Saturday 20 Jul 2019 | 07:30 | SYDNEY
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The Americas

Trump-Kim summit: history happens

The handshake lasted 12 seconds, body language experts tell us. That’s not quite the full minute Donald Trump had predicted it would take him to judge whether Kim Jong-un was ready to make a deal, but whatever the substance behind the showcase, this summit is indeed an extraordinary moment in

A primer for the Trump–Kim summit

Barely six months ago, Australia’s debate on North Korea featured Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speculating about invoking the ANZUS treaty in case of war, and discussion on The Interpreter between Hugh White and Rob Ayson about what conflict with a nuclear-armed

Mindful Mattis did just fine at the Shangri-La Dialogue

The theme of geopolitical competition which ran through the 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue was appropriately expansive for the debut of the US Indo-Pacific strategy as outlined by US Defense Secretary James Mattis. Given that Singapore will host the Trump–Kim meeting in just over a week

Singapore summit: the case for guarded optimism

Everybody is saying it: the big split between the US and North Korea as we head towards the 12 June leaders summit in Singapore (and yes, it looks like it is on again) is over the meaning of  “denuclearisation”. The maximalist American definition is that North Korea must dismantle

Summit cancelled: advantage Pyongyang

US President Donald Trump’s decision, conveyed in a personal letter to Kim Jong-un, to cancel the Singapore summit scheduled for 12 June is not unexpected. It will prompt relief and disappointment in equal measure, but the pessimists have been proved right. The gulf of expectation and

The Moon is still strategic

Decades after the Moon became covered in American flags and footprints, the nearest world in space is becoming strategic again. Recently, China launched a satellite to orbit the L2 Earth-Moon Lagrange point. This is an imaginary point in space hovering over the far side of the Moon (not the “

US naval accidents revisited

The US Navy is usually acknowledged as the biggest and best navy in the world. It is by far the biggest, and the best in terms of the hardware of naval warfare, although that position is now being challenged by China in some dimensions, such as missile technology and a

Bolton’s bargain: a Libya deal for North Korea?

Over the past year, the US has been engaged in what it calls a maximum pressure campaign to push North Korea to take concrete steps towards denuclearisation. President Donald Trump has imposed a series of sanctions on North Korea, and threatened nuclear war against the country on Twitter. 

All’s not fair in US–China trade stoush

As tense trade talks between the US and China continue, a growing chorus of US commentators seem to have concluded that, whatever their misgivings about President Donald Trump, he’s right in taking on China for its unfair trade and being an economic cheat (for instance, see here and 

Talking North Korea in Australia

This month, I was in Australia for events hosted by the Lowy Institute and Sydney Writers’ Festival respectively. The questions were excellent, and I would like to take advantage of this space to expand on some of the topics brought up. Generally speaking, the questions at

Method in Trump’s madness on Iran

There has been widespread condemnation of US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, including from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who expressed “regret”. Besides having ramifications for US relations with European powers, Russia and China, who all

Can Europe salvage the Iran deal?

Trump finally did it: in perhaps one of the most ridiculous moves of his presidency (although competition on that front is fierce), he announced that his administration would remove the US from the Iran deal and reimpose all nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. This is not only a gross violation of

Soft-power dressing: China’s moment in the US

Wearing the right dress can be the first step to success. Pictures of an American teenage girl sporting a red Chinese cheongsam to her prom have gone viral and sparked controversies on the internet. People in the US have called her racist, but some in China applauded her choice of

Trump–Kim summit: what’s in the venue?

The venue and date for the Donald Trump–Kim Jong-un summit have yet to be announced, but it appears likely to take place in late May or early June. Panmunjom, on the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), has emerged as the clear frontrunner. But there is still a possibility that the

Iran’s May Day

The deadline looms for the Iran nuclear deal. US President Donald Trump will have to decide by 12 May whether to continue to waive sanctions against Iran under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). What Trump will do is unclear, and his intention was clouded even more by

Harry Harris and the ambassadorial absence

The news that US President Donald Trump has reassigned Admiral Harry Harris to Seoul from his expected posting to Canberra has brought forth a somewhat predictable bout of hair-pulling and hand-wringing from alliance sentimentalists. Rather than see this decision by the administration on its own

Why definitions will be crucial for North-South talks 

In just over a week, President of South Korea Moon Jae-in will sit with his northern counterpart, Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un, at Panmunjom, the historic site of the 1953 armistice, for the third instalment of the inter-Korean summit (to be broadcast live). The summit will occur

Is Trump ready to bear the cost of a trade war?

