Friday 25 Sep 2020 | 16:29 | SYDNEY
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Aid & development links: Very short reviews, best aid donors, World Bank MOOCs and more

  • World Bank economist David Evans continues his popular one-sentence summary of development research with a look at 150- papers from a recent development economics conference, a scary looking place if you have a figure phobia:

  • The Washington Post looks at what happened to a US-led initiative for clean cookstoves that was supposed to save millions of lives (but hasn't). (h/t IPA).
  • The CGD has rounded up opinion of what the G20 meetings currently underway in Turkey mean for development. Michele de Nevers focuses on climate finance, Todd Moss has three hopes for energy access and Liliana Rojas-Suarez shares how the G20 could help expand financial access.
  • The full report of the survey that has been generating a lot of buzz by ranking aid donor influence has been released. Duncan Green provides a good summary to save you from reading the 29 page executive summary.
  • The World Bank has jumped on the Massive Open Online Course-train and now offers free online courses. Their class on financing for development begins today.
  • Only a fraction of public funding goes to grass roots organisations in developing countries. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah takes a look at why.
  • If you're a public health specialist and in Sydney this week, the ESRC Global Health Security Seminar held at The University of Sydney is not to be missed. 

Pacific Island links: new Vanuatu deputy PM, Fiji police chief quits, Bishop in PNG and more

  • Fiji’s Police Commissioner Ben Groenewald has resigned unexpectedly, citing personal reasons but letting slip in an interview with Radio Australia that the Fiji military’s interference with police affairs had an indirect influence on his decision.  
  • The Republic of Fiji Military Forces recently employed three police officers charged for their involvement in the 2013 assault on an escaped prisoner that received a lot of attention after a video of the incident went viral.  
  • RFMF Land Force Commander Colonel Sitiveni Qiliho has been installed as the acting police commissioner provoking the Fijian opposition party SODELPA to claim that the government continues to act like a military regime.  
  • Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was in PNG last week to open the new Pacific leadership and governance precinct in Port Moresby and visit drought-impacted areas of the highlands, announcing a $9 million assistance package for Pacific communities taking the brunt of the El Niño weather pattern.  
  • She also announced an on-the-ground health project to tackle malaria which will see Australia, PNG and China working together.    
  • Jonathan Pryke provides his analysis on the good, the bad and the unknown in PNG’s 2016 budget, released last week.  
  • Vanuatu’s Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Christopher Emelee, has been appointed deputy prime minister, replacing Moana Carcasses who was sentenced to four years imprisonment for political corruption last month.  
  • In the lead up to COP21 negotiations in Paris, regional organisations are working together to help raise the voice of the Pacific islands through a social media campaign using #4PacIslands.  The campaign will educate online communities about the impacts of climate change as well as the actions that Pacific islanders are undertaking as they adapt to the effects of climate change.  
  • In recognition of the Australian government’s support for drought relief in the Pacific, Julie Bishop was gifted some impressive pigs while in PNG’s highlands last week. 

Divergent views: How the Taiwanese and China media reacted to the historic leaders meeting

By Jackson Kwok and Marie-Alice McLean-Dreyfus, interns with the Lowy Institute's East Asia Program

Comparing cross-strait coverage of the historic meeting between Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore on Saturday, you would be forgiven for thinking that they covered different events. Whereas China's state media was uniform in its praise and pro-reunification stance, Taiwan's media was divided, with a number of articles criticising Ma for leaving Taiwanese democracy out of the discussion.

China's Xinhua News Agency praised the meeting as a success and 'an important step towards achieving national reunification'. Reports portrayed the two sides as brothers in the same family and emphasised a common ancestry. Reunification between Taiwan and the mainland was framed as part of Xi's 'chinese dream' and a goal which would inevitably be realised by the 'tide of history'.

The state-aligned tabloid Global Times used the meeting as evidence that China is committed to regional stability and development. Given regional concerns of tensions in the South China Sea, it argued that Beijing has demonstrated its 'willingness to create peace and common prosperity in good faith'.

