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Weekend catch-up: Bubbling Bitcoin, Jerusalem, Korea’s 2017 and more

The week that was on The Interpreter.

Israeli children in Jerusalem, April 2016 (Photo: Kristoffer Trolle/Flickr)
Israeli children in Jerusalem, April 2016 (Photo: Kristoffer Trolle/Flickr)
Published 9 Dec 2017 

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

Earlier this week US President Donald Trump declared that the US would recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and would move its embassy accordingly. Anthony Bubalo on what the announcement might augur:

Trump is effectively saying that if in future Israel and the Palestinians agree that some part of Jerusalem can serve as the capital of independent Palestinian state, then it is fine by him. The question is, how likely is this?

Returning from Beijing, Nick Bisley reported on a tepid response to Australia's Foreign Policy White Paper:

After I recently spent a week in China talking to scholars, analysts and commentators, it is also clear that the sourness in Canberra is being reciprocated. The mood among Chinese elites ranges from head scratching puzzlement to outright hostility.

In Japan, Donna Weeks on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's beleaguered plans for constitutional reform, amid questionable public support:

Wednesday 29 November in Tokyo, and the morning's breaking news was not Kim Jong-un firing another missile but that sumo grand champion Haruma Fuji had announced his retirement following a week of scandal surrounding an alleged attack on a junior wrestler.

Bec Strating on how the Japan-South Korea Dokdo/Takeshima dispute demonstrates that some disagreements lie beyond the rules-based order:

The Dokdo/Takeshima dispute reveals the limits of the contemporary 'rules-based order' to settle disputes over maritime features. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea can determine whether Dokdo/Takeshima is an island, rock or other type of formation. But it cannot determine sovereignty claims. This is governed by a parallel alternative set of rules around sovereign acquisition.

The key to building a durable order in Asia lies in US allies as much as US commitment, argued Michael Beckley:

'Bilateral bias': the tendency of American observers to view China’s neighbours as passive dominoes or, at best, feckless pawns in a US-China contest for regional supremacy.

Nadége Rolland on the appeal some post-Soviet states see in an affiliation with a new form of socialism:

For those who would like to see liberal democracies flourish, it is disturbing that countries which rejected the Iron Curtain and enthusiastically threw themselves into Europe's welcoming arms after 1989 would now be lured by the sirens of socialism - albeit, this time around, 'with Chinese characteristics.'

This week the Lowy Institute released seven 'snapshot' reports on political, economic, cultural and societal state of Papua New Guinea. Pacific Islands Program Director Jonathan Pryke on the scope of the project:

Compounding the pressure is the difficulty of making an objective assessment of where PNG stands and identifying the most pressing priorities. Quality data is scarce and incomplete, trends are difficult to establish and validate, and prognostications about PNG's future tend to be dogmatic and politicised. The Lowy Institute, through a new series of papers, aims to help fill in some of these gaps by assessing the contemporary state of PNG, and where it might go in the future.

The nation's unfettered coal industry is a huge impediment to Australian leadership in the Pacific, argued Wesley Morgan:

Australia likes to pride itself as a Pacific power...but Australia's pursuit of its own prosperity through the promotion of coal exports directly undermines the security of Pacific island countries.

In response to an earlier article from Greg Colton and other coverage of the White Paper on The Interpreter, Nic Maclellan wrote on the 'folly' of Australia setting the agenda in the Pacific:

Unless we talk honestly about why people are looking to partners beyond Australia, it will be increasingly difficult to paper over contested visions for the future.

Greg Colton in response:

 James Batley has questioned whether Australia has ‘the wherewithal – the resources, the attention span and the diplomatic and political capital’ to really achieve our ambitions in the region. Nic Maclellan has gone further, writing: ‘It is folly to believe that citizens in neighbouring Pacific countries will allow Australian governments to set the agenda’.

I happen to disagree with Nic. I not only believe that Australia can play a major role in setting the agenda, but that it must if it is to achieve its own foreign policy and security aims.

Stephen Grenville on Bitcoin's enduring narrative:

With Bitcoin trading at more than US$10,000 and suggestions it is not just a technological breakthrough, but also an exemplar of how to get around the failings of the nation state, it's time to try to sort out the various claims. Is it the next Amazon or tomorrow's Ford Edsel – a dismal flop? Is this just another financial bubble? Or even worse, a Ponzi scheme to rip off a gullible public?

As Indonesian officials signal that a good trade deal with Australia now would be better than a perfect one later, Matthew Busch on why Australian negotiators might need to pause for thought:

In February this year, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and President Joko Widodo stood together in Sydney and announced some relatively anodyne concessions: reduced tariffs on Australian raw sugar; administrative changes to the live export trade; and the removal of barrier to Australian imports of Indonesian pesticides. At the time, I wrote the practical importance of the deals hardly matched the fanfare of the leaders' announcement.

In September, trade ministers Steven Ciobo and Enggartiasto Lukita called a press conference in Jakarta to buoyantly inform journalists of new trade deals on sugar, cattle, and pesticides. Somewhat incredibly, these were essentially the same items the leaders announced in February.

Robert E Kelly on a rollercoaster year for the Korean Peninsula:

For all the bluster and threats of war, I would nonetheless rate the impeachment of the South Korean President as the most important event. North Korean war scares are, as disturbing as it is to say it, pretty common, whereas a completed democratic impeachment is actually quite rare.

While Britain is right to emphasise its global nature, it would do well to remember its limits, wrote James Goldrick:

When I first served on loan to the Royal Navy nearly forty years ago, there were some 65,000 people in British naval uniform. There are now 23,000. Where once were more than 50 frigates and destroyers in commission, there are now 19. At least two of these are immobilised because of personnel shortages and others have reduced crews. Britain is also struggling to maintain its nuclear submarine force.

Alexandra Phelan on Australia rising to meet its obligations in combatting global pandemics:

At a time when some countries seek to retreat from the international order, risking collective security and human suffering, Australia's renewed leadership is promising.

And finally, David Brewster on a peculiarity thrown up by India-China rivalry in the Indian Ocean.

Geopolitical rivalry between big powers sometimes yields odd results. The latest development in growing strategic competition across the Indian Ocean region is India's purchase of what has become known as the 'world's emptiest international airport' in Sri Lanka, maybe just to keep it empty.

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