Thursday 24 Jan 2019 | 03:38 | SYDNEY
Thursday 24 Jan 2019 | 03:38 | SYDNEY

Weekend catch-up: MH17, the China challenge, Gaza, BRICS, West Papua and much more



19 July 2014 08:00

Bringing together the best Interpreter articles you were too busy to read this week.

Yesterday, Lowy Institute Research Fellow James Brown provided some quick analysis on the Malaysian Airlines flight 17 tragedy:

The priority for the UN Security Council is to secure international access to the crash site rapidly, before evidence can be destroyed or disturbed. Australia is ideally positioned to lead an international crash investigation team. For a start, we are not the US or Ukraine. Secondly, we have highly skilled air crash investigators, who have recent experience working with Malaysian Airlines on the MH370 crash. The Australian Government should consider volunteering Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston to lead the air crash investigation, given the international trust he has built on the MH370 search and his previous military experience.

Australia should consider the possibility that technical and possibly security support will be needed for the crash investigation and should be prepared to offer both. Given the proximity to the Russian border, NATO and the OSCE will not be ideally positioned to contribute to this effort. Armed police, as opposed to military, may be a less provocative solution to guarantee security for air crash investigators.

Elliot Brennan looked at the tragedy from a Malaysian perspective:

As more information comes to light, Malaysia will move from grief to anger. The Malaysia ‘brand' has been devastated by these two tragedies of its state-controlled airline (which wears the national colours) and this will impact on the national psyche. The public will demand that its government, already reeling from the March MH370 disaster, react strongly and swiftly to the downing of MH17. The muscular Twitter comments by the Minister of Defence has already paved the way for Malaysia to demand the international community act against the perpetrators of the attack. After strong condemnation for its sluggish response to the MH370 disappearance, Prime Minister Najib's government will seek to reassert itself and demand a strong and united response to the tragedy.

Israel has launched a ground offensive in Gaza. Here's a podcast I did with Lowy Institute Middle East expert Anthony Bubalo with his first reactions. Earlier in the week Anthony wrote that despite the 'brutal familiarity' of the current escalation, the status quo changes with every new conflict or crisis:

For one thing, domes, walls and indifference have sucked the vitality out of Israeli politics. There is no need to take risks, to use Israel's strength to take bold positions and ask even bolder questions about what it might mean to reach a negotiated end to the conflict with the Palestinians. Politics has largely become a race to the right, so much so that even an old hawk like Prime Minister Netanyahu starts to look cautious and statesmanlike relative to some of his cabinet colleagues.

Meanwhile, outside the dome and the wall, Palestinian politics is ossifying and failing. In the current environment the only two viable political positions seem to be apathy (if you have money and a job) or militancy.

Unless something changes it is only a matter of time before older-generation leaders like Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and groups like Fatah and even Hamas are replaced by more radical and more nihilistic alternatives. And there are plenty around, given the ferment in the Arab world at the moment. That too is happening gradually although, as with the seemingly rapid advances made by ISIS in Iraq, things can change quickly on the ground once momentum shifts decisively.

So no, things will not be the same after this conflict. Relative calm will return. Israel will put its Iron Dome system back in its silo. Hamas will lick its wounds and begin rebuilding its arsenal, this time aiming for rockets that can reach Haifa. The status quo will have shifted again slightly towards a future that is growing slowly bleaker for both sides.

On Indonesia, Catriona Croft-Cusworth commented on rising tensions following the disputed presidential election, arguing that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono needs to step in and ensure a peaceful transition:

Tensions are growing over how each of the two new 'presidents' and their supporters would handle a potential defeat. Prabowo's stubborn refusal to acknowledge the mainstream quick count results suggests he is still determined to take the presidency by any means at his disposal. In Jakarta, rumours are spreading about the nervousness of Chinese Indonesians, who remember becoming the targets of unrest in 1998. Last Friday, Prabowo addressed a rally at a 'Pray for Gaza' event, which blocked the central Hotel Indonesia roundabout in Jakarta with crowds including members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a hardline group notorious for violence.

On the other hand, a Prabowo win would be hard to swallow for Jokowi's supporters, especially with reports of vote-counting irregularities continuing to emerge. The most important step now is to ensure that any challenges to the results are pursued through the appropriate legal channels. Now would be the time for the actual president, Yudhoyono, to step in and ensure a peaceful transition, no matter what the results announced by the KPU on 22 July.

 The Australian Government repealed the carbon tax on Thursday, and Fergus Green discussed the potential global ramifications:

Symbolically, the scheme's repeal deals a small but largely insignificant blow to global climate efforts. The large global community of policymakers who are serious about tackling climate change has already written off Abbott's Australia (along with Canada) as a climate wrecker. The carbon price repeal simply cements that perception. In the face of numerous recent climate policy developments in China, the US and India, Australia's antics will have little impact.

