By John Gooding, Digital Editor at the Lowy Institute and Associate Editor at The Interpreter.
This week North Korea’s number two diplomat in London, Thae Yong Ho, defected South Korea. Euan Graham (who, through his time as a North Korea specialist in the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, came to know Thae Yong ‘about as well as a Western diplomat could hope to’) reflected on where the diplomat might go from here:
No matter how much Thae affected the tweedy accoutrements of British gentlemanly living, there was always a roguish edge showing through, in a grin or glint of the eye. Regardless of his feelings towards Kim Jong Un's regime, I believe he will remain proudly North Korean at heart.
North Korean analysts are prone to speculating as to what might happen in the event of Pyongyang’s downfall, without really analysing how such a collapse could happen, wrote Robert E Kelly:
Often find at conferences or in regional journalism a vague, almost teleological sense that North Korea's time is up, that it will naturally crumble…
I want instead to lay out a credible pathway to change, if not necessarily collapse: a Chinese cut-off of North Korea igniting divisions in the regime's elite, as Pyongyang factions fight over a declining budgetary pie.
This week also saw the release of a major new report on the China-Australia economic relationship, reigniting the debate over Chinese foreign investment. Greg Earl:
Last week’s economic diplomacy brief noted the interim decision against State Grid Corporation and Hong Kong’s Cheung Kong Infrastructure buying a 99-year-lease to control Ausgrid was a watershed in China policy, given that Australia has benefitted more than most countries from years of strong Chinese growth.
This new 300-page Australia-China Joint Economic Report forecasts more of those benefits ahead even if China’s economy slows down and suggests that Australia can play an independent global scale role in helping China adjust to being an internationalised economy.
And Stephen Grenville:
The Ausgrid decision provides a reminder of the difficulties in getting the investment relationship right…
This report, sensibly, refers to wider security issues only as context with just a box on regional security and a few paragraphs in the text of a chapter about risks. There is no shortage of pundits on the security challenges. We still await the (bold) author who revisits the idea that close economic integration makes open conflict unlikely, even unthinkable.
Peter Layton, meanwhile, argued that foreign investment could be utilised to offset the security risks that spooked Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison:
These Ausgrid problems presumably reflect limited state government funding to fix what are national security concerns. Ausgrid’s sale was slated to bring in some $10 billion to $13 billion; even 10% of this would be a sizable amount to allocate to addressing the identified national security concerns.
Sarah Ireland warned of the dire consequences of the coming exodus from Mosul:
Action must start now if we are to ensure the needs of those displaced from Mosul are met. Donors need to commit to providing funding for humanitarian assistance within a clear timeframe. And funding must be flexible enough to allow the UN and aid agencies to adapt to the ever-changing dynamics on the ground.
As it stands, humanitarian organisations do not have the funds required to prepare for the Mosul offensive. A failure to act now could have catastrophic consequences for the people of Mosul, and for Iraq.
Executive Director on the IMF Board Barry Sterland wrote a two-part series on why G20 engagement is an essential part of Australia’s approach to international economic governance. Part one:
This is not to say international groups are always effective – one only needs to sit through meetings and read dense communiques to know they are far from it.
Nevertheless, the G20 is large enough though to capture a good range of interests from all systemic economies, and small enough to forge efficient consensus on critical issues for the world economy.
And part two:
Turning to the institution I currently work within, I consider that the G20 has strengthened the role of the IMF and Australia's voice within it. Australia has a strong national interest in an effective IMF, given the key role its surveillance advice and lending can play in crisis prevention and stronger growth. We particularly have an interest in a Fund that is respected and trusted partner in Asia. The G20 has delivered the political consensus required to both increase the resources and better distribute voting power within the IMF, including among Asian emerging economies.
The appointment of Frances Adamson as Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is something to be celebrated, argued UK High Commissioner to Australia Menna Rawlings:
These days, it sometimes feels as if the UK Diplomatic Service is ahead of the curve in seeing the value in diverse workforces and leadership teams – although DFAT probably has the edge on us! I find myself in a number of meetings, particularly with CEOs from the business community, where I am still the only woman in the room. And out of over 100 Ambassadors accredited to Canberra, only 15 of us are women.
That’s why it’s worth pausing to celebrate Frances Adamson’s appointment as another milestone reached on the winding road to diversity in diplomacy, and to gender equality in the conduct of international relations.
Following a high-level counter-terrorism forum in Bali earlier this month, Zubaidah Nazeer wrote on how a lack of regional cooperation is hampering CT efforts in Southeast Asia:
Cross-border cooperation is far from optimal between Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, countries that are either at high risk of terror attacks or that have identified active cells…
There are various reasons for this lethargy including sovereignty issues, porous borders and a lack of agreement on what needs to be done
In a fascinating three-part series, Matthew Dal Santo argued that Russian President Vladimir Putin is not attempting a ‘re-Stalinisation’ of the Russian state, but a restoration of the Romanov era. Part one:
Despite his public image, says Mikhail Remizov, Putin isn’t a Vozhd (‘Leader’, a popular name for Stalin) before whom Russia’s ruling elite trembles; he’s an (imperfect) moderator of their squabbles.
‘Putin isn’t even a Stalinist in the good sense’, says Remizov, with irony. ‘He can’t fully discipline his own system. To defeat the Stalinist myth, you need to solve the problems Stalin solved with violence with non-violent means. And the present system cannot yet do that.’
On a sunny afternoon in Moscow I meet a well-connected former editor of a Moscow daily.
'Putin doesn't want to be seen as merely continuing the USSR', he says. 'The Soviet Union failed and for him that indicates that there was something wrong with it.'
Putin, he says, 'isn't interested in being remembered as some kind of Communist Party general secretary. He thinks of himself as a Russian De Gaulle or a Franco', head of a self-consciously 'transitional regime' aimed at restoring a semi-traditional political and social order.
And part three:
Between 1613 and 1917 the Romanovs transformed a remote and backward principality on Europe's periphery into a leading power not in opposition to, but within the European state system. There's a good argument that what Moscow wants today is not a return to the superpower confrontation of 1947 to 1989, but a version of the 'European concert' of 1815 to 1914.
Rachman thinks Australia might become a flashpoint in this contested region but here he gets the metaphor wrong. Australia’s beneficial geography means that it won’t be the place where tensions suddenly erupt into violent conflict. Rather, the pressure being put on Australia is significant because its circumstances are essentially the same as most of Washington’s regional partners: they have an asymmetric economic relationship with China.
Photo: Getty Images/The Washington Post