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Weekend catch-up: Malcolm Turnbull and foreign policy, PNG, refugees, international law and drones strikes and more

Weekend catch-up: Malcolm Turnbull and foreign policy, PNG, refugees, international law and drones strikes and more
Published 19 Sep 2015   Follow @BrendanTN_

No doubt many outside (and inside) Australia who follow these things were shocked to find out Monday that Malcolm Turnbull had succeeded Tony Abbott as the leader of the Liberal Party, and hence as Prime Minister of Australia. At The Interpreter we sought answers to two questions: what are the foreign policy views of Malcolm Turnbull, and now that he is Prime Minister, what should he set about doing in terms of Australia's diplomacy? Luckily, Hugh White and Sam Roggeveen tried to answer the first question back in February. Nick Bryant, from a viewpoint at the UN, wondered if Australia's political stability at the leaders level has lowered its diplomatic weight:

With five prime ministers in as many years, so much change has come in such a short space of time that it has surely damaged the conduct of Australia's foreign affairs. No Australian prime minister can cast a long shadow on the international stage for the simple reason they do not get to stride it for long enough. The personal chemistry so important in international diplomacy seldom gets the chance to brew.

Kurt M. Campbell, the former US Assistant Secretary of State, used to say that Barack Obama had more of a mind meld with Kevin Rudd than any other international leader. But the relationship never reached its fruition because Rudd was ousted so quickly.

What does the change mean for Australia's relationship with Japan? Particularly the submarine evaluation process currently underway? Malcolm Cook:

To pass this second tougher test and assuage Japanese angst, Turnbull would be well-served to stay firm on the proper policy that Australia will choose the option that provides the best submarine at the best price to Australia, especially given the huge expenditure of taxpayers' money the project will entail. It would also be a good idea to find ways of promoting other less complex and sensitive aspects of the bilateral security partnership and relationship as a whole, such as Japanese training exercises in Australia.

Reserve Bank of Australia board member John Edwards looked at the international economic outlook, and gave some advice for Australia's likely new treasurer, Scott Morrison:

Scott Morrison, widely expected to be appointed Australia's new treasurer early next week, can't change the world. Or at least not over the next year or so. But he can reinterpret it, and that's sometimes as much as a treasurer can do.

He should and probably will promptly cancel whatever overseas travel plans Joe Hockey had pencilled in for the rest of the year. That might be interpreted as a want of interest in the rest of the world, but the truth is that Morrison will lose crucial time and learn nothing of value by attending, say, the upcoming IMF-World Bank annual meetings in Lima, with its associated G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting.

What does the Indonesian press say about Malcolm Turnbull? Catriona Croft-Cusworth: [fold]

Indonesian-language media took a similar stance to the Jakarta Post on differentiating Abbott and Turnbull. One online news portal anticipated a 'turning point' for the Australia-Indonesia relationship under the new prime minister. An international relations expert from the University of Indonesia commented that the relationship hit its lowest point under Abbott, and expressed hope that Turnbull could improve relations with his 'calm rather than extreme or controversial' personality.

Also Sean Dorney thought that PNG could teach Australia a thing or two about political stability, 40 years since its independence:

In fact, since 2002, while Australia has chopped and changed prime ministers at such a remarkable rate – from John Howard to Kevin Rudd to Julia Gillard to Rudd again then to Abbott and now to Turnbull – Papua New Guinea has had only two – Sir Michael Somare and Peter O'Neill.

That would seem to indicate pretty impressive political stability: two prime ministers in 13 years compared with Australia's six.

The fact that Abbott was in Port Moresby (for the Pacific Islands Forum) only a week before his downfall led one PNG wag on social media to suggest that Australian Prime Ministers were courting their own demise by visiting PNG. He went through the history: how Gough Whitlam was removed just months after being in Port Moresby in September 1975 for PNG's Independence; and how both Gillard and Rudd had both lost the prime ministership not long after each returned from a visit.

