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Wednesday 21 Feb 2018 | 14:22 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 21 Feb 2018 | 14:22 | SYDNEY

The Interpreter's best of 2014: The US and Asia, Indonesian election, Pu Zhiqiang and Australia's foreign aid


7 January 2015 08:00

Throughout the Christmas-New Year break, The Interpreter will be featuring some of its best pieces from 2014. More to come between now and January 12 when The Interpreter will be back for 2015.

Would Americans give their lives for Asia? No, by Harry Kazianis, 6 June.

This drives to the very heart of America's rebalance to Asia and exposes a fatal flaw in its foundations. Would Obama make the case to the American people that its men and women should give their lives to what many pundits would undoubtedly spin as a ploy to protect a bunch of rocks with a funny sounding name, rocks which most Americans could not even find on a map? Considering the President's limited political capital, with only two-and-a-half years left in office, would he make the case under less than clear-cut circumstances for a conflict which many would say is not in US national interests? To put the question differently: short of an unambiguous Chinese invasion of the Senkakus, would he back Japan unconditionally? Or more broadly: under what circumstances would America come to Asia's rescue? 

China: Why Pu Zhiqiang’s arrest matters for all of us, by John Garnaut, 16 June.

I once asked Pu why he persisted in holding the system accountable to its own laws, given the enormous personal costs.

He told me many things, all eloquent and powerful, but the one I've thought about most often is this: he acted as he did so that he could hold his head up high up in front of his son. Pu's formal arrest on Friday – for doing his job — has implications not only for dissidents and NGOs but for everyone who deals with China at home and abroad. These days, that means all of us.

Before Pu's formal arrest he was finally able to have a discussion with his lawyer, Zhang Sizhi, who circulated notes of their discussion online. Zhang passed on a message from Pu's wife. She said: 'Whatever happens, keep calm, don't lose your head. Take care of your health. Remember that staying healthy is the most important thing. Afterwards, I'll do all I can to take care of you.'

Zhang says Pu was visibly moved by this, and replied: 'I understand. Please tell her to tell our son that I believe this experience will be good training for him in toughness. He'll learn a lot from it, and he'll be better for it in the future.'

Australia’s foreign aid policy: New paradigm or more of the same?, by Annmaree O’Keeffe, 19 June.

Just one day before the AusAID/DFAT integration last October, Bishop gave a seminal speech which provided the first post-election detail of what was envisaged for the aid program. She made it clear that the focus of the program would be squarely on the Indo-Pacific, and that at the heart of the Government's foreign policy approach was economic diplomacy. She argued that if economic growth and poverty reduction were to be long-lasting, functioning states and a strong and growing private sector to ensure job opportunities were essential. Involvement of the private sector was critical in achieving results and broader economic reform to help make growth and poverty reduction permanent. 

So the question now is whether this emphasis on private sector development is going to work. Bishop is enthusiastic and keen that it does, but the answer is that no one knows. 

Indonesian election: Prabowo now the favourite, by Aaron Connelly, 24 June.

It is always difficult to know which polls to trust in Indonesia. As Karim Raslan points out, most pollsters are connected to or on retainer to specific candidates, and this can occasionally influence results (in a particularly egregious example, during the 2009 presidential election, former Vice President Jusuf Kalla's campaign team commissioned polls showing him in the lead; he received 12% of the vote). But three organisations known for their accuracy have generally served as a reference point: the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), an international relations think tank; Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC); and Indikator.

Yet none has released a face-to-face poll in the last month. This is highly unusual, but political affiliations could explain the silence.

Despite their reputation for accuracy, both CSIS and SMRC are run by Jokowi supporters. The executive director of CSIS, Rizal Sukma, is a leading adviser to Jokowi and largely responsible for his strong showing in Sunday night's foreign policy debate. Saiful Mujani, head of the epynomous consulting firm, has campaigned for the Governor. Indikator is a young outfit founded last year by former Indonesian Survey Institute pollster Burhanuddin Muhtadi, also a Jokowi supporter. He tweeted to my colleague Catriona and me on Saturday that the situation was 'critical' for Jokowi, and that he needed help.

Photo courtesy of Australian Defence Image Library.

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