But Beijing also used this opportunity to send signals to Washington and Taipei.

An article published in People's Daily on Monday reiterated Beijing's stance that 'the Taiwan issue is in essence China's internal affair'. The article went on to argue that the meeting demonstrated that the 'Chinese people have the ability and wisdom to solve their own problems'. Though the US was never directly mentioned, the message was clear: Washington should stop interfering in what Beijing considers to be a domestic issue.

China's media also had messages for Taiwan's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. An article published in People's Daily stated Beijing would remain committed to the 1992 Consensus, in which the two sides agreed there is only 'one China'. The article insisted that 'any government in Taiwan must adhere to the consensus' which has formed the 'foundation for the most stable and prosperous period in cross-strait relations'.

Similarly, the Xinhua news agency stated any attempts by DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen to depart from the consensus would constitute 'the greatest threat to cross-strait stability'.

To demonstrate Taiwanese support for the meeting, Xinhua interviewed a number of Taiwanese businesspeople and students engaged on the mainland. Responses from participants were uniformly positive and often conveyed a desire for peaceful reunification.

Taiwanese media, however, told a different story.

An editorial in the Apple Daily, one of the few true 'independent' newspapers in Taiwan, was critical of the meeting between Ma and Xi, suggesting it was only a consensus between Ma's KMT and China's CCP, as opposed to an agreement between all of Taiwan and the mainland.

The editorial described several aspects of the meeting as disappointing.

First, Ma didn't discuss the democratic system in Taiwan. Nor did he engage in talks with the opposition party prior to the meeting which could have 'set a precedence for democratic processes' in future cross-strait talks.

Second, the 'one China' principle dominated the talks. While the 'one China' principle underpins the 1992 consensus, according to the editorial, Ma did not emphasise the 'different interpretations' under which both sides agree to disagree. This omission edged Ma closer to the 'one China one interpretation' policy preferred by Beijing.

An article published in the nominally pro-DPP Liberty Times was also critical of Ma for not emphasising Taiwan's democratic nature. The article concluded that by focusing on 'Chinese nationality and Chinese descendants', Ma had 'silenced' and damaged Taiwan's democracy.

These comments echoed those of the DPP presidential candidate Tsai. In a post on her Facebook page following the meeting she stated that 'Taiwan's democracy and … existence' were left out of the meeting. She accused Ma of 'limiting Taiwan's future' to advance his political legacy.

In response to Tsai's comments and reflecting the perspective of pro-KMT media, an editorial in the pro-China newspaper China Daily censured Tsai for her criticisms of the meeting and expressed 'regret' that she was unable to embrace the occasion. Echoing Chinese state media, the editorial warned that if Tsai is elected it will damage cross-strait relations and make it harder to establish peace in the Taiwan straits.

China's online community was generally positive about the meeting, with many netizens commenting they began to weep when the two leaders shook hands. Online support for the meeting was even the subject of a People's Daily article published on Saturday.

Taiwan's online community was less enthusiastic, with many citizens taking to Facebook to express their anger. However, the majority of comments expressed a belief in the robustness of Taiwan's democratic processes. Many users wrote they were looking forward to the presidential and parliamentary elections in January when they will finally be able to express their opinion via ballot paper.

Following state visits to the US and UK, Xi's historic meeting with Ma has been used to cement his domestic image as a great international statesman. More importantly, the meeting has been used as evidence that Xi and the government are making solid progress towards the revitalisation of the Chinese people. This has meant reassuring domestic audiences that the CCP leadership remains steadfast in its goal of reunifying the motherland, especially when faced by the likelihood of a more pro-independence DPP government in Taiwan.

On the other hand, the reaction to the Ma-Xi meeting in Taiwan highlights what the Taiwanese people value most: their democratic system. Ensuring this remains in place regardless of which party is in power is the primary concern of Taiwanese citizens.

It will be interesting to see how these different factors develop and interact in the lead up to Taiwan's elections in January.