Following up from last week, Claire Higgins wrote on the history of Australia's refugee intake and foreign policy:

The way that states respond to refugees has always been shaped by various political and strategic interests. This is not to diminish their humanitarian motivations, but to say that these are underpinned by broader priorities. For instance, studies show that refugees can be a young and entrepreneurial addition to a nation's population. In other ways, the priorities may be outward-looking – a generous refugee policy can serve to enhance a states' international reputation. Accepting refugees is a way of signalling that a nation is prosperous and kind-hearted. 

In strategic terms, refugee resettlement can serve a distinct purpose. During the Cold War, refugees from the Soviet Union became 'symbols of foreign policy' in the West, their defection an ideological victory.

Nikki Marczak says that the Yazidi minority in Syria deserves special consideration for refugee visas:

To accept that Yazidis are at immediate and urgent risk does not negate that others too are being persecuted, nor does it preclude individuals of any background from applying for refuge. It does however, acknowledge that the Yazidi individuals who have thus far escaped genocide, are unlikely to ever be able to live in safety in Iraq or Syria, even if the current level of violence abates.

Now that Australia has done the right thing and increased its humanitarian intake for those fleeing the conflict across Iraq and Syria, a policy that is conscious of the severe persecution of ethnic and religious minorities and the ongoing genocide of Yazidis, is both essential and ethical. 

In a great analysis, Ben Saul argues that the UK's drone strike in Syria that targeted one of its own citizens 'reeks of extrajudicial punishment':

It also abandons the presumption of innocence, fair trial and the adjudication of guilt by an independent court – and makes the Prime Minister's missiles the judge and jury. This is especially problematic where targeting decisions are based not on evidence admitted and tested in court, to a standard of beyond reasonable doubt, but on secret, probabilistic intelligence assessments that are not independently verified or subject to challenge. Also, parliament in Britain, as in Australia, has no role in authorising or constraining such killings.

Rodger Shanahan pointed to the fact that Australia's Imams have failed to lobby the Gulf states on their lack of any refugee intake:

Australians like to think of ourselves as egalitarian and straight talkers. Hence it would be in line with our national character for Australian Muslim community leaders to adopt a lobbying pathway that is not available to non-Muslim Australians. Imagine the impact an open letter from Australian Muslim community leaders in major Arabic-language newspapers calling on Muslim Arab states to resettle refugees. Or of a series of interviews on Arab satellite TV doing the same. Imagine the powerful imagery of Australian Muslims protesting outside Gulf embassies in Canberra, condemning Gulf Governments' selfish refusal to resettle refugees, in contrast to Australia's long history in this field.

Are soft power wars heating up between publicly-funded broadcasters? Anneliese Mcauliffe:

Today, the challenge for these soft power broadcasters is to translate their brands and content into a effective digital strategy. The new BBC proposal includes a bold plan to 'build the best English-language digital news service in the world,' perhaps as a direct response to Russia Today's powerful digital offensive.

The foreign and defence ministers of Australia and South Korea met late last week in a 2-2 dialogue. Euan Graham wrote on the fairly significant agreement that was signed:

Canberra, of course, has limited influence on the path Seoul chooses to tread among the US, Japan and China. But Australia is the only country with which South Korea has a 2-2 apart from the US. Seoul's decision to inaugurate an annual bilateral Strategic Dialogue therefore gives Canberra a discreet vantage point from which to counsel a fellow US ally. South Korea lacks a strategic tradition much beyond the US alliance, and policy choices can be easily distorted in Northeast Asia's zero-sum, nationalistic cauldron. Seoul aspires to play a balancing role, but this is a tough ask in a tough neighbourhood.

Finally, Bob Bowker on Russia's growing intervention in Syria:

The deployment seems to put to rest facile notions of creating 'safe zones' (supposedly for refugees, but in practice for al Qaeda-linked militias) from which pressure would continue to be mounted against the Assad regime's control over the Alawite mountain heartland, Latakia and Tartous on the coast and the urban centres Homs and Hama which are strategically significant to the preservation of the rest. 

The Russian deployment described in the analysis, and the signs of impending use of elite Russian airborne troops, would make sense only in the context of a determination to neutralise or remove the threat of further attacks mounted against the Assad regime's core.

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