First off, as Sam wrote this week, we are hosting a live event in Canberra on 28 May, The Interpreter's Ultimate World Politics Trivia Challenge. It's at the National Press Club and will be hosted by the ABC's Chis Uhlmann. I'm sure it will be as memorable as other famous quiz nights (see above). The Lowy Institute also has it's first-ever online quiz that you can take to test your knowledge of foreign affairs.
Now for the week that was on The Interpreter. It is worth reading this piece from Hugh White on whether the US would defend Taiwan against China:
What about America's allies and friends in Asia? Wouldn't they help America defend Taiwan, if only because they are so worried themselves about China? Many Americans seem to assume they would. But even Australia, America's most reliable ally in Asia, is uncertain about this. And if Australia is uncertain, it is pure wishful thinking to expect the likes of India, Singapore, Vietnam or even the Philippines to offer anything more than mild diplomatic support to America over Taiwan.
Julian Snelder responded:
...Taiwan's economic policy has been about as fierce, brazen and willful as it gets. Of all the small, vulnerable countries trying to build the techno-economic foundations to deter a more powerful adversary, Taiwan is an exemplar. It is a veritable fortress economy. Whether it converts these piles of money into the means to defend itself is entirely a matter of Taiwan's resolve.
Matthew Dal Santo was insightful on the growing historical gulf between Russia and the West, reflected by this years celebrations of Victory Day:
This gulf in historical understanding between Russia and the West neatly reflects their political differences and may partly explain them. So long as Russia refuses to repudiate its Stalinist past as Germany repudiated the Nazis, the totalitarian threat to liberal democracy hasn't gone away. To Snyder and other liberals, it has reared its head again in Putin's Russia. On the other hand, if, as the realists have it, the conflict in Ukraine flows from the West's unwarranted dismissal of the realities of power in Eastern Europe, taking at face-value the historiographical sea-change in the meaning of Russia's war should be numbered among the 'liberal delusions' to blame.
Even if we don't go that far, Russia's Second World War remains an antidote to the cloying sentimentality of our own commemorative rituals that simplistically equate virtue and victory, sacrifice and freedom.
Is enough being done to protect local development workers in conflict zones? Susanne Schmeidl on five employees of Save the Children-Australia that were recently killed in Afghanistan:
The killing of the five Save the Children Staff appeared only briefly in the Australian media and was not openly discussed or addressed (it was acknowledged on a blog by Save the Children-UK, Save the Children-Australia's Facebook page and on Twitter, but not on the Children of Uruzgan website, which has not been shy to showcase success stories). Though the deaths were denounced by the UN in Afghanistan and the Australian Council for International Development, the Australian Government has been silent.
Bonnie Glaser wrote on China's changing policy with Japan:
More needs to be done to put the Sino-Japanese relationship on an enduring positive trajectory. First, Tokyo and Beijing need to faithfully adhere to the four-point agreement reached last November. Second, the bilateral maritime crisis management mechanism should be established as soon as possible to avert inadvertent clashes over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Third, as a gesture of goodwill, China should reduce its patrols inside the territorial waters of disputed islands. Fourth, Beijing should avoid using the upcoming commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, including the ceremony in Beijing planned for 3 September, to inflame anti-Japanese nationalism and inject new tensions in China-Japan relations. Fifth, Prime Minister Abe should use his speech this coming August to make a clearer statement of apology for his country's war crimes so as to achieve reconciliation with China, as well as Korea, Taiwan, and other neighbouring countries that were occupied or attacked during the war.
After returning from a trip to Washington DC, Merriden Varrall wrote on her impressions:
I am not arguing that Western liberal values are not worthy, and I am not proposing that Chinese behaviour has only the purest and most benevolent of intentions. The point is that we don't actually know what China is trying to achieve.
I would argue though that at this moment, precisely as China is rapidly increasing its activities and expanding its presence in the region, it would be wise for the US not to respond hastily or in ways that fail to reflect an awareness of both their own views and biases, as well as China's. It would also be valuable for the US to reflect that not everyone, even old allies like Australia, let alone actors like Indonesia, view the region or feel the same concerns about it as they do.
However, if companies want to maintain access to the Chinese market, why wouldn't they err on the safe side and avoid offending Chinese officialdom even when operating outside China? Even Western technology companies such as Microsoft, Apple and Linkedin have been accused of censoring their products within China to maintain their access. Bing, Microsoft's search engine, was even alleged to censor search results for users accessing its products outside China.
The TPP is not being negotiated in a transparent manner, and Stephen Grenville believes this will harm the final agreement:
Does the fact that the TPP is a negotiating process prevent transparency? Transparency has more pluses than minuses: our negotiators would come to the table backed up by public opinion. A vigorous public debate in Australia might remind the major players that rules on intellectual property should foster innovation and competition, not simply benefit yesterday's inventors. Debating the industry-state dispute settlement process might show strong resistance to giving foreigners a special right to override Australia's legislative intent.
It is unwise to reduce the many reasons for the large protection gap to just 'political will'. Instead, we should acknowledge the weaknesses of the system while also asking why it appears that political will is in fact working – but predominantly to deter unauthorised migration not collectively support asylum seeker flows.
Daniel Woker with a spirited defence of the EU:
At this point, I cannot but add that the recent one-upmanship from Down Under tends to go down badly here in Europe, be it of the military kind — 'why don't you start controlling your borders?' — or of the professorial kind, as is the case with a Greek-Australian masquerading as a bona fide Minister of Finance in Athens.
Emilia Christoforou on what may be the beginnings of peace talks in Afghanistan:
But direct engagement between the Afghan Government and the Taliban is an important step towards an eventual political solution. Although Australia is not directly involved, we should use our relationships with both Islamabad and Kabul to encourage them to bring a political end to a conflict in which so many of our troops have been involved for so long.