Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Weekend catch-up: The Foreign Policy White Paper

The week that was on The Interpreter.

Canberra, May 2017 (Photo: Steve Bittinger)
Canberra, May 2017 (Photo: Steve Bittinger)
Published 25 Nov 2017 

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

On Thursday Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop released the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, which sets out the major challenges and opportunities Australia will likely encounter over the coming years. The Paper's prominent examination of the US-China dynamic, a bugbear for both the China's media and policymakers, belies a deeper anxiety, wrote Daniel Flitton:

The obvious headline on China and US rivalry only masks a deeper unease captured by the White Paper, and should really be the focus of debate. This bigger problem is described as 'converging' – the way a series of major challenges are joining together as 'powerful drivers of change'.

The perceived hawkishness of the White Paper has less to do with the actual document and more with the accompanying rhetoric from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, noted Sam Roggeveen:

Back in February I wrote that the White Paper needed to confront the tension in our foreign policy between the clashing interests of the US, our major strategic partner, and China, our primary economic partner. Well, the PM certainly confronted it this morning. 

Prior to the White Paper's delivery, Ely Ratner argued that a harder US line on China is imminent:

Happy veneer aside, three factors at home are likely to drive the US toward a harder line on China in the months and years ahead. Call it the 'Three Ps'.

Annmaree O'Keeffe argued that the White Paper's framing of Australia's overseas development assistance was lacking:

The White Paper's overall treatment of aid and development suggests that even in this region where Australia remains the leading donor, the prevailing preference is to diminish and stifle Australia's international development story. Why is this so?

On Tuesday, Shadow Defence Minister Richard Marles addressed the Lowy Institute on Australia's 'holding pattern' policy approach to the Pacific. Jonathan Pryke wrote on Marles' address...

So how do we change this? I think Marles is right that it’s not a matter of more money, but one of time and attention. Marles calls on Australia to 'pledge to be the best friend that we can be' to the region, reinforcing our position as the partner of choice across the board.

How that works in practice is where his speech was lacking. did Greg Colton:

As I have written before, Australia's position as the world's largest coal exporter does not sit easy with many Pacific Islanders. Having identified the existential threat climate change poses to the very nations Marles wants to support, he made no mention of combating it.

There have been some positive surprises in the fight to combat climate change, but more will be needed to meet a sustainable scenario, wrote Stephen Grenville:

There are so many strongly-held views, so many vested interests and lobbyists, so much political spin and such complexity in the energy/climate debate that it is not easy to find reliable forecasts and commentary. One of the more useful sources is the International Energy Agency – an autonomous intergovernmental agency. Its annual outlook report reflects the wishful thinking embodied in individual country plans and Paris Accord promises, but, with that bias in mind, it also offers a globally consolidated and illuminating longer-term (2040) perspective.

Bec Strating on the prospects for an agreement between Australia and Timor-Leste on the status of the Timor Gap:

Timor-Leste requires a deal that provides material and symbolic gains in order to justify its risky decision to abandon CMATS. For Australia, the agreement needs to mitigate the reputational harms that have come from its realpolitik approach to the issue over four decades, and assist its smaller neighbour deal with short- and medium-term economic development.

While Rick Hou is a well-qualified candidate for Solomon Islands PM, he cannot shift the country on his own, argued Jenny Hayward-Jones:

As PM, Hou can set the agenda and make some big decisions but he can't personally implement every single policy and commitment. He will still be dependent on his cabinet ministers, who may not wholeheartedly share his reformist instincts, and he will have limited financial resources at his disposal. He will need all the support he can muster.

Wanning Sun on the prospect of Chinese interference in foreign universities operating in the country:

Both Western and Chinese universities want to have their cake and eat it too. The former want access to the Chinese market while maintaining academic freedom. The latter want to be part of the global scholarly community while maintaining ideological control on behalf of the Party. Putting a Party Secretary in senior management seems to be the Chinese way of addressing these conflicted desires. But would foreign universities be able to find a different solution that works for both sides?

From Yemen, Alexander Harper wrote on the stagnating Saudi campaign:

The Saudi-led coalition’s intervention in Yemen has, by most metrics, been a complete failure. The recent missile strike on Riyadh is a blatant indication that its intervention in Yemen has only served to weaken security on its southern border.

As it experiences two humanitarian disasters in the form of floods and migrant flows from Myanmar, Bangladeshi policymakers may well be the architect of a, argued Elliott Brennan and Aaron L Connelly:

The factory owners and the government may have waited out the first wave of international interventions. But if there is another disaster anywhere near the scale of Rana Plaza, the response will be withering. Consumers can be expected to put extraordinary pressure on multinational retailers to move production offshore, devastating the Bangladeshi economy and returning millions to poverty.

Ashton Robinson on Zimbabwe's very strange coup, writing last Monday:

First the army leadership held a press conference two days in advance to warn it might occur. Then when the troops did move, the main targets President Robert Mugabe and his hated and ambitious wife Grace were neither killed, nor held incommunicado, nor put on a plane into exile as coup textbooks say they should have been. Rather they were confined to their luxurious residence, allowed to communicate publicly, and Mugabe treated as ostensibly still the President.

And finally, Grenville again on the vanishingly small return on reducing company tax rates:

Why reducing company tax has such a high priority, when imputation makes such reductions irrelevant for domestic shareholders and tax cuts offers so little net benefit via additional foreign investment? What is the real agenda? Could lower company taxes provide benefit for Australians who have arranged their affairs so as to accrue income in a corporate accounting vehicle?

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