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Weekend catch-up: Innocent passage, drones, Indian politics, digital activism and more

Weekend catch-up: Innocent passage, drones, Indian politics, digital activism and more
Published 7 Nov 2015   Follow @BrendanTN_

The South China Sea, and the exact nature, frequency and timing of the US freedom of navigation patrols there, has continued to provoke analysis this week. The US and China also continue to posture over the issue, with US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter making a well publicised speech on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, otherwise affectionally known by her crew as 'The Big Stick'. Euan Graham pointed out that the 'innocent passage' that the USS Lassen conducted may actually be a legal concession by the US:

In fact, their demonstration value could be thrown dangerously into reverse if Beijing drew the conclusion that the conduct of innocent passage amounts to customary acceptance of a de jure territorial sea around Subi Reef and other submerged features or low-tide elevations under China’s control in the Spratlys. Innocent passage may have appealed at a political level in Washington, as less provocative than FONOP assertions conducted in the normal operational mode. But labelling US actions around the Spratlys expressly as innocent passage could be handing a legal concession to Beijing.

The US has sold armed drones to Italy, its first foreign sale of the capability outside of the UK. Jennifer Hunt on the potential moral hazard of the sale:

An important consideration here is the moral hazard some observers believe armed drones introduce to decision-making. Just as countries are less hesitant to shoot down drones than manned aircraft, decision-makers can deploy the technology with no risk to pilot’s lives or ground troops. The reduced cost in blood and treasure is thought to lower the threshold for the use of force.

UK diplomat George Morrison wrote for The Interpreter about Chinese President Xi Jinping's recent visit to the UK:

For me, the visit demonstrated the power of diplomacy. Countries like the UK face a challenge. Our future prosperity relies on building economic links with fast growing countries. China is a priority for us, as it is for many other countries, including Australia. At the same time, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a member of the G7, the G20, the EU and the Commonwealth, the UK is expected to lead on the global stage, and champion the system of international rules that ensures countries are held to account and there is a level global playing field.

These two pursuits don't always sit neatly beside each other.

An excellent post from Pradeep Taneja on India-Australia relations and Indian domestic politics: [fold]

More damagingly, a climate of intolerance towards minorities and secularists has developed in the country since Mr Modi's rise to power. The convincing election victory of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) last year has emboldened communal elements in the country to promote their own Hindu nationalist agendas at the expense of rational thinking and freedom of expression. A spate of violent incidents over the past few months has brought these concerns to the fore. In a recent report, Moody's Analytics warned that India risked 'losing domestic and global credibility' if Mr Modi failed to keep the broader membership of the BJP and its associated family of organisations in check. If Mr Modi wants to achieve his ambitious economic goals, he should know that he cannot keep mum when innocent people are killed or attacked.

Recently returing from a trip to Jordan, Julian Snelder wrote about his experience visiting a Syrian refugee and the views of his Jordanian guide, Fatih:

The older, poorer, or less qualified are stuck here, and bitter. People like Fatih, our guide. His views are probably representative, for no other local we met disputed his narrative. Wherever he looks, he sees corruption. He expertly recites the injustices of the British and French legacy of the transJordan mandates. The US is reviled for dividing the Arabs; everyone knows that 9/11 was a CIA plot, probably in cahoots with Mossad. But Fatih has equally harsh words for the Gulf states (exploiters), the Lebanese (arrogant), Iranians (fanatics), Egyptians (treacherous), Iraqis (corrupt) and Syrians (savages, although he admires their sweet desserts). The only person praised is Turkey's Erdogan ('a strong leader').

Fergus Hanson continued his series on the politics of the internet with a post on digital activism:

Ironically, these people-power sites also face a question of legitimacy. Three hundred very vocal people with a clever campaign can sometimes drive change that the majority wouldn't necessarily support. The nature of the internet can also occasionally make it hard to distinguish between the views of local nationals and foreign citizens voicing their concerns from abroad. Finally, there is the question of the legitimacy of the heads of these organisations, who can be unelected business-people with outsized influence.

What is the state of the relationship between Australia and Vietnam? And what are the areas of common internet? Helen Clark:

Will Vietnam's human rights record complicate things? I've written previously on Australia's approach to human rights in Vietnam, which differs from that of the US. Australia rarely says much publicly over abuses such as the locking up of bloggers or activists whilst very public engagement on these issues (and the prohibition of sales of lethal military equipment) is a central tenet of US engagement. Australia does conduct human rights dialogues but they usually take place behind closed doors. This suits Hanoi, of course. Whilst there is politically active diaspora in Australia (the old Republic of Vietnam flag has just been officially recognised by the City of Maribyrnong in Melbourne), it exerts nowhere near the pressure felt in the US.

