Bringing together the best longer Interpreter articles you were too busy to read this week.
In our first week back from the break, The Interpreter dedicated significant coverage to the tragic shootings at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and the subsequent global reaction. The situation also seems to be continuing to unfold in Europe, with reports that two people were killed during anti-terror raids in Belgium yesterday.
First, Rodger Shanahan on freedom of speech and Australia's foreign policy:
Now, I'm not naïve enough to suggest that we only choose friends or trading partners among countries who share all of our values. We would be a righteous but impoverished and marginalised country. But that shouldn't stop us from publicly expressing concern, even outrage, when we believe one of our trade or security partners so egregiously transgresses what we consider fundamental human rights such as freedom of speech.
Peter Knoope, Director of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism in The Hague, argues that the answer to this violence is a form of 'civil resistance':
We know that facilitating political and public space to resist political violence, as shown in France this weekend, is our only hope. We know that there are people out there who devote their lives to community-level peace building efforts. We know that an army of civil society actors work on interfaith dialogue and mediation. We, governments and the public, should mobilise and facilitate those actors to propagate civil responses and public resistance to acts of violence.
Let us not get used to violence, let us not ignore victims in faraway places, let us not get intimidated by violent actors and let us not be limited in our space by governments that rely on military and repressive means and measures only. This is our world, in which we want to live in dignity, based on human values. We owe it to the children in Nigeria to speak out and not be silenced.
Regular Interpreter contributor Daniel Woker attended the Paris unity march:
The mood was unbelievable. Parisians, famous for their impatience and occasional rudeness in everyday foot and car traffic, were impeccably behaved. That was, after all, the point: a show of quiet and strong defiance in the face of murderous action and a show of best civic behaviour against a direct attack on civil society. A show especially of multi-ethnic and multi-religious tolerance as an answer to an assault on the liberty of expression at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, and to a concurrent anti-Semitic crime at a kosher supermarket.
Inevitably Sunday's warm glow of unity and purpose will pass as we all go back to our daily lives. The real test for what we claim as our way of life — the Western type of open, tolerant and democratic society — will be how the authorities and society in its voting behaviour will react.
What was the reaction of China's media to the shooting? Merriden Varrall said it reflected vastly different values:
These pieces add up to an argument that freedom of the press, and free expression overall, are Western values that are unreflectively presumed to be applicable across all cultures. The Chinese press reflects the view that such freedoms should not automatically be assumed to be positive and beneficial. Rather, public expression should have the wellbeing of the public as a whole as its key guiding principle. It should be limited if it causes tension and exacerbates cultural differences – that is, freedom of the press should be seen as a means to a greater end.
Before the holiday break, Lowy Institute Nonresident Fellow Linda Jakobson published a report on China's maritime actors in the South China Sea. The Interpreter has been hosting a debate on Linda's paper. The first post this week was from Rear Admiral (Ret.) Michael McDevitt:
But in the US, if one goes too far and causes embarrassment or a political dust-up, it can be professionally damaging. Jakobson seems to suggest that Xi and policy makers at the highest level in China find it difficult to discipline entities that announce or execute embarrassing or counterproductive stances associated with 'safeguarding China's sovereignty in the maritime domain.' I am not sure this argument holds up, given what Xi is willing to take on in his anti-corruption campaign.
But whether Jakobson is right or wrong, detailed plan or no detailed plan, China's actions in the East and South China Seas have had strategic effects. China has changed facts 'on the water' to its advantage and at the same it has riven ASEAN on South China Sea maritime issues. And it has apparently gained wide public support with its tough stance on sovereignty claims.
Back to the lack of a grand plan or strategy: barring the confusion over terminology, I stand by my argument that, at this point in history, vaguely formulated guidelines from the central government are what lower levels of government and innumerable other non-government maritime security actors have to go by when they decide on concrete actions and policies. Xi has shown the direction (his 'overall strategic objective'), but he has not spelled out specific guidelines about how stability must be maintained while at the same time safeguarding sovereignty. This gives many kinds of actors with many kinds of agendas quite substantial maneuver room to decide on the course of action and the kind of policies to pursue. For reasons I lay out in the report, there are both political and financial motivations for various actors to staunchly advocate protecting maritime rights and strengthen 'rights consciousness'. Hence, China's actions in the maritime domain will continue to be unsystematic and organic, and not part of a well thought-out 'grand strategy.'