Aid & development links: ranking aid influence, governance mojo, longer lives for all and more

  • Australia is terrible at influencing its aid recipients, according to a massive survey conducted by AidData. Dramatic aid cuts have probably not helped.
  • Aid investments in governance have been a flagship of Australia’s in the 21st century. Sina Odugbemi from the World Bank asks if the governance agenda has lost its mojo.

  • In a story that will strike close to home for Australia, Rachael Calleja takes a look  at Canada’s 2013 merger of its aid program and foreign ministry and the impact it has had on Canadian aid effectiveness.
  • Is NGO fundraising a zero sum game? Perhaps in Australia. Here are three recent blog posts that discuss (h/t Devpolicy).
  • Duncan Green takes a look at new research into the impact of drugs on development.
  • For a healthy dose of positivity, in 1800 there was no country in the world with a life expectancy over 40 (h/t Duncan Green).

  • Ezra Klein, founder of and Wonkblog, went to the World Bank to tell them when and how to popularise research. The full video of the discussion is below, and here is Chris Blattman’s take.

Double trouble: China's bid to increase birth rate is no sure thing

By Marie-Alice McLean-Dreyfus, an intern with the Lowy Institute's East Asia Program

China's historic policy change to allow all couples to have two children was presented as an economic imperative, but some believe individual choice, increasingly encouraged to drive consumption, will decide family size in years to come.

China's media has generally portrayed the shift in the family planning policy, announced at the fifth plenum of the 18th Party Congress in Beijing a week ago, as needed to reverse a declining birth rate, combat an ageing population, and sustain economic growth in decades to come.

Since the one child policy was introduced in 1980, life expectancy in China has increased. From 69 years in 1989, it's now 75.4 years. In recent years, the working age population (those aged between 15-59) has fallen, down from 919.5 million in 2013 to 915.8 million this year. China's birth rate has declined to 12.49 (per 1000 people per year), ranking China 159th in the world.

The economic motivation was clear in the policy change announcement, which stated that the Party would 'promote balanced development of the population' while 'allowing a couple to have two children, and actively carry out actions to deal with an aging population'. There was also, of course, the context of the announcement: the change came at the fifth plenum, charged with charting China's economic path for the next five years.

More detail concerning the policy change came in a press conference with the National Health and Family Planning Commission Deputy Director Wang Pei-an. In contrast to Western media reports that China would be 'abandoning' its one child policy, Wang Pei-an said a family planning policy remained 'essential'.

He said the decision to change was not intended to diminish the accomplishments of the former policy, which had made 'remarkable achievements' in controlling China's population. Instead, as this Global Times editorial wrote, the decision to relax the restriction was made after 'objective analysis' concluded it would be in the best interest of the Chinese population and China's economic growth. 

Wang told reporters the policy shift was expected to increase the working age population by 30 million by 2050.

Protecting the legacy of the one child policy was also the goal of another Global Times opinion piece. This stated the change in policy was not a 'total negation of the past policy' which had 'history's best intentions' at its heart. The author urged readers to avoid discussing 'ifs' about the past, and instead look towards the future.

This opinion piece published in Global Times on Saturday also made the economic argument while also taking a mercantile view of the consequences. It said a two child birth policy would be beneficial to China's stagnant real estate market.

In a departure from state owned media, a piece published on Xinhua Wang suggested that the shift in policy was a response to the market-orientated reforms that have occurred in China over the last 30 years. Interestingly, the author was also optimistic that this was the beginning of the end of any family planning policy. The author hoped that the Party would instead alloindividual choice to dictate the fertility rate within China.

In contrast to the positive response from state-owned and state-aligned media, China's online community was more critical of the change. Many Weibo users took umbrage that the state will continue to interfere in their fertility choices. User @ ??? wrote:

The state decides if you can give birth or if you can't give birth based on what they want for the future of the country. Have they ever considered the personal choice of the people? I feel used by the country.

Others lamented that, in the future, they would not only have to look after two sets of grandparents, they would also be responsible for two children. Some wrote they would still only have one child as they could not afford a second.

