Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Weekend catch-up: The 2017 Budget, Ahok’s imprisonment, Pakistan’s progress and more

Macron's victory, what the 2017 budget means for aid, defence and DFAT, Hizbut Tahrir and more.

Canberra, May 2017 (Photo: Flickr/Steve Bittinger)
Canberra, May 2017 (Photo: Flickr/Steve Bittinger)
Published 13 May 2017 

By John Gooding, Digital Editor at the Lowy Institute and Associate Editor at The Interpreter.

A look at spending of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade, and overseas development assistance since 2013 and projected to 2021makes the government's priorities clear, wrote Alex Oliver:

Defence is booming, aid is ailing and DFAT is flatlining.

But Australia's aid sector could easily be facing much darker prospects, argued Jonathan Pryke:

For advocates of a robust and reputable aid program, this year's budget is not a great result but, given the Coalition’s track record, I expected worse.

In Indonesia, fomer Jakarta Governor Ahok was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy committed during his campaign for reelection. The day before, Indonesian authorities banned and disbanded Hizbut Tahrir, an Islamist group in support of an Islamic caliphate. The two decisions have left Indonesia religiously divided, and bode ill for President Jokowi, wrote Sidney Jones:

In the first case the government moved against a hardline organisation, but did it so clumsily that Hizbut Tahrir may yet turn it into a legal and public relations victory. In the second, a panel of judges ignored evidence and the prosecution's own case to put one of the country's best-known politicians behind bars for telling a group of civil servants to vote their conscience and ignore political arguments that non-Muslims should not be allowed to govern Muslims.

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson outlined what's at stake for the international community and local leaders in Somalia:

It’s never a good sign when the recommended mode of transport through a national capital is by armoured convoy. As I bumped along the streets of Mogadishu during my visit in March, passing one sun-bleached ruin after another, I had a sense of the destruction wrought by Somalia’s years of turmoil. And yet the simple fact that I was able to go to Mogadishu at all – where, today, the Union Flag flies over a British Embassy – is remarkable in itself.

Writing last weekend, Andrew Shearer and Michael Green argued that the Australia-US alliance needed a reset when President Donald Trump met Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull:

No doubt there will still be questions about President Trump in Australia: will he define an American role on trade, development and other issues that have long been at the heart of US-Australia cooperation? Will he staff the State Department? Will he adopt a more inclusive political narrative at home in the US.

There are reasons for both optimism and pessimism on all these fronts, but the meeting with Malcolm Turnbull demonstrated at least one reason for optimism.

Following Emmanuel Macron's victory in France's presidential elections, Matthew Dal Santo argued that we would be remiss to consider his victory a thumping endorsement on the values he professes: 

Le Pen may or may not be finished. But the spiritual needs she has, however inadequately, spoken to – for belonging, for rootedness in one's own country's traditions, history and past – will not for that reason vanish. Humanity's ability to fulfil its nature as a truly political animal depends on it.

Mike Rann connected Macron's victory with Matteo Renzi's prospects in Italy's upcoming elections:

One of Macron's first visitors to the Elysee Palace after his inauguration parade in mid May is likely to be former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Their high-profile meeting will be designed to seal a winning image of young, dynamic moderate leaders of a rejuvenated Europe rather than one that is falling apart. They will be critical of the Brussels bureaucracy and ECB constraints but will fight for both EU reform and its survival. 

And Denise Fisher analysed what the result means for France's territories in the Pacific:

Macron’s election to the Presidency creates increased uncertainty in the French Pacific territories, with developments on the eve of the vote potentially undermining stability in New Caledonia, Australia’s close neighbour.

The legislative elections in June are the main game for France’s three Pacific territories and Macron will now run his own candidates in those elections. This will unsettle local leaders. Macron’s New Caledonia representative Patrick Louis is an unknown. 

While impressive, Pakistan's economic progress is fraught - the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor poses a particular risk to its prospects down the track, argued Michael Kugelman:

CPEC poses long-term risks to Pakistan’s economy. With so much Chinese investment pouring into Pakistan, other potential foreign financiers could eventually conclude that Pakistan no longer provides a level playing field. Additionally, Pakistan will need to pay back billions of dollars in CPEC-related loans to China - up to $90 billion over 30 years, according to one estimate. Meeting these debt obligations, say some financial analysts, will be a tall order for Pakistan.

How is the debate over the Korean Peninsula playing out on Chinese social media? Frances Kitt (with Zixin Wang):

The debate surrounding the Korean Peninsula reflects a diversity of opinion, coinciding with piecemeal changes to China's North Korea policy.

Indonesia's refugee detention system is a far cry from its publicly made commitments, wrote Thomas Brown and Antje Missbach:

In recent years, Indonesia has attracted criticism for the detention of asylum seekers and refugees, especially children. Not only are the country's immigration detention centres routinely overcrowded, they have also seen cases of violence, extortion and abuse. Refugees can spend years in these conditions as they await a long and uncertain resettlement process to a third country willing to provide a durable solution.

Nay Yan Oo on why a third-party opposition to Aung San Suu Kyi's government in Myanmar is a political necessity:

Myanmar needs a third party to enhance economic reform and support Myanmar’s democratic transition. This emerging party should build a liberal platform, focusing on pursuing economic development and making institutions strong.

Earlier this month China's first domestically-built passenger jet made its maiden flight. Sam Roggeveen on what this means for China's aviation goals: 

Much of the reporting on this event seemed contradictory: the event was billed as a historic day for Chinese aviation, but the media also pointed out COMAC is years behind industry leaders Boeing and Airbus, and that the C919 is not a serious competitor to their 737 and A320. Both things are true.

Australia's media (and in particular the ABC) can play a vital role in elections throughout the South Pacific - so long as it stays with the times, wrote Greg Colton:

The counter to disruptive disinformation aimed at manipulating elections is an accountable news media that populations trust.

Stephen Grenville reviewed Peter McCawley's history of the Asian Development Bank's first 50 years:

This detailed narrative of the ADB’s institutional evolution is told against a background of extraordinary change in Asia. In 1966, the colonial period was barely over for some countries and still unresolved in several. The cold war was at its height and Asia was an important battleground – the American role in Vietnam was entering a new and tragic phase. China was in the throes of the Cultural Revolution. Indonesia was experiencing hyperinflation. The Four Tigers (South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan) had begun their extraordinary journey out of poverty, but this had hardly registered on global consciousness.

Finally, I wrote on the profitability and public interest role of Australia's commercial media outlets, as well as the state of Australia's foreign correspondents:

It's great to have Australian reporters in the US, but it's hard to argue that the Australian public truly needs those boots on the ground to explain a particular aspect of the Trump phenomenon in a way that a combination of US media outlets and Australia-based reporters would be unable to.


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