In sum, it is a small backward shuffle from a country that is already at the back of the pack. The BRICS summit concluded in Brazil this week, with the main announcement being an agreement on the capital base and headquarters for a 'New Development Bank' with a US$100 billion reserve fund. The Lowy Institute's Mike Callaghan wrote on whether this represents a solidification of the BRIC countries as a powerful bloc in global governance:

The motivation to form a new development bank was a political one, and the main significance of Fortaleza is also political. Notwithstanding all their differences, the establishment of the development bank will continue to provide a core for the BRICS to rally around. Furthermore, it could be a grouping that not only unites against what it perceives as Western domination of international institutions, but also a force countering Western sanctions against one of its member, Russia being a case in point.

In short, while the new development bank may at this stage be more symbolic than significant, the BRICS continue to deepen as a political grouping and will be around for some time to come.

Tess Newton-Cain looked at West Papuan efforts to join the Melanesian Spearhead Group:

It hasn't taken long for the West Papua National Council for Liberation (WPNCL) and other pro-independence groups to to respond to Melanesian Spearhead Group's (MSG) recent announcement on the WPNCL's membership application, made during the MSG summit in Port Moresby. And the response can be characterised as something of a 'good news, bad news' story.

The good news was that the WPNCL, with strong support from Marcus Haluk (Chairman for the Working Group of the all West Papua pro-independence organisations), announced that a conference of reconciliation would be held in Port Vila, Vanuatu at the end of  August.

The aim of this meeting is to put forward an application for membership of the MSG (here's a primer on the Melanesian Spearhead  Group) by an umbrella group of all West Papuan people, as recommended by the MSG leaders in Port Moresby. The conference organisers have expressed their confidence that this new application will be ready by the end of the year...

...The bad news is that hard on the heels of this announcement came the news that pro-Indonesia West Papua Autonomy campaigners, Franz Albert Joku and Nicholas Simion Messet, would not be invited to said conference.

Hugh White questioned whether Prime Minister Tony Abbott understands the 'China challenge':

If Abbott really understands what's happening in Asia, he would understand how serious China's challenge is, and he would recognise that Abe's policy will only lead to further escalating rivalry and an increased risk of war. Which is why even after last week I still think that Abbott either doesn't understand what is happening in Asia or he does understand and he thinks that escalating rivalry is a good idea.

I prefer to think he still does not understand. Once he does understand he will, one hopes, have enough imagination to see that there are more than two ways to respond to China's ambitions. We do not have to choose supine surrender or inflexible resistance.

Julian Snelder wrote on the state of the US alliance system in Asia:

Here in Asia, there is heated debate about the durability of US alliances. Last week saw the visits by the Japanese prime minister to Australia and Chinese president Xi Jinping to South Korea (accompanied, inevitably, by a planeload of business people). Xi Jinping proposed 'a new Asian security architecture' devoid of US military treaties, which he called a 'Cold War relic.' American newspapers have seized on Beijing's intent to undermine and unravel the alliance system.

Nowhere is China's effort more apparent than in South Korea, which is highly dependent on China economically. The two countries certainly are clear on what they stand against — Japanese revisionism — something I hope Tony Abbott pondered during his feting of Shinzo Abe. But it is less clear whether Beijing and Seoul advocate the same objectives, for example on how to deal with North Korea. While the headlines trumpet Seoul's 'shift to Beijing', amore nuanced view is that Seoul is not yet looking to replace the US as its protector, but is working an 'inside game' to exert pressure on Japan and to shape future Korean reunification outcomes.

And finally, Jasper Wong looked at China-Saudi relations:

Since 2011, however, the courtship has hit a bump in the form of the Syrian uprising. China has marched in tune to Russia's lead, vetoing a number of UN resolutions on Syria. Newspapers closely aligned to the Saudi royal family swiftly castigated China's complicity in keeping Assad in power. Prominent groups and the former chairman of the Supreme Judiciary Council even called for a boycott of Chinese goods. A rare outburst by the normally stoic King Abdullah expressing his exasperation over UN inaction on the crisis underlined the extent to which the fall of the Assad regime has become the overriding goal of the Saudi establishment

That outcome has not materialised. Yet the Saudis seem to blame the Russians and the American more than the Chinese. The only setback to China-Saudi relations has been a two-year suspension of the Gulf Cooperation Council-China strategic dialogue from 2012 to 2013. The Syrian crisis brought some of China's old interests (its close ties with Russia and its strong belief in non-intervention) into conflict with emerging interests. China, however, seems to have placated Saudi anger.

Photo by Flickr user John Tornow.

You may also be interested in...