Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Weekend catch-up: Fidel, Fillon, fiscal policy and more

In Australia the political reaction was remarkably muted, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten declining to make a statement.

Fidel Castro addressing a Havana crowd, 1981. Photo: Getty Images/David Hume Kennerly
Fidel Castro addressing a Havana crowd, 1981. Photo: Getty Images/David Hume Kennerly
Published 3 Dec 2016 

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

Last week Fidel Castro died at the age of 93. The Washington Post’s obituary for Castro was authored by Kevin Sullivan and JY Smith; the latter had his own obituary published in the paper a decade ago. The New York Times has published an interactive exploring how sixteen separate journalists approached that paper’s obituary, first drafted in 1959.

In Australia the political reaction was relatively muted, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten declining to make a statement on Castro's passing (despite the latter having travelled to Cuba by private jet and seeing him speak).

Vietnam still paid the old guard Marxist-Leninist his dues, with 4 December being declared a national day of mourning, wrote Helen Clark:

The country has been cultivating a varied network of foreign relationships in recent years, lately strengthening its ties with India and dismantling the last hurdles to normalisation with the US. But old friends are not forgotten, and Castro's death has provoked an unusual outpouring of grief for an increasingly market-driven nation.

Last week the prominent Islamic State social media guru and Australian citizen Neil Prakash was arrested in Turkey, months after supposedly being killed in a US drone strike. Rodger Shanahan on what happens now:

Prakash was not an operational commander or senior figure within Islamic State and therefore his insights into much of the organisation will be limited or non-existent. However there are still multiple potential benefits from his capture.

Yesterday saw a follow-up rally against Jakarta’s Chinese and Christian governor, Ahok, who stands accused of blasphemy, after a similar protest last month. Despite a narrative of creeping Islamisation, Islamic civil society is fundamental to Indonesian democracy, argued Max Walden:

Indonesia cannot rely on its politicians to fight radical Islam and intolerance. This is a country where politics is (perhaps rightly) seen by citizens as dirty and elite-dominated, while communalism and religious identity remain the essence of society.

Meanwhile, how should Indonesia act in an ostensibly post-TPP world? Retno Maruti:

Indonesia is also working hard on finalising two Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements with Australia and the European Union. Concluding these, and the RCEP, would provide significant opportunities for Indonesia to boost its exports and garner a bigger slice of world trade.

Australia should plough ahead with the TPP despite the probable US absence, argued Mike Callaghan:

Notwithstanding Trump’s views, the US has a clear and compelling interest in actively participating in, and indeed leading, economic integration efforts in Asia pacific. Australia should encourage the new US administration to recognise where its interests lie and in doing so, offer a path way for it to ‘re-join’ Asia Pacific trade liberalisation.

In Europe, François Fillon won the nomination of mainstream French centre-right party The Republicans, beating out Alain Juppé. Fillon is likely to be France’s next president, wrote Matthew Dal Santo:

Fillon is far from a French Trump and he isn’t offering the French a ‘Frexit’. Economically, his programme of liberalisation conventionally provokes comparisons with Margaret Thatcher, and he has no intention of removing France from the EU. But his candidacy rides a similar wave of discontent with many of the shibboleths of late modern cultural and social liberalism (indeed, Australians might think of him as a French John Howard).

Despite claims to the contrary, a populist EU would struggle to address the transnational challenges facing it, argued Daniel Woker:

In a time where fundamentals of the liberal order that we have known and profited from are starting to totter (a more isolationist US, the appearance of triumphant authoritarian rule in China, Russia and Turkey), it is more important than ever to project a united European position. The alternative is to become a disunited band of helpless nation states at the wrong end of Eurasia.

Marcus Colla wrote on what kind of inspiration Trump would likely be for European populists, if at all:

It is easy to see why Trump is far from an ideal poster-boy for the European populists. Ostentatious wealth, glamour, celebrity, outlandishness and untrammelled political aggression do not sit easily with the European style, while the president-elect’s coarseness and iconoclastic rage jar with the subtler approach that many parties have recently sought to adopt.

And are we even witnessing a globally connected wave of populism? Sam Roggeveen:

I would caution that, while it is attractive to look for universal causes ('the Orwell temptation'), there may not be one. It's possible that local circumstances, individual talent and a dash of pure chance have brought about the results we have seen in the UK, Europe, Greece, Australia and the US.

Should Trump throw a 45% tariff on Chinese imports, how should China rationally respond? And is there a case for a US tariff increase at all? Greg Earl:

The modelling, presented at the Melbourne Economic Forum, shows that a 45% tariff would also not necessarily be globally disruptive in its own right. But a simulation of a 45% retaliatory tariff by China on the US and a flow-on 20% tariff around the rest of the world would reduce world trade volume by a third and take many economies into recession.

Stephen Grenville analysed the new hip view on fiscal policy:

Accepted wisdom on fiscal policy has shifted remarkably over the last couple of years, although too late to support the feeble global recovery from the 2008 crisis. Now the consensus is that there is a good case for fiscal stimulus in countries still with sub-par growth (ie. almost all), provided they have 'fiscal space'.

Given Pakistan's historic propensity for coups, what should we expect from Pakistan’s new chief of army staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa? Shashank Joshi:

History is a useful guide here. Bajwa, we are assured, is ‘an apolitical person’, ‘more reserved than his predecessor’, and a ‘thorough professional’. If this language sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the stock greeting for a Pakistani army chief – more in hope than in expectation… when a Pakistani civilian hears the word ‘apolitical’, it’s a good idea to change the locks.

Finally, Victor Abramowicz argued for the wisdom of large surface ships:

In response, for the defender, a common proposition is that submarines may be the only feasible vessels for contested environments, depending on their stealth to provide a good chance of survival. Surface ships, on the other hand, will become floating targets, and large surface ships in particular simply expensive follies. Such analyses make the defender rely heavily on the ‘avoiding detection’ part of the formula. This bets the farm on future surveillance not outmatching submarines’ stealth, an uncertain prospect.

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