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Regions & CountriesJanuary 28, 2020 | 22:08 GMT
Australia
Australia
Australia is an island nation straddling the Indian Ocean basin and the South Pacific. Once a colony of the United Kingdom, the country began a move toward independence in 1901. Today, the Commonwealth of Australia encompasses the mainland of the Australian continent, Tasmania and more than 8,000 other islands in the continent’s surrounding waters. Australia’s interior, known as the Outback, is mostly desert. This largely uninhabitable area is home to Australia’s iron and coal reserves, among the world’s largest. Mining has grown in importance for the Australian economy and remains a key driver of future economic growth. The Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane corridor forms the population core along the fertile South Eastern coastline, while the capital Canberra is situated in the interior near the Murray-Darling River System. The Murray-Darling Basin is Australia's agricultural heartland but is cut off from the core by the mountains of the Great Dividing Range. Australia's main geographic challenge is managing its isolation and small population, which is stretched thinly along its coasts. These factors affect almost all domestic and foreign policy decisions. Distance and isolation mean that Australia relies heavily on shipping lanes for its economic security. This has led Australia to build close alliances with global maritime powers — first the United Kingdom and later the United States — to protect its access to ocean trade as well as deter attacks from other powers. Increasingly, Canberra must balance its strategic, military and cultural ties to the United States and Europe with greater economic integration with East and Southeast Asia, and especially China — its largest trading partner.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 28, 2020 | 22:09 GMT
China
China

China is situated on the eastern third of the Eurasian landmass, between Russia, mainland Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia. Its more than 9,000 mile-long coastline abuts the Yellow, East and South China Seas. China is a country of deep geographic divisions. Most fundamental is the split between its fertile eastern lowlands and the arid, sparsely populated highlands that enclose the lowlands like a shell. More than a billion people live in the ethnic Han Chinese core, making it one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Traditionally, threats to China's Han core originated in the borderlands. To guard against overland invasion, successive Chinese rulers have sought to push the Core's borders outward —integrating these highlands as strategic "buffer" zones. These zones form a shield, protecting and containing the core. To be secure, China must control the buffer regions. But maintaining control of the regions, in turn, requires a strong and united core. And that means overcoming immense internal divisions — not only between northern and southern regions orbiting the Yellow and Yangtze rivers, but also between smaller regional units, each with their own geography, history, dialect and interests. Chinese history is defined by cycles of unity and fragmentation, from periods when a strong Han core captures and holds the surrounding buffers to those when a weak core breaks into its constituent parts, loses internal coherence and cedes control of the borderlands. This pattern, rooted in China's geography, has played out with remarkable consistency. By comparison, China's maritime interests have remained mostly limited to coastal waters. Today, however, growing international trade and rising Chinese reliance on overseas resources threaten to alter the pattern, adding a new maritime dimension to the struggle for buffer space — and potentially upending the long-standing dynamics of China's geographic challenge.

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Regions & CountriesJanuary 28, 2020 | 19:30 GMT
Iran
Iran
Iran sits at the crossroads of the Islamic world. Linking the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central and South Asia, Iran has struggled to balance the benefits and risks of its geographic position. Iran's core is located in the western Zagros mountain range. From this secure geography, the beginnings of the Persian Empire spread throughout Iran's mountainous topography securing the Alborz, the southern Zagros and much of the Iranian plateau. Iran's primary geographic challenge has been to secure itself from the many external threats on its borders. Arabs, Mongols and Turks all conquered ancient Persia at various times, prompting Persia to expand its territorial control whenever possible to establish a buffer to protect its core. At its height, the Persian Empire stretched from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Hindu Kush mountains, bridging modern-day Europe and Asia. Echoes of this former empire can be seen even today, with Iran's support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, the al Assad regime in Damascus and the Shiite-led government in Iraq. Iran has also struggled to unite and control the various language and ethnic groups located within its core territories, a process impeded by the country's difficult terrain. Modern-day Tehran is aided by its large hydrocarbon reserves; Iran boasts the fourth-largest oil reserves and largest natural gas reserves in the world. The 20th century saw British, Russian and American interests competing not only to control Iran's strategic geographic location, but its significant energy reserves as well. This modern-day reliance on energy revenues has resulted in Iran's focus on securing the Strait of Hormuz and expanding control over the Persian Gulf to secure its core territories from the threat of outside invasion.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 28, 2020 | 19:30 GMT
Hong Kong SAR, China

Located at China's doorstep along the Pearl River Delta, Hong Kong has long served as a bridge between mainland China and the West. More than 150 years of British colonial rule (beginning in the 1840s) endowed the city with a uniquely liberal economy, a Western regulatory system, and strong rule of law that differentiate it from many other parts of the Asia-Pacific region. These characteristics helped to transform the city into a leading reexport and financial center in the past five decades, building on connections into the mainland's lucrative market and industry. Nearly 8 million people reside in the special region's 687 square kilometer (427 square mile) territory, making it the world's most densely populated city with a high level of ethnic diversity.

Under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, Hong Kong was guaranteed economic and political autonomy under the "One Country, Two Systems" principle for 50 years after the handover to China in 1997. But years of attempts by Beijing to increase its political control over the city and the consequences of deeper economic integration have eroded that status. This, coupled with the city's deep-rooted socio-economic issues, contribute to a rising tide of Hong Kong nativism manifesting as pro-independence advocacy, particularly among the younger generation. As the city struggles to diversify its economy beyond the financial and retail industry, its growing political polarization and radicalization combined with concerns about Beijing's encroachment could threaten Hong Kong's economic prospects at a time when mainland cities and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region are preparing to seize new opportunities.

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Regions & CountriesJanuary 28, 2020 | 19:23 GMT
Bahrain
Bahrain
The island of Bahrain is the smallest country in the Persian Gulf, sitting just off the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia and the western coast of Qatar. It has almost no forestry to speak of and very little arable land. The country's only natural resources are a dwindling supply of hydrocarbons. But because Bahrain has an ancient natural oasis, it is also one of the oldest inhabited places in the Gulf; there is evidence that the island was host to the Dilmun civilization as far back as the 4th millennium BCE. Bahrain was often the base of great powers who sought to control the Persian Gulf, including the ancient Assyrians, the Safavid Persians and, most recently, the British Empire. The Safavid Persians left behind a large community of Shiite believers, although the island has been under the rule of a Sunni dynasty since the 18th century. Bahrain's main geographic challenge is securing export routes through the narrow Strait of Hormuz so it can access the wider oceans, but it rarely has the strength to do this on its own. It also often becomes the pawn of greater powers and struggles to defend itself against invaders. The country thus seeks to ally itself with outside powers that will protect it and also allow it to export its hydrocarbons. Most recently, Bahrain also has sought allies that will also protect its Sunni dynasty from its Shiite majority, who have been agitating to gain more control of the country.
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SITUATION REPORTJan 27, 2020 | 16:26 GMT
Global: Five Eyes Pact Agrees With France, South Korea, Japan to Increase Monitoring of North Korea
Representatives from the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, as well as South Korea, Japan and France, agreed in late 2019 to expand their activities around North Korea, according to a Jan. 27 report by The Japan Times, citing Japanese and U.S. government sources.
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