Thursday 24 Jan 2019 | 09:54 | SYDNEY
Thursday 24 Jan 2019 | 09:54 | SYDNEY

Weekend catch-up: Defence White Paper, The Embarrassed Colonialist, China's central bank, Abenomics, South China Sea and more



27 February 2016 08:00

What a week on The Interpreter. A cyclone in Fiji, the launch of the latest Lowy Institute Paper, The Embarrassed Colonialist, and the release of the long-awaited 2016 Defence White Paper. Starting with the aforementioned White Paper, Andrew O'Neil pointed out one possible flaw

DWP2016 contains some notable flaws in its strategic assessment. The most obvious is the characterisation of international terrorism, which is said to be 'growing as a threat to Australia's security and interests' (p.46). Evidence furnished to support this claim is an increase in 2013-2014 in the quantity of attacks of deaths resulting from terrorist attacks. But the overwhelming majority of attacks and deaths resulting from terrorism continue to be confined to a small number of failed or failing states where suicide bombings are prevalent — the big four remain Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan. In the overall scheme of threats to Australia, terrorism will remain marginal.

Michael J Green and Zack Cooper from CSIS said the White Paper looked good from a US perspective:

The Pentagon should take note of the White Paper not only for its relevance in terms of alliance relations, but also because of the clear metrics for connecting strategy, capabilities, and resources. The paper should be required reading for all US officials and officers working on the Quadrennial Defense Review's successor, the Defense Strategy Review.

Early in the week, while previewing the Paper's release, Sam Roggeveen commented on former Prime Minister Tony's Abbott's intervention: 

Pay careful attention to that ‘Almost certainly’. The 2% figure became a mantra for Abbott when he was PM, but rumours have circulated in Canberra for some months now that under Turnbull, it was no longer inviolable. Abbott is signalling that this, along with big decisions on naval shipbuilding, will be the measure by which he and his supporters judge the new White Paper.

Earlier this week, Senator Stephen Conroy argued that the Turnbull Government should authorise a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea:

The international system provides a platform from which we can project our voice and national interests well beyond the comparative size of our economy or armed forces. The current system is not perfect, but it is the best check we have against ‘might is right’.

That’s why I believe the Government should consider authorising a freedom of navigation operation — a FONOP — in the South China Sea as a demonstration of Australia’s commitment to upholding the rules-based international order.

Kicking off the debate on the Institute's latest Paper, Jenny Hayward-Jones:  

The seeming intractability of Papua New Guinea's many challenges (Sean does a great job of summarising them in his paper) make it hard to entice Australians to engage with our nearest neighbours. As Sean says, 'it is easy to focus on Papua New Guinea's weaknesses...but less often do people consider its strengths.' This resonated strongly with me. In the work we have done at the Lowy Institute with emerging leaders in Papua New Guinea, I have been impressed by their energy, their enthusiasm, and their commitment to the development of their communities, which stands in contrast to reporting on negative trends in governance, law and order, health and education in Papua New Guinea.

Ian Kemish on the Australia-PNG relationship:

Why should Australians care more? Sean emphasises the theme of responsibility. It's true that Australia has an obligation, as a wealthy and responsible neighbour, to support PNG in a generous and thoughtful way. That would be true even if we were not the former colonial power. I think that successive Australian governments have tried to manage the development partnership responsibly. I have had occasional frustrations with the program myself, but I've no time for the kind of armchair commentary that can be heard at the wet bar of the Port Moresby Yacht Club. 

And Max Uechtritz on the rich history between Australia and it's former colony: 

There’s give and take, and share, like most ex-colonists. We give $500 million of aid a year to PNG, and our NGOs and churches inject many more millions. Thousands of volunteers donate slabs of their lives to helping our neighbour’s poor, needy and sick. Our companies, especially in mining and energy, take resources worth billions of dollars from PNG soil, waters and forests .We dump our refugees there. We take few PNG immigrants.

Our High Commission in Port Moresby has 360 staff, more than in our Washington DC embassy. It’s said PNG’s population might match ours by 2050.

It’s all a rich stew of personal history and impersonal stark reality. The security and prosperity of PNG, as Dorney emphasises, is hugely important to Australia.

How many Papua New Guineans are migrating to Australia? Not many, as it turns out, says Jonathan Pryke:

These numbers just don't stack up. Melanesian countries are our closest neighbours in almost every metric — trade, aid, proximity, defence ties — except one, migration. Why is it that there are more Cook Islanders in Australia than Papua New Guineans, when Papua New Guinea has more than 430 times the population of the former and is our former colony? Why more Nieuans than Solomon Islanders, when the Solomon Islands has more than 360 times the population of the former, and far closer links with Australia? 

