Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Weekend catch-up: Race for the Blue House, Bishop in Singapore, economic diplomacy and more

What Moon Jae-in would mean for the region, the Russian Revolution 100 years on, Australia-Vietnam relations and more.

South Koreans celebrating the Constitutional Court's decision to uphold the impeachment of former President Park Geun-Hye, March 2017 (Photo: Getty Images/Chung Sung-Jun)
South Koreans celebrating the Constitutional Court's decision to uphold the impeachment of former President Park Geun-Hye, March 2017 (Photo: Getty Images/Chung Sung-Jun)
Published 18 Mar 2017 

Late last week South Korea's Constituional Court decided to uphold former President Park Geun-Hye's impeachment, which means an election to replace her will be held within sixty days. John Hemmings summarised Park's likely replacement, the Minjoo party's Moon Jae-in:

Historically, Koreans have referred to their state as a 'shrimp surrounded by whales'. The pressures, internal and external, on the Korean polity from Beijing and Washington, from Tokyo and Pyongyang, reveal a kernel of truth in this odd saying. Whoever becomes the next President of South Korea will have many issues to navigate, and many choices to make. Let’s hope they bring calm and some security.

How would a President Moon Jae-in approach North Korea? Aidan Foster-Carter:

Moon has experience of engaging Pyongyang while handling a sceptical US ally (in his case George W Bush). He has consistently favoured resuming the ‘sunshine' approach, arguing that a successful policy mix must include carrots as well as sticks. That grates with the West's recent hard line, which has failed: Kim Jong-un today is a worse threat than ever.

Across the border, North Korea's feud with Malaysia over the assassination of Kim Jong-nam bubbles on. Euan Graham on how we got here, and what's likely to happen:

Prime Minister Najib faces an election later this year and North Korea's chest-thumping since Kim Jong Nam's killing provides a perfect sounding board for toughness. It is undoubtedly less risky than standing up to China. In fact, by offering its good graces, China potentially stands to gain from Najib's professed interest in a 'quick solution' to the diplomatic standoff with Pyongyang. The Prime Minister may feel a domestic political imperative to cut a swift deal to secure the release of the remaining Malaysians in North Korea, in exchange for allowing some North Koreans through Malaysia's legal dragnet.

A hundred years ago on 15 March, Emperor Nicholas II of Russia abdicated, ending 300 years of Romanov rule and setting the scene for the October Revolution and seventy years of Bolshevik/Communist rule. Matthew Dal Santo on how contemporary Russians are commemorating the centenary:

Should 1917 be celebrated – or should it be mourned? For many Russians, the answer has less to do with history than with what kind of a people they are today.

On Monday, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop delivered the Fullerton Lecture in Singapore. Nick Bisley on how Bishop put the 'liberal' back into 'liberal international order':

Over the past 18 months or so the Australian government has favoured the technocratic and colourless ‘rules-based order’ formulation to describe its preferred regional setting. In an important, if not risk-free move, the Foreign Minister has made it clear that the liberal values at the heart of that order are of fundamental importance. This is not just a further symbolic defence of a status quo that looks ever less durable by the day, but a public statement of the enduring importance of liberal ideas of open markets and democratic values.

In France, presidential candidate François Fillon's political decline continues seemingly unabted following a scandal involving his wife's fake government job, with Emanual Macron largely the beneficiary. Matthew Dal Santo issued a mea culpa and analysed this new landscape:

Having upstaged the establishment favourites to win the nomination as presidential candidate for France’s mainstream centre-right Républicains in the party’s inaugural primary elections, Fillon, French prime minister from 2008 to 2012, already seemed to command a presidential air. Also refreshing was his honest recognition of the Republic’s woes. In recent decades, France has proved itself a past master in the art of resisting reform. In Fillon’s pairing of a call for a slimmed down Leviathan with a robust patriotism seemed to lie an acknowledgement by the electorate that radical overhaul could no longer be deferred. But acclaiming him so early as next resident of the Élysée was in hindsight a mistake.

John Edwards on how the globe appears to coping with the Trump Administration without too much trouble:

Two months into the Trump Administration, is it overturning the ‘liberal world order’, as widely feared? By now we ought to have some idea. My conclusion: no, it isn’t. If there was a liberal world order in the global economy on 20 January, 2017, it is still there today.

It would be an econmically anachronistic folly for Australia to emphasise trading relations with the UK over the European Union, argued Tristan Kenderdine:

Australia is a trading nation and we should welcome trade with all economies in Europe. But our economic future is in Asia. Our wider trade agendas should remain focused on progressive integrated economies in the European Union, NAFTA, Mercosur. And we should be pushing for inclusive regional integration in South Asia and East Africa in a future Indian Ocean response to APEC.

How will Australia's new Foreign Affairs White Paper adequately balance Australia's economic and security interests, if it manages to at all? Greg Earl argued for breaking down policymaking silos and examined how Australia could retain economic diplomacy as a substantive tool in its diplomatic arsenal:

If economic diplomacy is to be retained as a serious arm of policy, the White Paper will need to address the way economic and security analysts often talk past each other in the Australian policymaking space, with their different language and philosophies. This happens in many countries, especially at the academic level, but is arguably a more pressing issue to address in a country such as Australia, which faces obvious tensions between its longstanding main security partner in the US and its rising, likely most important economic partner in China.

Ian Satchwell on why economic diplomacy needs to focus on investment, not just trade:

Most Australians understand that China is Australia’s largest partner for trade in goods and services. But as Kim Beazley noted in this post, fewer realise the United States is by far Australia’s largest investment partner, while China ranks seventh in two-way investment with Australia.

The argument that another area of Australian policy is suffering from silo-isation has been making the rounds in Canberra. Geoff Kitney on the idea of an Australian Homeland Security:

There are some ideas in politics that do a lot of laps around the track before they finally find sufficient favour to turn into government policy. Few have done the distance that the proposal for a super national security department has. Recycled in various forms for more than a decade, the idea of bringing together the national security responsibilities of various security agencies, units within different departments and law enforcement bodies under one superstructure is now on the desk of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Just why it is back is not clear.

Ben Rich on the points behind Saudi Arabian King Salman's wild Asia ride:

The kingdom’s newly articulated Vision 2030 plan, championed by Salman’s 31-year-old son, is aiming to diversify the Saudi economy, move the national budget away from its traditional extreme reliance on oil, as well as push many Saudis out of the bloated public sector and into the private job market. At a more fundamental level, the initiative seeks to rewrite the basic Saudi social contract/ruling bargain, moving away from a rentier model of governance to one based on open and competitive market forces, while somehow maintaining the essential authoritarian rule of the monarchy.

As the Trump Administration increases the Asia Pacific's general strategic uncertainty, it's time for Australia and Vietnam to up their partnership, argues Carlyle Thayer

Australia will have to redouble its defence and security engagement in the region. There are signs that this is happening with Australia’s recent engagements with Japan, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines. But what about Vietnam? Why hasn’t it featured in Australia’s new outreach?

Finally Rachael Buckland on water access in Nepal:

As time passes, the Kathmandu Valley continues to struggle, facing declining water quality, increasing water scarcity, and the troubling emergence and expansion of groundwater entrepreneurs. Statistics speak: in Kathmandu, one in every five households has no access to a domestic water source and two-thirds of urban households live with an inadequate water supply.

You may also be interested in