Stephen Grenville says that China and Indonesia should be encouraged to joint the TPP:

Here's the brief. We could open a dialogue with China to encourage it to seek membership, while at the same time arguing its case among the existing members. A parallel dialogue with Indonesia would attempt to reinforce its interest in joining, as some offset to the inward-looking, more nationalistic voices now much louder in Jakarta. Again, we would support their case among the current TPP membership.

Perhaps more clearly than Australia, the US sees the TPP as having substantial diplomatic and strategic content. Now the economic rules have been established, our job as a foundation member is to make sure the wider strategic aspects are in our interests, and remain so.

Recep Tayyip Erdo?an won relection as Turkey's president in a landslide national election. Daniel Woker on what that means for Turkey's relationship with the EU:

Another key focus for the emboldened Erdogan will be Turkey’s actions toward Europe. Right now, thanks to the Europe-wide migrant crisis, Erdogan is in the driver’s seat. Brussels desperately needs Turkey to secure its borders. In return, Erdogan has won promises to improve Turkish access to Europe, and a pledge to re-open EU-membership negotiations.

However it is a safe bet that Erdogan’s Turkey of this past summer will never seriously be considered a potential EU member. The migrant crisis will abate at some point, unlike Turkey’s clear and enduring dependence on Europe’s capital, job markets and know-how. Then Ankara will be judged on democratic governance and adherence to the rule of law. How Turkey will measure up under those criteria is up to Erdogan.

Andrew Kwon with a post about the North and South Korean family reunions:

A silver lining from the crisis was its demonstration of effective diplomacy, with negotiations led by the personal representatives of the Korean leaders: the South Korean national security adviser and vice chairman of North Korea's peak governing body. Repeating and regularising this high-powered and intimate format would match the Peninsula's new reality. It might even set a basis for regularised and apolitical reunions, freeing divided families from the uncertainty of ever meeting their loved ones again.

Emma Connors had some awesome quotes in her weekly wrap-up of the US presidential election:

One of the best paid people in US media, Rush Limbaugh, has long been a Cruz fan, consistently — and now, it appears, presciently — describing Cruz as the dark horse in the campaign. In a vintage radio blast, Limbaughdescribed Cruz as an 'unarguably thoroughbred conservative'. Importantly, he will appeal to millennials, insisted Limbuaugh, citing a World Economic Forum survey, because Cruz offers a way to address the economic inequality millennials are most concerned about. 'He's all about everybody being the best they can be using their natural — he's conservative top to bottom, through and through, no matter how you slice it, left, right, up, down'.

With Myanmar's national elections this weekend, Rhys Thompson wrote on ASSK and her electorial challenges:

With Myanmar's election looming on 8 November, most eyes are on Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), which wants a strong win to gain significant influence over domestic policies. But the NLD faces resistance from an ultra-conservative Buddhist group, the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion or Ma Ba Tha, which does not want the NLD to become Myanmar's next ruling party.

This attitude could both influence voters leading up to the elections and cause problems for the NLD if it does win a majority in the next parliament.

President Jokowi has not undertaken the daring economics reforms Indonesia needs, says Matthew Busch:

Widodo's first year of economic leadership demonstrates both strengths and weaknesses. It shows his flexibility, desire to 'work, work, work' on domestic issues, and expectation that his charges do the same. But it also shows how he shrinks from complex or controversial challenges, and has yet to adopt many real innovations. He has yet to show strong leadership, especially on high profile investment issues, and his cabinet remains a work in progress, even after a reshuffle with sound economics appointees. This, of course, is perhaps a result of his political weakness and tenuous position in his own party, but it is also surely in part a product of his penchant for simple, quick solutions. Unfortunately for Indonesia, its challenges cannot be resolved quite so simply.

How did the Chinese domestic media portray the changes to the One Child Policy this week? Marie-Alice McLean-Dreyfus:

More detail concerning the policy change came in a press conference with the National Health and Family Planning Commission Deputy Director Wang Pei-an. In contrast to Western media reports that China would be 'abandoning' its one child policy, Wang Pei-an said a family planning policy remained 'essential'.

He said the decision to change was not intended to diminish the accomplishments of the former policy, which had made 'remarkable achievements' in controlling China's population. Instead, as this Global Times editorial wrote, the decision to relax the restriction was made after 'objective analysis' concluded it would be in the best interest of the Chinese population and China's economic growth. 

Finally, one of Australia's W20 representatives, Anne Fulwood, wrote about what the newly created grouping needs to focus on:

Communication and connection to a broader audience will ensure the W20 in Turkey becomes the first of many effective W20 summits in the years ahead. Well done to our Turkish colleagues, who built on the momentum from the Brisbane 2014 Summit, where leaders spoke strongly about boosting female employment and adopted the gender target to reduce the gap between male and female labour participation across the G20.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Ash Carter.

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