Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Weekend catch-up: Cabinet files, arms sales, sea cables and more

The week that was on The Interpreter.

Members of a North Korean delegation arriving at the Olympic Village for the Pyeongchang Olympics, February 2018 (Photo: Getty Images)
Members of a North Korean delegation arriving at the Olympic Village for the Pyeongchang Olympics, February 2018 (Photo: Getty Images)
Published 3 Feb 2018 

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

An extraordinary tranche of government documents was revealed after being found in a second-hand cabinet at a Canberra furniture store. But compared to the intentional leaks of Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden, this release looks relatively limited, writes Daniel Flitton:

There is benefit in exposing what is manifestly a breach of procedure, and the stories are illuminating of government debates. The ABC claims to have treated the material judiciously, and frankly there is no way to tell without knowing what more was included in the filing cabinets. It seems fair to assume the ABC journalists will have used the best of the material they had. No one has revived the “D Notice”.

The Government also announced $3.8 billion towards the establishment of an Australian arms export industry. Sam Roggeveen reflects on past Interpreter pieces that wrestled with the notion of Australian defence exports:

Of course it can be wrong to sell weapons if we think there's a good chance they will be used unethically ... it would be naive to think that once a weapon is sold, the seller has much control over where and in whose hands it ends up.

Monday marked a year since the assassaination of Myanmar lawyer and prominent advocate for constitutional reform U Ko Ni. Melissa Crouch:

This was one of many incidents in 2017 that indicated a sharp decline in freedoms not only in Myanmar but also across South East Asia. U Ko Ni’s death is an example of how efforts towards democracy and peace are frustrated in Myanmar.

In Cambodia, Australian filmmaker James Ricketson has been denied bail by the Supreme Court, writes David Boyle:

In laying espionage charges against Mr Ricketson – a messianic crusader of the poor – Cambodia has inadvertently drawn an international spotlight on its deeply broken judiciary. The more this escalates, the more Canberra can expect to reap the consequences of making bedfellows with questionable regimes.

Dan McGarry on how the Australian media is reports (and misreports) on China's aid in the Pacific region, and the challenges facing Vanuatu in particular:

On Monday The Australian published an article titled “Pacific nations drowning in Chinese debt”. It suggests that a large number of recent “white elephant” projects are becoming an unsustainable burden on Pacific Islands countries. Although this contains a kernel of truth, it’s not accurate to suggest that these nations’ problem is that they are “drowning in debt”.

Curiously, the government has dialled back the China rhetoric just in time for peak student recruiting season, notes Greg Earl:

Sydney University Vice Chancellor Michael Spence has underlined the depth of the China divide in Australia these days with his decision to double down on his unusually outspoken attack on the Federal Government for “Sinophobic blatherings”.

Elizabeth Buchanan on the prospect of trans-Arctic communication cables – and the security challenges:

The majority of sea cables are not state-owned or operated, but instead controlled by private telecommunications firms. There is, therefore, a grey area when it comes to enforcing security of the system.

A reported Chinese naval base at Gwadar in Pakistan would be the country's second in the Indian Ocean – and may be a herald of more to come, argues David Brewster:

Despite these dramatic developments, the shape and future purpose of China’s naval presence in the Indian Ocean remains an open question. We should not automatically assume that the Chinese navy intends to challenge the US Fifth Fleet, at least in the short term. China will remain at a big geographic disadvantage in the Indian Ocean.

Stephen Grenville on the predictions of China's economic gloom merchants over the years:

Markedly slower growth and imminent financial crisis have been the common dual predictions for China over the past decade. China’s growth has indeed slowed from its unsustainable breakneck pace in the two decades before the 2007–08 global crisis, but since then has settled down to a steady 6–7% per year, two or three times as fast as advanced economies.

Despite the Olympic detente, US President Donald Trump is normalising a previously unthinkable approach to North Korea, writes Robert E Kelly:

The social science notion of the viability of political discussion is known as the Overton window. The outer limits of morally permissible discourse move over time ... Race is an obvious example. Fifty years ago it was OK to oppose interracial marriage or desegregation. In contemporary times, such thinking is excluded, to the far right, from accepted discourse. And on North Korea, Trump’s biggest contribution so far is moving the Overton window to the right.

Aisyah Llewellyn on former Jokowi campaign advisor Djarot Saiful Hidayat's bid for the North Sumatra governorship:

A stumbling block for Djarot and Sihar will be having to start their campaign from scratch. They are newcomers to the political scene in North Sumatra and will need to demonstrate that they understand the ethnic and religious complexities of the region, which is something Djarot has already started to address.

Stephen Blank on Vladimir Putin's need for a ceremonial show in the upcoming Russian election.

Seeing as it is obviously a sham and a travesty, one might ask why bother to hold an election at all? This is because in Putin’s Russia, the outcome of an election is not nearly as important as the conditions under which it occurs. 

Most political parties are happy to return to government – but for Germany's Social Democrats, the prospect has split the party faithful, writes Marcus Colla:

Both the conservatives and the public now know that a Grand Coalition government would be propped up by many individuals who oppose it.

Vivienne Chow on the ongoing divide between Hong Kong's policymakers and its disaffected youth:

The ongoing political and cultural conflicts between Hong Kong and mainland China is no news, but the conflicts, rather than being introduced directly by Beijing, appeared to have been brought upon by Hong Kong’s ruling class, which has gained young people’s distrust over the course of time.

China's banning of hip hop reflects the Chinese Communist Party's desire for control of the country's cultural narrative, argues Frances Kitt:

As Beijing tries to develop its cultural soft power and gain greater international influence to match and sustain its rise in hard power, it has greater impetus to curate and control cultural products and what it deems to be “Chinese” (read: CCP-sanctioned Han, Mandarin-speaking dominant) culture.

Finally, the release of a film in India has again put the country's struggle with intolerance on display, writes Murali Krishnan:

Councils, academies, and institutions complain there has been too much government interference into research on the problem. But this much is clear: continuing on this current path could spell the destruction of India’s pluralistic ethos.

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