. Register here.

Canberra, 7 May, 12.30–2 pm, Australian National University: ‘Asia’s economic outlook: what are the risks?’ Register here.

Melbourne, 9 May, 5.30–7 pm, University of Melbourne: ‘Xi Jinping’s counter-reformation and China’s new world order’. Register here.