A look back: ISDP’s top reads from 2021

Illustration of a woman reading on a pile of books

As the world welcomes 2022, ISDP invites its readers to look back at twelve of the most popular publications of the past year (in chronological order). 2021 marked the beginning of COVID-19 vaccine rollouts, continued border closures, and a shift of the global security focus on the Indo-Pacific. The broad range of topics covered in ISDP’s top reads shows the volatility of last years global political landscape. 

The BRI vs. FOIP: Japan’s Countering of China’s Global Ambitions Issue Brief by Jakob Ranglin Grissler and Lars Vargö 

Due to the changing security status in the Indo-Pacific region, many countries had to revisit their policies vis-à-vis China, which has interested ISDPs readers to a large extent throughout the year. In February, Jakob Ranglin Grissler and Lars Vargö outlined various examples of how Japan has opposed Chinas assertiveness, and how its initiatives of “quality infrastructure” and an “open Indo-Pacific” could equip Tokyo with competitive alternatives when countering Beijings Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The Next Generation Problem: The Ups and Downs of Sweden’s Huawei Ban Issue Brief by Johannes Nordin   

The beginning of 2021 saw an increase in tensions between Stockholm and Beijing, as Sweden decided to exclude Huawei from the Swedish networks on national security grounds. Johannes Nordin explored this rather atypical decision for Sweden and its potential implications. 

China’s Grand Strategy and the Emergence of Indo-Pacific Alignments Blog Post by Daisuke Akimoto

In April, Daisuke Akimoto analyzed the strategic components of Chinas grand strategy and its implications for the Japan-US alliance. The analytical application of Edward Luttwak’s five levels of strategy (grand, theater, operational, tactical, and technical) onto Chinese calculus proved to be an interesting take for ISDPs readers. 

Not a Sovereignty Issue: Understanding the Transition of Military Operational Control between the United States and South Korea Backgrounder by ISDP

In April, ISDP published a backgrounder on the transition of operational control (OPCON) – a key feature for deepening the alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States. The backgrounder provided a thorough review of the debate around the transition and offered some suggestions for dealing with its misunderstandings. 

Women’s Rights in China and Feminism on Chinese Social Media Issue Brief by Frida Lindberg

In June, Frida Lindberg discussed how women and feminists in China utilize social media to speak out about women’s rights and gender inequality issues, while simultaneously observing government actions and dealing with gender antagonism in the Chinese society.

The Dawn of the Digital Yuan: China’s Central Bank Digital Currency and Its Implications Asia Paper by Mahima Duggal 

The COVID-19 pandemic has fueled digital innovation throughout 2020 and 2021. Mahima Duggal examined how China’s rush to the forefront of the central bank digital currency (CBDC) race may have laid the groundwork for the widespread implementation of its Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP) system. The DCEP’s role as a surveillance tool and the associated implications for human rights and China’s growing global role showed to be a particularly concerning topic.     

Cross-Strait Relations: A Conflict in Slow Motion? Issue Brief by Mats Engman and Larissa Stünkel

In 2021, the Taiwan Strait experienced rising tensions that not only drew international attention but also increased the risk of actual military conflict. In August, Mats Engman and Larissa Stünkel examined whether we should expect escalated tensions in the short term or whether Chinas threats might be overstated. 

Tokyo and Taliban 2.0: Gauging Japan’s Political Stake in Kabul Focus Asia by Jagannath P. Panda  

The United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan in August had far-reaching consequences, and the Taliban takeover certainly caught the world’s attention. It also prompted many governments to rethink and reframe their policies with Afghanistan in response to Taliban 2.0. Jagannath P. Panda outlined what role Tokyo might seek as a relevant economic actor in the region in relation to a postwithdrawal Afghanistan. 

China’s Health Diplomacy: Taking Forward the Health Silk Road in Southeast Asia Focus Asia by Atmaja Gohain Baruah  

The year 2021 witnessed the rise of Chinas vaccine diplomacy, which is expected to have lasting diplomatic consequences. In September, Atmaja Gohain Baruah caught the readers’ attention by analyzing the history of China’s health diplomacy in Southeast Asia and how the “health silk road” could potentially open doors for a more strategic vaccine diplomacy for China.   

Winds of Change in South Korea’s Gender Debate Blog Post by Love-Lis Liljeström

Last year, South Korea experienced new winds in its gender debate where the North Korean media have even criticized controversial statements from conservative leaders. In October, Love-Lis Liljeström explored this debate in her blog post. 

AUKUS: Resetting European Thinking on Indo-Pacific? ISDP Special Paper by Niklas Swanström, Jagannath P. Panda, Anna Wieslander, Mats Engman, Lars Vargö, Mahima Duggal, Marc Lanteigne, James Rogers, Stephen R. Nagy, Antoine Bondaz, Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy, Velina Tchakarova, Kapil Patil, and Hina Pandey   

In September, the UK, US, and Australia launched a pact (AUKUS) to counter China. This pact sparked a wide set of reactions from other allies, lifted the topics of trust and mistrust, and set up a new era for the status of global security. ISDPs special paper and event on AUKUS ended up being one of ISDPs most successful and popular projects.

Xi Jinping Thought: Xi’s Struggle Against Political Decline Issue Brief by Charlotte Poirier

Despite all eyes on Chinas aggressive foreign policy, its domestic matters might not hold a dominating status. With the growing wealth disparities, increasing constraints on Chinese public life, and Xis fears of a potential power decline, Xi Thought may offer insight into these issues. In this highly popular issue brief from November, Charlotte Poirier provided an analysis on what Xis intentions may be according to Xi Thought.