And Linda's response to McDevitt:
This brings me to an observation made by Michael McDevitt. On the basis of Xi's willingness to make politically 'courageous' moves in his anti-corruption campaign, McDevitt questions my argument that Xi and other top leaders find it difficult to publicly disagree with officials or entities that announce or execute counterproductive stances associated with 'safeguarding China's sovereignty'. This is an important and possibly a valid point, which I have contemplated while watching one senior official after another being investigated. Nevertheless, on the basis of discussions this past September and November in Beijing about the anti-corruption drive, I came to the conclusion that there are different dynamics at play. The 'rights consciousness' movement (which Xi himself has spurred on) is so strong that it does at least to a degree deter Xi from going against the tide on matters involving sovereignty. Obviously, time will tell if I am mistaken.
The latest entry in the debate comes from Bill Hayton, author of The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia, where he says in reality both Jakobson and Glaser are right:
So let's praise the combined 'Glaser-Jakobson' model of China's South China Sea policy-making. Everything China is doing in the Sea is founded upon a profound sense of ownership and there appears to be a deliberate policy to assert this through various state agencies. At the same time the agencies are trying to milk the system for all they can and pulling patriotic strings to win the resources they seek. Anyone seeking solutions to the South China Sea disputes will need to take both sets of motivations into account.
Stephen Grenville wrote an excellent post on the consequences of the falling global oil price:
The IMF remains gloomy about global growth (despite its own figures showing essentially no slowing so far and none in the forecast). In its most recent World Economic Outlook (in October), the Fund was still identifying the main risk as an oil price increase with a $25/ barrel hike estimated to cut at least 0.5% off global growth. Now that the Fund is looking at a price shock twice as large and in the opposite direction, its tentative answer is that this will add between 0.3% and 0.7% to world growth. When the Fund incorporates this into its updated global forecast later this month, we'll see if this breaks the unrelieved gloom that has permeated discussion of global economic prospects since 2008.
Robert E Kelly reflected on what he got wrong and what he got right in 2014:
Yet in 2014, South Korean President Park seems to have done a masterful job schmoozing Chinese President Xi Jinping, a gift that eluded Korea's previous presidents. Park is sometimes accused of 'sinophilia,' but I find this a foolish charge. South Korea lives right next door to enormous China, and trying to get along with Beijing is smart politics. Similarly, China holds the key to North Korea because of its economic support, toleration for sanctions-running, and cover at international institutions, like its anticipated ICC veto (point 2 above). If the South is really serious about unification, then wooing China away from North Korea is a necessity. Let's hope it holds through this year, but I am sceptical.
Also worth reading is a post from Julian Snelder on China and it's 'Lehman moment':
This is where Chinese see things differently from Americans. Chinese officially viewed the 2008 financial crisis, America's 'Lehman moment', as an unmitigated failure of the US system and a mistake to be avoided at all costs. They proclaimed their 'superior system advantage' as they poured on the stimulus. 'The Chinese lost a lot of respect for the West', a car company executive famously commented. 'When you've seen a multinational exec on his knees begging for help, you are not so intimidated by him after that.'
Lastly, Elliot Brennan on democracy and elections in Myanmar this year:
Social mobilisation, one of the key drivers toward democratic change, is growing in Myanmar and will continue to grow this year. If given appropriate institutions to flow through, and if citizens get the requisite education, such mobilisations can be peaceful and constructive for both human and economic development. Myanmar's transition is still in its infancy. It is therefore no shock that few citizens understand how the country's institutions work. Nevertheless, education in democracy is at least as important to the establishment of the system itself. An illiterate democracy can hardly be democratic.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user thierry ehrmann.