As China's growth slows, perhaps the biggest factor to influence China's birth rate will be economic forces and their impact on individual choices, as the Xinhua Wang article said. Only time will tell whether or not more couples will choose to have two children, thus reversing the declining birth rate.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Chris

Pacific Island Links: PNG budget, ADF back in Fiji, Aust pollies' island tours and more

  • The PNG government brought down the 2016 budget this week, which drew the government back from the edge of a fiscal crisis. Jonathan Pryke provided his immediate reaction to the ABC, and will provide more in depth analysis in the coming days.
  • Australia’s minister for the Pacific and international development Steve Ciobo is visiting New Caledonia, Fiji and Niue this week. In Fiji, he observed Exercise Longreach — a disaster preparedness seminar organised by the Australian Defence Force and, importantly, the first exercise the ADF has undertaken in Fiji since the 2006 coup.
  • Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten, shadow minister for foreign affairs Tanya Plibersek and shadow immigration minister Richard Marles are also in the Pacific this week, visiting Papua New Guinea, the Marshall Islands and Kiribati to investigate the impact of climate change. The ANU’s Professor Stephen Howes argues Australia needs to do more to provide labour migration options for Pacific Island countries affected by climate change.
  • Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama is calling for greater political will from wealthy nations in the lead up to COP21 climate change negotiations in Paris.
  • The 11 (mostly Pacific) nations which are party to the Tokelau Arrangement have called for a 40% cut to the catch of southern albacore tuna stocks, following alarming new evidence that the species’ numbers are down to 40 per cent of pre-fishing levels. The ABC’s Jemima Garrett reports
  • The prime ministers of both Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands averted votes of no confidence that were mooted to be moved against them last week. Jenny Hayward-Jones looks at the corruption allegations that continue to threaten the stability of the Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s government.
  • Human Rights Watch Australia launched its new report on family violence in Papua New Guinea today and called on the PNG government to expedite the implementation of its Family Protection Act throughout the country.
  • Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten joins in some local dancing during his trip to Kiribati.

As RAN prepares to exercise with China's navy, Australia risks a PR disaster

Australia and its Navy are in an awkward spot, caught between China and the US in the full glare of a global media spotlight shone on the South China Sea.

Two Royal Australian Navy ANZAC frigates are due to arrive tomorrow in China's naval base Zhanjiang for a port visit, ahead of live-fire exercises with the PLA Navy's South Sea Fleet scheduled to start on Monday.

There was a rumour earlier this week that the exercise might be cancelled. This is evidently not the case, and speculation has turned to the possibility that, after the exercise concludes, the two ships might sail through the disputed Spratly Islands region in a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) similar to the one conducted by the USS Lassen earlier this week. But according to Brendan Nicholson, writing in the Australian today, the Turnbull Government has decided not to commit the frigates to such a demonstration. According to Nicholson, 'for the two ships to carry out such an exercise directly after accepting Chinese hospitality would be considered by Beijing to be highly insulting.'

The unfortunate coincidence of the scheduled RAN exercise with China's Navy and the start of US FONOPs puts Australia between several jagged rocks (submerged, or otherwise) and a hard place, narrowing our room for manoeuvre.

Worse still, the AFR also reported today that a senior PLA officer has warned Australia against involvement in any freedom of navigation activity, as this would 'only bring trouble' and China 'will take strong measures to resolve this'.

In this context, if Canberra does not commit either a ship or aircraft to some demonstration in fairly short order, it will create the impression of being compromised in China's embrace. One can imagine how China's state media will employ the photo-opportunity of America's closest ally engaging in a goodwill visit and live-fire exercises alongside the same Chinese warships that are likely to be shadowing US Navy vessels in the coming weeks. It could become a full-blown public relations disaster.

Sending the two frigates within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-occupied features in the Spratlys on their way home from Zhanjiang would be discourteous. However, avoiding offence is not a basis for foreign and defence policy – and it is bad tactics when dealing with Beijing. Canberra must be alert to the damage that could be done to our alliance relationship if we are seen to have prioritised naval diplomacy with China over a clearly missed operational opportunity — presented by the frigates' presence in the South China Sea — to show solidarity with the US.

