China’s foreign trade figures resoundingly beat consensus estimates in November, striking the same buoyant note sounded by the stellar recovery in the Manufacturing Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) released on December 1, writes Steve Wang.The median of 43 forecasts received by Bloomberg was for a 5% drop in exports and a 1.9% decline in imports. Those turned out to be well wide of the mark, and even the most bullish analysts got the figures wrong: Mizuho Securities’ Jianguang Shen tipped a 0.1% decline in exports, while Larry Hu of Macquarie Securities went out on a limb predicting a 2% bump in imports.

The technology to make autonomous driving a reality is more or less in place. But what’s stalling the full public debut is the lack of detailed 3D maps driverless cars can rely on in all types of weather to prevent misjudgments and accidents. In the US, Google, as well as developing its own autonomous driving technology, is busy mapping the country’s road system, writes John Boyd. Rival Apple is rumored to be doing the same, while the big US automakers are pushing ahead with their individual plans.

Investors have launched 50 lawsuits at secret international arbitration tribunals, seeking at least US$31 billion, against governments that are now negotiating the new Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, Friends of the Earth International said based on new research, writes an Asia Times Staff reporter. The lawsuits were revealed in a report by the Transnational Institute, Friends of the Earth International, Indonesia for Global Justice, Focus on the Global South and Paung Ku. If the agreement is signed, it would grant corporations the exclusive right to bypass domestic legal systems and sue governments at international tribunals whenever they feel state rules can limit their profits.

When Donald J. Trump was running for President, he seemed decidedly uninterested or even downright negative toward the Asia-Pacific. He once dismissed Asia as “too far away” for him to care. He argued that close allies Japan and South Korea should do more for their own defense – up to and including acquiring their own nuclear weapons – ignoring the fact that these countries contribute billions of dollars every year to supporting US forces on their soil, writes Richard A. Bitzinger. Finally, he appeared prepared to cede US influence, in his scuttling of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. Rather, Trump appeared obsessed with the Middle East, and particularly on defeating ISIS. Therefore, it seemed that Trump was willing to relinquish US hegemony in the Asia-Pacific to China. In anticipation, some countries like the Philippines appeared ready to bandwagon with Beijing or Russia.