The Thai Trump?

Sam explains why it’s crucial to know the history of Thailand, where Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire businessman turned politician, behaved in ways that are uncannily reminiscent of US President Donald Trump. From the new book, History Repeating: Why Populists Rise and Governments Fall (Profile). Video courtesy of...

Will the Tsunami Bring a Wave of Instability to Asia?

The tsunami, which left as many as 160,000 dead, hit countries with a tenuous hold on political stability – a province of Indonesia that is home to a violent separatist movement, a region in Sri Lanka that is currently at peace but has fought a long-running civil war. Crises, whether natural or man-made, tend to beget political instability. Will the political aftershocks of the tsunami be even stronger than the initial quake? An earthquake of devastating magnitude struck, in 1976, not far from Beijing. As the survivors’ stories trickled out, the world rushed to China’s assistance. But the Chinese government refused all outside aid and claimed the situation was well in hand. Partly as a result, the casualty figures were, in the end, astronomical. At least 242,000 died – the official figure, released years later – and some reputable sources claim that over 700,000 perished. The problem was the timing. It has been a basic tenet of Chinese political philosophy for more than two millennia that governments rule with the “mandate of heaven,” and that natural disasters – including floods, droughts and earthquakes – are a heaven-sent signal that this mandate has been revoked and the leadership had failed. In 1976, Mao was on his deathbed, and the unsteady Chinese government feared the political consequences of the quake. Lest anyone conclude their mandate was up, the government tried to cover up the earthquake’s magnitude, at the expense of Chinese lives.But then, Confucian teachings aside, there is ample precedent that natural disasters beget instability. Simon Winchester popularized the argument that the volcanic explosion which destroyed the Indonesian island of Krakatoa...