If the ANZACs' visit to Zhanjiang is to go ahead, then the live-fire exercise should be called off to minimise our potential embarrassment. If the ANZACs are not diverted on their way home, then Australia should commit to some other operational assertion in the Spratly Islands sooner rather than later. An overflight by a P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft, as originally suggested back in June, would at least provide a quick fix. But as James Goldrick has argued, 'freedom of operation' assertions need to be made repeatedly, independently, non-provocatively and without fanfare.

Photo by Flickr user Royal Australian Navy.

Pacific Island links: Vanuatu corruption, Bainimarama in Aust, PNG drought and more

  • The Vanuatu corruption and pardon scandal continues, with 11 MPs released on bail after being arrested for conspiring to defeat the course of justice. Today, Vanuatu's Supreme Court Justice is set to rule on the constitutionality of Speaker Marcellino Pipite's decision to pardon himself and the 13 other MPs convicted of political corruption, and the President's overturning of those pardons.  
  • Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama visited Australia last week, delivering speeches at the Australia Fiji Business Forum and Fiji Day celebrations in Sydney, which is home to some 50,000 Fijians, the largest Fijian diaspora in the world.
  • In his second piece on the PNG economy Jonathan Pryke delves into the PNG budget and the urgent need to reset fiscal policy.    
  • Papua New Guinea's Porgera Mine has been forced to stop operations due to the drought, making it the second-biggest mining operation to close after Ok Tedi also closed as a result of low water levels.  
  • Amanda Watson looks at how mobile phones could improve the drought response in PNG when compared to the 1997 drought.  
  • The Pacific Islands Forum has received a US$1.05 million grant from China.  
  • World Food Day on 16 October was a good opportunity to revisit this UNDP piece on food security in the Pacific in the face of climate change.   
  • Listen to the podcast from the panel discussion on gender parity in PNG held at the Lowy Institute last week.  
  • PNG Opposition Leader Don Polye will file two new legal challenges against the PNG Government and Prime Minister Peter O'Neill over the UBS loan and sovereign bond deals.


Indo-Pacific security links: Cyber, AUSMIN, South China Sea, anti-access and more

The Indo-Pacific is a strategic system encompassing the Indian and Pacific oceans, reflecting the expanding interests and reach of China and India as well as the enduring role of the US. The Lowy Institute's International Security program presents a weekly selection of links illuminating the changing security picture in this increasingly connected super-region.

  • A long-form piece in the Financial Times from Charles Clover and Lucy Hornby on China's Great Game in Central Asia.
  • Which island in the South China Sea holds the most strategic value?
  • An interesting piece from Iskander Rehman in War on the Rocks on anti-access strategies and their threat to the liberal order.
  • Two Canadians and a Norwegian have been kidnapped by what appears to be ISIS-inspired militants in the Philippines.
  • Peter Hartcher in the Sydney Morning Herald on why Australia and the US need a tougher response to China in the South China Sea.
  • At AUSMIN this week, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made perhaps some of his strongest remarks on the subject: 'Make no mistake, the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as we do around the world, and the South China Sea will not be an exception'.
  • What was the result of the US-China cyber talks last month? More questions?
  • It also looks like Japan will permanently join the US-India Malabar naval exercises.

Guangxi bombings: Corruption and power-abuse take their toll

Seventeen parcel bombs exploded in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region last Wednesday, and there was a further explosion on Thursday. There were ten deaths, more than 50 casualties, and photos of a five storey building partly collapsed.

The story did make international news, but only just, and by the weekend it had faded, including from the homepage of China Daily Mandarin edition.

Global reporting was slim; clearly agencies do not have correspondents in South China or much background about Guangxi. The first reports gave the number of bombings, listed targets in Liucheng County (they included a government building, a residence at Liucheng Animal Husbandry Bureau, a hospital, a prison, markets, and a bus stop), and reported that one man, a quarry owner with the surname Wei, had been arrested. Then on Thursday came questions as to whether that arrest had indeed taken place. On Friday, South China Morning Post reported that Wei had been killed in one of the Wednesday blasts (taking the death toll to 11). An article in China Daily's online Mandarin edition reported that local police had confirmed Wei's death through DNA testing, leaving open the question of who perpetrated Thursday's bombing.