Agree or disagree with his conclusions, we owe Hugh White thanks for forcing us to grapple with “the China challenge”. White’s writings have stripped away much of the easy, high-sounding rhetoric about dealing with Beijing and honed in on the central feature of US–China relations in the

Syria strikes: mission accomplished?

The US military claims the ability of the Syrian regime to use chemical weapons has been set back “for years” following strikes on Saturday. Given it is just one year since the US last struck Syrian targets following a chemical weapons attack, the latest claim won’t wash for many.

In Syria, Trump must collude with Russia

President Donald Trump is under enormous pressure to respond militarily to the latest provocation by the Assad regime, but he would do so against all of his instincts and earlier pronouncements to end US military involvement in the Syrian war. Just days before the chemical attacks in Douma,

The peril of North Korea’s charm offensive

Since the first days of 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has undertaken a series of diplomatic activities whose scope and significance are rivalled only by his missile and nuclear tests. The fact that Kim made his first overseas trip to China, attended a K-pop performance in Pyongyang,

Trump, Kim, and the deal of the century

We still don’t know exactly when or where President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are going to meet, but Kim’s furtive visit to Beijing this week has heightened expectations that the summit will happen sometime in May. By the time the summit occurs, attention on this historic event

Hot take: what does Kim Jong-un’s trip to China mean?

So it’s now confirmed that Kim Jong-un went to China in the past few days to meet Xi Jinping. And apparently Xi will now go to Pyongyang. Breaking: Photos of secret talks between Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping emerge in the Chinese media https://t.co/kdnPKQixGq pic.twitter.com/G7tQh0Amd8 — Javier

US–North Korea summit: can Trump deliver?

An armoured train carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pulled into Beijing on Monday, with a summit with China’s Xi Jinping confirmed Wednesday morning by Xinhua. Perhaps Kim came to reassure China that he won’t upend regional geopolitics by making a dramatic deal with

South China Sea: the Philippine fissure

A new normal is evident in the South China Sea disputes. Last week, Philippine Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana revealed that China continues to exchange radio challenges and responses with Philippine aircraft patrols and resupply missions in the West Philippine Sea. With Manila keen to

What to expect from John Bolton at the White House

President Donald Trump’s announcement that former UN Ambassador John Bolton will be the new US National Security Advisor will send tremors through some allied capitals. But Bolton may not be effective in the role if he reverts to the aggressive and ideological approaches that made him

Intellectual property: the big risk in US–China ties

It may be chaotic and confused, but the Trump administration is not entirely nuts. Expected to slam China with heavy penalties for appropriating the intellectual property of US businesses, the administration instead appears to be stopping short of a fundamental injury to the world’s biggest

Carrots and sticks in the Iran nuclear deal

In January, US President Donald Trump’s frustration with the Iran nuclear deal got the better of him as he set a 12 May deadline for its renegotiation. But meeting this goal is impossible in the current environment. As a result, in an unnecessary and counterproductive move, it looks like the US

Rex Tillerson sacked: the swamp was winning

We’ll get to the consequences of Rex Tillerson’s sacking in a moment, but first consider his brief tenure as America’s chief diplomat. Mostly Tillerson will be remembered (lamented) for presiding over savage cuts to the State Department. Certainly there was damage – no one ever really

Multilateral trade versus self-interest

How should countries respond to President Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminium? One response would be to retaliate. Another would be to emphasise the damage done to the global multilateral trade framework. Yet another would be to negotiate a side deal to avoid, and perhaps even benefit

The danger of might without power

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that the Pentagon is “considering plans to send heavily armed, versatile Marine Corps Expeditionary Units to East Asia … as it repositions forces in response to growing Chinese influence”. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Company tax cuts: America versus Australia

The expert panel on the ABC’s Q&A program earlier this month was hopelessly confused in comparing Donald Trump’s cut in US company tax with the proposed company tax cuts in Australia. Although it’s often useful to compare domestic economic policy initiatives with those

Moon versus Abe and the contest for America’s ear

A battle is underway between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in over their differing approaches to North Korea. They are competing to shape the attitudes of US President Donald Trump, and this contest has been a compelling sideshow at the PyeongChang Winter

Vietnamisation in space: America withdraws from ISS

Private enterprise is taking great strides in space. Recently, entrepreneur Elon Musk launched his own Tesla car into Martian orbit with the world’s most powerful rocket, his own Falcon Heavy. Other entrepreneurs are also making progress with rockets and spacecraft. Against this backdrop, the US

China and the military balance

The International Institute for Strategic Studies has launched the 2018 edition of The Military Balance, which tracks the development of military forces around the world. It contains a striking stat about China’s naval development: OK, this is an isolated factoid, but it illustrates a

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