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Weekend catch-up: New Zealand election, Kim’s rhetoric, the Media Award and more

The Lowy Institute Media Award, Kim Jong-un's statement, lessons from PNG's elections and more.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English debate on TVNZ, September 2017 (Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English debate on TVNZ, September 2017 (Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Published 23 Sep 2017 

By John Gooding, Digital Editor at the Lowy Institute and Associate Editor at The Interpreter.

North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho has told reporters in New York that Kim Jong-un might respond to US President Donald Trump's military threats by testing a nuclear weapon in the Pacific Ocean (there is some ambiguity in the precise translation of Ri's comments), while Kim Jong-un released a first-person statement lambasting US President Donald Trump for his belligerence. Van Jackson on Kim's dark warning:

The political utility North Korea attributes to offensive action means it needs to do something provocative for the sake of deterrence, and perhaps too for salving wounded pride. Given how primed Washington’s hawks are for a fight with North Korea, I doubt Trump will respond to North Korean friction with restraint, as past US presidents have.

This evening the 2017 Lowy Institute Media Award, now in its fourth year, will be presented to one of six finalists. As part of the build-up, The Interpreter has been hosting commentary on international affairs and foreign correspondents. First, UK High Commissioner Menna Rawlings (a judge for this year's award) on the similarities between diplomats and international reporters:

This month I joined the judging panel for the annual Lowy Institute Media Awards. No spoilers – the award ceremony takes place this Saturday, 23 September, and our lips are sealed right up until the winner is announced. But I can say that the quality of the nominees was fantastic, and I enjoyed the opportunity to get acquainted with the work of some of Australia’s most able, courageous and expert journalists who write or broadcast on foreign policy issues.

This got me thinking about the relationship between journalists – particularly those working as foreign correspondents – and diplomats. While it’s true this can be adversarial, we in fact have a lot in common.

Fellow judge Tom Switzer addressed the increasing dearth of facts in modern-day journalism:

I have a confession to make. I’ve spent my working life in opinion journalism: newspaper comment pages, political magazines, think-tank journals, radio broadcasting. Yet I recoil from the increasing tendency of journalists to give their opinions about the events they cover rather than to provide a fair, balanced and detailed account of those news events.

Nowhere is this trend more evident than in international affairs. The media feed us a daily diet of what should be happening in the world rather than what is happening in the world.

Today is also voting day for New Zealand's election – Mike Rann on the potentially pivotal role played by New Zealand First's Winston Peters:

Peters' choice will focus on whether he thinks it's better for NZ First to secure an existing government and force on it his populist policies or whether he wants to tap the mood for change. He knows if he goes with Labour, Jacinda and not Winston will be the star. Peters is difficult to read and political pundits who have bet on what they think he will do have been embarrassed in the past. The strong performance by Ardern means a change of government is a possibility but by no means certain. Whatever happens on election night, Jacinda will be smiling and thinking about tomorrow.

Robert Ayson on the prospects for tension between the New Zealand and Australian governments over the status of New Zealander's residing in the latter:

Whether it is English or Ardern, National or Labour, New Zealand will continue announcing to the world that Australia is its one true ally. But the noisiest issue for that relationship in New Zealand politics has not been Iraq, Fiji, Trump, Xi, or terrorism. It has been the status of the many Australian-based New Zealanders who lack access to the federal government programs their taxes help pay for. This gap intensified recently when the Turnbull government decided kiwis would be treated as international rather than domestic students at Australian universities.

Andrew Little, the previous Labour leader, got on the trans-Tasman social welfare warpath to little obvious effect. Ardern may feel she needs to hold the Turnbull government to account. But it’s not clear what new leverage her government would have. This will remain a perennial hard ball get for New Zealand politicians.

On Tuesday Trump addressed the UN General Assembly – it was a fiery speech, but the organisation itself is safe from Trump's wrath, argued Nick Bryant:

 Someday a book might well be written How an Indian-American former South Carolina Governor and a Portuguese socialist saved the United Nations from a billionaire America First president. Admittedly, the title needs work, but the thesis is sound.

The fourth article in Sean Dorney's series on the PNG elections examined the enormous disparities between the electoral roll and the total number of recorded votes in some electorates:

There are obviously big problems in the Highlands, where tribal and cultural issues continue to have a major impact on how elections are run. The Commonwealth observers who went to the Highlands reported that bloc voting was a major feature at almost every polling station they visited. They said that in many polling stations voters were given multiple ballot papers by polling officials, often at the voter's insistence that they were authorised to vote for absent family members. In Goroka, they witnessed polling officials at the end of the day (after voting was finished) crossing names off the roll to match the number of votes that had been cast earlier. And in the Jiwaka Province, they saw voters who had several fingers inked, indicating that they had voted multiple times.

Rhys Thompson on why Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi might be so reticent to criticise the actions of the military in the Rohingya crisis:

Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party took power in Myanmar promising change, but are yet to deliver. The problems faced by the incoming administration were considerable, and now the Rohingya crisis has prompted some calls for this fallen idol to hand back her Nobel Peace Prize. But Myanmar politics are complex and ASSK's recent actions should be considered in the context of what she has long regarded as her number one priority: constitutional change.

Meanwhile, Alice Dawkins examined the historical roots of the China-Myanmar border:

The hills of Myanmar’s northeastern frontiers are no longer places of princes, and the Kuomintang of the post-war era are have all but gone, or transformed into the constantly evolving network of anti-government armies. The abhorrent conflict in Rakhine may be grabbing the headlines now, but it is one element of a multifaceted condition that former Prime Minister U Nu once described as being ‘hemmed in like a tender gourd among the cactus’. As the Chinese state extends its reach beyond its traditional powerbases in the Sino-Myanmar hills and lowland urban centres, to developing a major port off the Rakhine coast, it pays to be aware of the motif of strategic Chinese infiltration.

Are we too worried about the potential for China to exercise influence over its student diaspora in Australia? James Laurenceson:

Sometimes Australia can slip into panic mode when faced with the evidence of China’s rise – in this case, an increase in the number of Chinese citizens able to afford an education and pay their way at our schools and universities.

But here’s the rub – there are currently 108,260 Chinese students with their heads in the books at more than 30 Australian universities. Yet only four incidents have been reported.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's visit to the US earlier this month was met by disdain in both countries – but Najib and Trump aren't all there is to the relationship, argued Elina Noor:

The US-Malaysia partnership is comprehensive for a reason and should be assessed for its substance rather than for its optics. There are shortcomings to the relationship, no doubt, but the existing ties are greater than the sum of their parts.

Last Friday the Lowy Institute released an Analysis by Barry Sterland on a potential strategy for Australia in assisting the management of economic risks in Asia. Stephen Grenville on Sterland's argument that the IMF should be central in crisis management preparations: 

The Fund has the experience, expertise and objectivity to play a central role. But this may not be enough.

While Roland Rajah noted that Australia needs to be able to work in the region's more fragmented economic architecture:

The IMF will remain important, particularly for dealing with deeper crises. But it risks becoming less central and an increasingly last resort.

For instance, while China undoubtedly wants more influence at the IMF, it is also clearly interested in developing alternative mechanisms, preferably ones that give it more influence.

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