Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Weekend catch-up: Bougainville referendum and more

Hong Kong discontent, Fiji on the UNHRC and fighter aircraft duel (on Instagram): the week that was on The Interpreter.

Kids from Bougainville (Photo: US Pacific Fleet/Flickr)
Kids from Bougainville (Photo: US Pacific Fleet/Flickr)
Published 20 Oct 2018   Follow @lowyinstitute

The week that was on The Interpreter.

Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and Autonomous Region of Bougainville President John Momis have agreed on the question for next year’s independence referendum. Annmaree O’Keefe:

How the outcome of the referendum might affect PNG’s eventual configuration as a nation has been the subject of concern and debate for a number of years. Would other provinces also attempt to follow a pathway of greater decentralisation or even break away from PNG?

Scott Morrison flagged Australia could follow Donald Trump to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, only for the opposition to accuse him of breaking a bipartisan foreign policy in a pitch for votes in Saturday’s byelection. Daniel Flitton:

Broad questions about the Israel-Palestinian dispute are actually one of those rare issues in Australian foreign policy where the two major parties quite often disagree – and internal fights within the parties break out, too.

Fiji, alongside the Philippines, Eritrea, Bahrain and Cameroon, has been elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Bruce Hill:

Foreign policy realism seeks the greatest good for the greatest number in the most effective way, and if that means ignoring Fiji’s human rights record temporarily so that the country can gradually evolve towards something better, that’s a price that needs to be paid. Maybe (and perhaps it’s a bit of a gamble) having Fiji on the Human Rights Council could encourage them to improve their human rights track record?

Far away in central Asia, rumours of a potential Chinese military base have attracted attention to a little known corridor of Afghanistan. Suzanne Levi-Sanchez:

A Chinese base in this location not only cements Chinese participation in the fight against terrorism, but also serves Beijing’s long-term goal of gaining a permanent foothold and control over the regional economy and security through building military installations and funding infrastructure projects. The question is, will this bring stability to a potentially volatile, although historically peaceful, Wakhan Corridor, or will the development of a military base and presence of troops invite an insecurity that has otherwise been absent?

Hong Kong’s government is facing popular discontent over recent decisions – the reclamation of land for housing, the effective barring of a foreign journalist from the island, and questioning the value of Cantonese. Vivienne Chow:

Decisions made on the government level are not endorsed by the public and people do not have a channel to say no or to stop certain actions from being taken. The Chief Executive is ‘elected’ by a committee made up of 1,200 members and only half of the seats of the Legislative Council are open to general election. One country, two systems has become merely an empty slogan.

In Malaysia, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad oversaw the release of eleven Uighurs that Beijing had wished to extradite. Elliot Brennan:

During the term of the embattled Najib Razak, dozens of Uighurs were arrested in Malaysia and deported to China including those with pending refugee applications. The 11 were lucky. In recent years, the list has continued to grow of countries willing to extradite Uighurs back to China – among them Egypt, Pakistan, and Malaysia. Even Turkey, a natural ally of Uighurs, has erred recently.

Merriden Varrall on the politic imperatives behind China’s tax reforms:

At the 19th Party Congress in November, Xi announced that the Chinese government would work to ensure income was distributed more fairly, and ‘play its function of adjusting redistribution … to narrow the gaps in incomes’. Since then, the Chinese government has leapt into tax reform action, and the individual income tax changes in August are just the beginning.

Chinese tech firms are coming to terms with Communist Party influence in their businesses. Elliott Zaagman:

A number of workers from leading ecommerce, entertainment, and social media platforms have spoken of how their companies’ governance structures have recently changed, with added emphasis being placed on the CEOs’ role as chairman of the firm’s party committee. Many entrepreneurs are finding that success is beginning to lie more on complying with party initiatives, and less on market-based dynamics.

Tech-watchers have raised questions over Bloomberg Businessweek’s big story on Chinese chips being inserted into hardware from major American tech companies. Sam Sacks:

The problem is that the material needed for information security professionals to verify the Bloomberg story is not likely to be issued to the public any time soon. But it does not even matter whether the story is accurate or not (the answer is probably somewhere in between) because the damage has already been done.

Victor Ambramowicz on the curious story of a Russian pilot who claimed bested an American counterpart in mock air-combat on Instagram:

Western reporting on the story has focused on that if the picture is real – while the F-22 remains superior – the Su-35’s capabilities could spell real trouble. In Russia, it led to claims that the Western press has acknowledged the Su-35 as the better aircraft. From the official perspective, the Pentagon has merely stated that it has no knowledge of the incident. Yet what seems to be lacking in all this is some consideration of the image itself and the circumstance surrounding it.

Cybercrime is an increasingly significant source of revenue for North Korea, undermining sanctions and shoring up Kim Jong-un’s regime. Elise Thomas:

The destructive nature of APT38’s (a sub-branch of North Korea’s cyber force) operations raises the risks of a geopolitical flashpoint. If, in the course of committing a robbery, APT38 deliberately or inadvertently crippled a significant part of another nation’s financial system, what began as criminals covering their tracks might instead be interpreted as an act of war. A conflict which begins in the virtual world could quickly become all too real.

ASIO Chief Duncan Lewis recently urged federal parliament to pass legislation imposing obligations on providers to facilitate investigative access to encrypted communications. Bret Walker:

Encryption could not possibly be seen as a mark of innocence, let alone by comparison with a lack of encryption. If anything, and too much should not be made of this at all, secrecy – that which encryption seeks to protect – is more likely to be associated with communications that one or both of the parties to it would prefer not be revealed either to the public, or to persons who may criticise the content, or even be alerted by it to possible wrongdoing. 

Rodger Shanahan asks what Australia should do about Saudi Arabia in the midst of furour over the disappearance of Washington Post columnist:

It all depends if the finger of blame for Jamal Khashoggi’s death points to Riyadh, as appears likely. Then a liberal democracy such as Australia can hardly stand idly by and fail to express its outrage in some concrete manner.

You may also be interested in