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Keep calm and carry on: a message to Trump critics

There are still two-and-a-half years to go in US President Donald Trump’s first term, and I’m concerned about his critics. They need to pace themselves. This level of outrage just cannot be maintained. When it comes to the instantly infamous press conference with Russian President Vladimir

Trump-Putin: beyond election meddling

The Helsinki Summit, as it was dubbed, saw US President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin come together with a formal agenda to discuss US-Russia relations, disarmament, the Syria and Ukraine crises, and the situation on the Korean Peninsula. But the moment was judged as a contest and

The President, his partners, and Putin

Donald Trump has left Europe reeling following his just-concluded visits to Brussels for the NATO summit, London for a bilateral visit, and to Helsinki to meet Russia’s Vladimir Putin.  Trump has also not shied away from interfering in the domestic politics of his partners … and delivered

Tit-for-tat-for-tit-for-tat

The US is moving quickly to follow through on Trump’s threats to further escalate his trade war with China (now is as good a time as any to say that the trade war has officially started). Last week the US imposed tariffs on US$34 billion worth of Chinese imports, with another US$16 billion to be

High anxiety: Donald Trump’s summits

US President Donald Trump evidently expects his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin to be the easiest of his upcoming high-level meetings. If so, he has brought that condition upon himself. Trump’s choleric, ignorant, menacing, and, to be honest, strategically illiterate ramblings about

US Navy sails into Taiwan sunset

It’s inevitable that, when the US sails warships through the Taiwan Strait, it will be interpreted as a broader diplomatic statement or even a protest – in this case, perhaps about North Korea, or the US–China trade spat. But these transits are more common than you might think. According to

Détente divergence: the US-South Korean split

Reactions in the US and South Korea have differed sharply since US President Donald Trump met North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un last month in Singapore. (The president and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo call Kim “chairman”, because he governs as the chairman of the State Affairs

Pyongyang’s promises

Immediately after the Singapore summit on 12 June, US President Donald Trump proclaimed that North Korea no longer posed a nuclear threat, and that the denuclearisation process would follow in accordance with the two leaders’ joint statement. However, three weeks later, Kim Jong-un does

Mai Tai diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific

It’s Mai Tai time again for many of the world’s navies and some air forces. The month-long, biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise is underway off the Hawaiian Islands once more. RIMPAC has been a constant since 1971, but the exercise has evolved, reflecting changing times and tensions,

An empty chair vs the risk of a crazy Trump crony

Almost two years have passed since the US was represented in Australia by a permanent ambassador. It is now conceivable that Australia will receive a Presidential visit before it gets an ambassador. This is an unprecedented interregnum.  It is tempting to observe that this is a pretty

Exit strategy: will US troops leave South Korea?

The massive Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul has seen a near-continuous presence of foreign military since the Korean Peninsula was annexed by the Japanese in 1910. Prior to that, it housed troops from the Qing Dynasty who had been sent to help the last rulers of Joseon put down peasant rebellions

Human Rights Council: reform rather than reject

The announcement the US was leaving the United Nations Human Rights Council did not come as a shock, especially after calls for an inquiry into clashes over the new US Embassy in Jerusalem. US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley described the council as a “hypocritical and

US-China trade: joke’s over

Once entertaining, the Trump administration is becoming unfunny. In less than a week the trade dispute between China and the US has escalated to cover what will quite likely be the entirety of US goods exports to China, and the greater part, if not the whole, of Chinese goods exports to the US

The ever-widening Atlantic

“Believe me, I would never have imagined that a German Foreign Minister would ever have to say such a thing.” So confessed Heiko Maas in a remarkable speech delivered in Berlin last week. His subject was nothing less than the demise of the “world order that we once knew”, in

The US and the West: with friends like that ...

In February last year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made a startling comment at the 2017 Munich Security Conference. He asserted that “the post–Cold War order” had come to an end, and called instead on “leaders with a sense of responsibility” to

Trump-Kim summit: China smiles

As analysts and pundits rake through the breadcrumbs dropped after the Trump–Kim summit in Singapore, one thing is for certain: the People’s Republic of China (hereafter “China”) is happy. The relationship between China and North Korea has been described as “as close as lips and teeth

The Supreme Leader and his bodyguards

The Singapore summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump has all the drama of a Hollywood production, including glimpses the world is getting of the entourage travelling with the North Korean leader. One of the most visually striking elements of this entourage has been Kim’s phalanx of

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

Tariffs: the US rebuffed

The terse statement from the G7 finance ministers meeting about the US decision to impose steel and aluminium tariffs on the EU, Canada, and Mexico has shocked many observers used to such summits ending with droll communiques filled with platitudes about global collaboration and cooperation.

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 “dark

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

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 the

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

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

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

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. Indeed

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,

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 C

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 likes

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

Assessing global threats

The US has delivered its annual Worldwide Threat Assessment, a useful document in that it provides a measure of transparency for judgements by the US intelligence community, yet which often tastes of cardboard – a bland, tick-the-box exercise that offers little genuine insight. Of course, the

Indonesia–US relations: sweating the small stuff

The US and Indonesia have declared an overarching “strategic partnership” to meet broader challenges, from regional architecture building to global governance. At least, this was the case under the Barack Obama (2008–16) and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2004–14) presidencies. But under

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