Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Weekend catch-up: Brexit triggered, Putin protested, Trump lobbied and more

Deceptive appearances in UK politics, why Putin needs to change tack to ward off Russian dissent, and how Li Keqiang's visit went down with the Chinese media.

British Prime Minister Theresa May signing the letter to European Council President Donald Tusk invoking Article 50 (Photo: Getty Images/Christopher Furlong)
British Prime Minister Theresa May signing the letter to European Council President Donald Tusk invoking Article 50 (Photo: Getty Images/Christopher Furlong)
Published 1 Apr 2017 

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

After acquiring a parliamentary vote to leave the European Union last month, this week British Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50, and with it a two-year countdown for the United Kingdom to leave the EU.

This formality has spawned murmurs of both a breakaway Scotland and a breakaway Northern Ireland (the latter presumably to be reunited with the Republic of Ireland). But not all is quite as it seems in the British Isles these days, wrote Simon Heffer:

British Prime Minister Theresa May's decision to send the formal notice to Brussels that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union within the next two years has ignited restiveness on the fringes of the Kingdom … However, none of this is quite as it seems.

Across the channel, the French vote for the presidency is proving every bit as dramatic as the Brexit referendum and the US elections. Bruno Tertrais:

As one of my friends put it, 'You don’t seriously think that we French were going to leave to the Americans the monopoly of electoral surprises, do you?'. The 2017 presidential election is already the biggest political rollercoaster since the birth of the Fifth Republic in 1958.

Earlier this month the Washington Post reported that more than 200 civilians had died in a coalition airstrike on Mosul. Any civilian deaths are tragic, but numbers given out by advocacy groups should be taken with a grain of salt, wrote Rodger Shanahan:

Media reporting on civilian casualties would do well to approach such stories with a cynical but open mind. The track record of organisations peddling information should be examined and included in the reporting so readers get a sense of the credibility of the claims.

Last weekend Chinese Premier Li Keqiang finished his visit to Australia. Even recently it would have been difficult to envision a Chinese Premier extolling virtues of free trade amid worldwide protectionist sentiment – yet that’s exactly what Li’s messaging conveyed, and what China’s media ran with. Jackson Kwok:

The People’s Daily, mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party, heralded last Tuesday that Li’s visit would send positive signals on trade and investment liberalisation against the rising trend of protectionism. An article published on Thursday reported that ‘as countries with important global influence … Australia and China will jointly … oppose protectionism’.

In the US, President Donald Trump and House Majority Leader Paul Ryan failed to ‘repeal and replace’ the Affordable Care Act, meaning that despite countless election promises, Obamacare lives to fight another day. Dougal Robinson analysed the takeaways for international observers:

Some say that all foreign policy is domestic politics. If Trump can’t get a handle on Washington’s politics – not least the requirement to work with Congress – US foreign policy will suffer, and Australia will not escape the consequences.

While it may be instinctual for US allies to lobby Trump to attend APEC and the East Asia Summit in November, the rules-based order would be better served by the President sitting them out, argued Aaron Connelly:

There are other, more reliable ways of signalling US commitment to the region, including through the negotiation of new economic arrangements, the attendance of Cabinet officials at key ministerial meetings in the region, the continued funding of key governance programs through USAID, and an increased naval presence.

A recent Chinese military journal article has casually declared Chinse military supremacy in the South China Sea. Peter Layton on what to infer from this statement:

For a domestic audience, the messages might be that China’s new assertiveness is helping restore national self-respect, that military power is important, and that the Communist Party is delivering high-quality outcomes. For an international audience however, the message appears more pointed: China now dominates the region and all should behave accordingly.

This week Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop warned of a potential ‘caliphate’ emerging in the south Philippines, following Islamic State military losses in Iraq and Syria. Bishop is right to focus on the area, but the likelihood of ‘caliphate’ remains low, argued Sidney Jones:

The more likely danger is that pro-Islamic State (IS) extremists with deadly skills may use bases there to plan hits in Mindanao and Manila, or train operatives to carry out attacks elsewhere in the region. It is unlikely that hundreds of foreign fighters will flee there as Islamic State is pushed back, but even a dozen could cause serious damage.

Next year IMF and World Bank meetings are set to be hosted at Nusa Dua in Bali. The artificial and idyllic locale may give the casual observer the wrong impression regarding Indonesia’s infrastructure needs, wrote Stephen Grenville:

Those who cross over from Nusa Dua's hotel enclave to look at the real Indonesia will witness everywhere the small-scale entrepreneurial vibrancy that refutes the World Bank's ranking of Indonesia's ease-of-doing-business – 91st out of 190. If only the government could get its act together on infrastructure, Indonesia could easily shift up a gear, to grow at the same 6-7% seen in China and India.

To the world, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears to have cracked the code to Donald Trump’s personality politics. But domestically, the two-time leader cannot escape the gravitational pull of concrete and alleged links to a neo-nationalist preschool. Donna Weeks:

Abe's strategic diplomacy has taken a major blow over a domestic issue that may yet cost him his position. A financial scandal involving a preschool in Osaka that promotes a pre-war nationalist ethos may curb Abe's grand strategy. Television images of four-year-olds reciting pre-war rescripts on education and patriotism appear to have had greater impact than Abe speaking with Putin, meeting with Trump, or appearing in military garb at Japan Self-Defense Forces parades.

With few plausible domestic enemies left to demonise, Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan is turning to the European Union, wrote Ihsan Yilmaz:

There are no more credible bogeymen left in Turkey: the government has closed 178 media outlets in five months, imprisoned 153 journalists, according to the International Press Institute, and sacked about 120,000 civil servants (including judges and prosecutors), thus Erdogan wants to position the EU as the new (imagined) enemy of the nation.

It’s an intuitively unpleasant business, but how should Australia best forcibly return asylum seekers who fail in the application for asylum? Jiyoung Song and Neil Cuthbert:

Just as important as the number of refugees we accept is the question of what to do with asylum seekers we reject. Swift removal after rejection may sound harsh, but may be more humane than allowing migrants to stay precariously in the community or in long-term detention.

There’s a new, more global Chinese diaspora emerging, wrote John Lee:

In the 1980s-90s, the ‘old diaspora’ helped fuel China’s emergence as the Asia Pacific’s manufacturing hub, setting in train a shift in the region’s political balance of power. The new Chinese diaspora is at the heart of a transformation that may have still more profound consequences.

Finally, I analysed the recent trend of governments and advertisers demanding more of tech giants’ ability to monitor the content they allow to be published:

'Overall, it is important that the governance of our community scales with the complexity and demands of its people', wrote Zuckerberg in his manifesto. But Facebook's community doesn’t operate in a vacuum – it relies explicitly on the blessings of other agents. Whether the governance of Facebook, Google and others can scale fast enough to meet the increasing demands of the advertisers that fund them and the governments whose citizens they rely on for revenue remains to be seen.

You may also be interested in