 Visiting Fellow David Dollar wrote for The Interpreter this week, looking at the increasingly clear messaging from China's central bank:

Each small move of the yuan down vis-à-vis the dollar, however, has been met by accelerating capital outflows.  Governor Zhou would like to shape expectations such that small movements of the yuan are not taken to presage further devaluation.  One of the key questions for 2016 is whether China can stabilise expectations around the current level of the exchange rate or whether accelerating outflows force an unruly devaluation.

Also, Tim Harcourt wrote an update on Abenomics and the relatively low economic engagement between Australia and Japan:

Then there is foreign direct investment. Whilst Japan is a major investor in Australia, Australian companies could invest more in Japan. And with a more open Japanese economy there should be more opportunity for Australian businesses to work in-market in Japan.  According to research by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, only 3016 Australian businesses export goods to Japan (compared to 5853 to China, 5294 to Hong Kong and 6181 to Singapore), and according to Sensis 14% of all Australian exporting small and medium enterprises  sell to Japan. Furthermore, very few Australian companies base themselves there.

Two great pieces on politics in the Philippines, and the country's arbitration case against China's territorial claims in the South China Sea. First, Lowell Bautista:

The timing of the crucial arbitration tribunal ruling on the Philippine maritime dispute with China, expected in mid-2016, could not be more opportune. Many expect the ruling will favour the Philippines. If this happens, the region should be ready for greater tension and the possibility of conflict as China flexes its military and economic muscles, and the rest of the world, especially the Philippines, recalibrates its strategy. Of course, China's response and subsequent behaviour to the ruling will be a defining moment for Beijing, a nation at the cusp of superpower status.

And Richard Javad Heydarian:

The new Filipino president’s room for manoeuvre will expand if, for instance, China agrees to, say, a mutual disengagement from Scarborough Shoal, end the siege on the Filipino detachment in Second Thomas Shoal, and promises not to cut off Filipino supply lines the South China Sea. The two sides could also start discussing ways to revive bilateral investment relations, since China has a very limited footprint in the Philippines’ infrastructure landscape. All of these options seem a long way off, however. Don’t expect a major or swift reset any time soon.

Sarah Ireland on the lack of education for Syrian refugee children:

Policy changes that would remove some of the barriers that keep children out of the classroom must also be implemented. While a few policy changes were announced at the conference, including commitments from Jordan and Lebanon to support non-formal education, and to provide a safe and inclusive environment with psychosocial support for refugee children, much more needs to be done. 

What is the strategic threat to the US and its allies regarding North Korea's ballistic missile program? Arka Biswas:

The alleged ICBM test may raise concerns over North Korea’s capability to target North America. But considering that the balance of threat is already heavily tilted in the favour the US and its allies, it is unlikely that North Korea, even with its ICBM, can tilt the balance of threat in its favour and acquire any absolute gains. Nuclear weapons and their delivery systems can only serve the purpose of deterrence for North Korea and it is unlikely that Pyongyang can achieve any other strategic objectives or enjoy absolute gains by acquiring reliable nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.

The symbolism of Ronald Reagan is constantly invoked by Republican presidential candidates, but how much of it is convincing? Christine Gallagher:

Historically Trump and Reagan's political paths are quite different. Reagan was actively involved in politics years before running for president. He delivered the famous 'Time For Choosing' speech in support of Barry Goldwater in 1964 and then served two terms as Governor of California from 1967 to 1975 before running for president in 1976 and again in 1980. And yet the Reagan comparison works for Trump who also draws on big picture themes in his vision for America (although in a rather less disciplined way). 

A great first post from International Security Program intern Tom Holcombe:

Despite a recent setback in the form of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Japan's participation in the resulting sanctions, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has personally sought to breathe new life into the peace treaty negotiations. In January this year Abe took the unusual step of establishing the position of 'Ambassador for Japan-Russia Relations' to oversee high-level bilateral consultations. In announcing the appointment of the former Japanese Ambassador to Russia, Chikahito Harada, to this position, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said working on the bilateral relationship 'is a diplomatic task of the highest priority'.

And finally, a first hand account of Cyclone Winston's landfall in Fiji by Vani Vulaca:

By Saturday, it seemed all of Suva was indoors bracing for the worst. Winston began battering the northern island, Vanua Levu, just after lunch and social media posts from friends and relatives there had us worried.

A friend living in Nabouwalu, Vanua Levu’s main port of entry, gave us a glimpse of Winston’s power, posting that he had just seen a part of his neighbour’s house being blown away. Within two hours, another Facebook post revealed my friend's roof had also been blown off. Minutes after I read that, Suva blacked out and it was our turn to witness to Winston’s wrath and force.

Photo courtesy of Australian Defence Image Library.

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