There was also the question of motive, with Chinese authorities initially saying that some people have personal grievances against government departments. Some doubted this was a lone perpetrator taking extreme action over an everyday grievance, and hinted at Uyghur militants. American geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor, for example, published an article speculating about Uyghurs. Major news outlets in both English and Mandarin avoided this inflammatory line. 

Later, a journalist spoke to Wei's brother, who explained that, after locals marched on Wei's quarry in 2013, rendering its machines inoperable and ruining the business, Wei became upset because 'repeated requests to local government departments to resolve the dispute ended without success.' Luizhou City Police confirmed to journalists that Wei was involved in a quarry dispute with villagers.

Extremism can arise not only from big issues like ethnic conflict but from small ones like financial losses and bureaucratic disputes. Guangxi is certainly not immune from these problems. The region is known to have extremely high levels of government corruption compared to other Chinese provinces. That an abuse of government power could tip someone over the edge is therefore not incredible.

Another factor might be frustration over unequal distribution of economic resources. This could contribute in two ways: either, because it has left government departments in Guangxi under-trained and under-resourced, perhaps causing inept rather than abusive government dealings; or because it provided the spark that ignited the tinderbox of anger of both Wei and the villagers.

Guangxi has long been poorer than its industrialised eastern neighbour, Guangdong Province. Around the turn of the century Guangxi was the region with the highest out-migration as China reorganised its labour force. In recent years, the Chinese Central Government's 'Open Up the West' campaign to spur growth in Western China has also targeted Guangxi, and even more recently Guangxi has been promoted as a bridge in China-ASEAN integration, with the China-ASEAN Expo hosted in Guangxi's capital, Nanning, in May. But some areas of Guangxi, including Liucheng County, remain poor, and institutional measures to regulate economic development have not developed as quickly as economic activity.

So it is also credible that villagers would feel disenfranchised over what they see as unregulated business. Nor is it hard to imagine that a business owner, in debt after two years of no income, unable to start over due to government inaction, and who believes local authorities are corruptly picking which businesses to support, would become cynical about government claims that it is helping spread economic development.

While tough times don't assuage the moral or criminal culpability of the bomber, nor justify smashing up a quarry, recognising the extreme frustration, stress and social unrest that uneven economic and institutional development can provoke is important in understanding politics and security in China. Bombings don't happen every day in China, but there are commonplace civic and worker protests, and occasionally violence, borne of financial pressure and frustrations with government, not over issues that grab international interest such as democracy or human rights, but over mundane bureaucratic interactions that go wrong. The Guangxi attacks are best not glossed over as an isolated incident. Festering and obvious inequality is a cause of unrest similar in strength to ethnic conflict. (And ethnic conflict is often also about material disadvantage and government unresponsiveness.)

It seems the villagers, aggrieved by explosions at Wei's quarry and the alleged failure of the business to gain proper licenses, took matters into their own hands. Then Wei, angry about the destruction of his business and government failures to remedy what he saw as unfair losses, took matters into his own hands and targeted state institutions.

While bombings are an unhinged reaction, local, regional and central governments should nevertheless reflect on how his dispute was mishandled so as to provoke such desperate anger. How did it come to this?

The key questions are about the system: why villagers and the bomber didn't seek non-violent means of dispute resolution, and whether resolution mechanisms are inaccessible, untrustworthy, or simply non- existent. Higher security and high-profile condemnation of the bombings may go some way to prevent further such incidents, but if the violence stemmed from inadequate means to alleviate the burdens of economic development and social re-structuring, then civil institutions in Guangxi need to take note. 

The second half of this analysis will examine ethnic tensions in the Guangxi region.

Ed. note: the headline for this article originally referred to Guangxi as being in western China, which is not correct. The error was made in the editorial process.