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Weekend catch-up: Germany's failure, ISIS and comedy, Sri Lanka's democracy and more

Weekend catch-up: Germany's failure, ISIS and comedy, Sri Lanka's democracy and more
Published 11 Jul 2015   Follow @SamRoggeveen

We begin this week with Greece, and Matthew Dal Santo's pitiless dissection of German leadership in Europe:

True, whatever happens from here, the economic pain will fall on Greece and its people. But the big loser from last weekend's far-from-pointless referendum will be Germany. Whether a new deal is reached which still contains the element of 'punishment' the German Government considers so important to impose, or Greece defaults and leaves the euro, Germany will have shredded its claim to leadership in Europe. For that leadership will have been shown to rest not on consent or voluntary submission to a strong Germany claiming to act in the interests of all, but on force and the threat of economic Armageddon.

What is the big lesson from the Greek debt crisis? Stephen Grenville:

What are the economic lessons? Countries can run budget deficits, overly-generous pension schemes, and large external deficits for decades if foreigners provide the funding, but there is no free lunch. Unsustainable policies eventually stop and the longer countries have been off-track, the longer it will take to fix. Living standards can't rise if productivity remains low. Incompetent and sometimes corrupt governance might get by when the economic climate is benign, but can't cope when problems arise.

Is arguing about what to call ISIS a waste of time? Rodger Shanahan makes a pretty convincing case: [fold]

Those who advocate using Da'ish instead of Islamic State say the group is neither Islamic nor a state, and they argue that the name perverts the name of Islam. But these arguments open a can of nomenclature worms. If it is perverting religion to refer to Islamic State as Islamic, then what of the myriad other armed Islamist groups who hijack Islam and God to reinforce their religious credentials for power?...

...How should politicians refer to Hizbullah (Party of God), for instance? Isn't it also a perversion of religion to think that God would be happy for an Australian to blow up a tourist bus in Bulgaria in his name? Some Sunni Islamists in the region, including Turkey's justice minister, have demanded that Hizbullah change its name to Hizb al-Shaytan (Party of Satan), but we are yet to see the same demand from those who prefer Dai'sh over Islamic State.

Jenny Hayward-Jones noted PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neil's sustained attempts to wrest leadership of the Pacific Islands region from Fiji:

Most of the credit for Papua New Guinea's new leadership role in the region should go to Prime Minister O'Neill. He has made a number of important speeches and interventions in 2015 both at home and abroad that are clearly focused on building and securing recognition of PNG's reputation as a regional leader and projecting his views on how PNG and its Pacific neighbours should interact on the global stage.

PNG is by far the largest Pacific Island nation in terms of population size, GDP and land size, and arguably more deserving of recognition as a regional leader than Fiji, which has historically played that role. But PNG's national development challenges are so much more significant in scale than those faced by any other island nation in the region. It is far from guaranteed that the Prime Minister can rely on support from his ministers, government agencies and the public, all of whom are necessarily more focused on domestic priorities, to reinforce his regional leadership ambitions.

Alan Keenan from the International Crisis Group on Sri Lanka's crucial upcoming general elections:

The coming campaign is set to be close, and possibly violent. While the UNP is still favoured to win the largest number of seats and to form the next government, many fear that once back in parliament, Rajapaksa and his powerful family will be able to chip away at the UNP's numbers until he is able to form a majority. It remains unclear what, if any, role Sirisena will play in the campaign. But unless there is another surprising reversal, his credibility as the leader of the movement for democratic reforms and reconciliation has been badly damaged.

The Bidun in Kuwait are now being seen as a security threat due to last months suicide bombing at the Imam Al-Sadeq mosque says Anneliese Mcauliffe:

While the suicide bomber was identified as a Saudi national, he worked with accomplices inside Kuwait. Within days, Kuwait's Ministry of the Interior moved swiftly to make the first arrests: 'We have referred five suspects accused of assisting the suicide bomber to the Public Prosecution...They include the driver who took the Saudi bomber to the mosque and the car's owner and his brother, all stateless people or Biduns'...

...This large group of disenfranchised people, who the Gulf states have failed to effectively recognise, is now seen as a potential security threat. The fear is that pent up hostilities, fueled by more than 50 years of statelessness and ongoing oppression, could make those at the margins of society willing or malleable accomplices for groups such as ISIS. A matter long relegated to the status of demographic problem and largely fueled by a need to restrict access to government services has now become a security issue.

Anneliese also wrote on a Saudi comedian who is fighting ISIS and fundamentalist ideology with humour, not violence:

Nothing is sacred in this program, and not everyone is amused.

Al-Qasabi's comedy sketches have targeted 'sex-jihad', ISIS sex slaves, beheadings and the banning of music by religious conservatives in Saudi Arabia. In one skit, al-Qasabi plays a Saudi mutawa (conservative preacher) who is outraged by the decadence of music being played during Ramadan. He smashes an oud (a traditional guitar) to the applause of a crowd of men in traditional robes.

Robert Kelly has made a provocative argument as to why South Korea should remain silent over China's island building in the South China Sea:

The end of Chinese support is a necessary (if not sufficient) cause for North Korea's eventual collapse. South Korean President Park's robust efforts to woo Beijing have helped push China and North Korea apart in the last few years. This is a huge achievement – arguably the most important in her otherwise scandal-laden presidency. For South Korea to weigh in on the South China Sea would jeopardise this tenuous breakthrough. Beijing must believe South Korea is at least neutral regarding Chinese power before it will give up Pyongyang. Given that US forces are stationed in South Korea, Park must be flattering Xi Jingping quite a lot, and she has probably bit her tongue on other issues, like the South China Sea. But ultimately who cares? Cutting Pyongyang off from its last sponsor would be a sea-change and is well worth these costs.

This week Rhys Thompson took a detailed look at how the Chinese Communist Party is increasing its links with smaller regional political parties in Myanmar:

China's relationship with groups like the RNP will be particularly useful if (or when) the USDP becomes a much weaker player in Myanmar politics, or if the Union Government devolves more autonomy and power to regional governments. Such a move was proposed recently in a formal submission to change the constitution, but the actual amount of power that would be devolved is open to question.

Elliot Brennan described Malaysian PM Najib Razak's travails:

Malaysian politics is often a tumultuous and headline-grabbing affair. Yet the current crisis is unprecedented. In a Wall Street Journal report last week, Prime Minister Najib Razak was accused of embezzling almost US$700 million (2.6 billion Ringgit). The days since, which have also seen the release of redacted supporting documents by the WSJ, have only deepened the crisis embroiling the Prime Minister.

The 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state investment fund, was set up by Najib in 2009. Even before the current accusations, the fund was entangled in controversy as its debt had ballooned to US$11 billion. 

Much of the controversy over 1MDB has been led by former PM and power-wielder Mahathir Mohamad. His blog offers a long, running commentary on the 1MDB fund and at every turn attempts to throw Najib under the bus. Mahathir has spent much of the past year campaigning for Najib's resignation.

Is China ready for global leadership? Kerry Brown answered:

...there is a good reason why the government in Beijing, despite all the temptations of slotting itself into a more prominent position, might want to maintain this stance. Every time it does try to articulate a bolder vision of its international status, even in relatively benign areas, noisy constituencies in the US and elsewhere immediately shriek that this is a sign the country is positioning itself on some mission of global dominance.

Malcolm Cook responded:

The Chinese state has so far eschewed attempts at global leadership. Rather, Chinese policy-makers are focusing their institution-building efforts at the regional level, as part of what Beijing refers to rather undiplomatically as 'peripheral diplomacy', and among fellow developing-economy states.

Photo by Flickr user afilitos.

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