After a big week of international summitry in New York and Washington, where among other things Australia announced a new bid for the UN Security Council and the US and China publicly tried to put their cyber differences behind them, Russia began air strikes in support of the Assad regime in Syria. First, Lauren Williams reported on US and Russian posturing at the UN:
Just hours after the strikes began, US Secretary of State John Kerry appeared in what can only be described as a bizarre joint press conference in New York for the closing day of the UN General Assembly session, where the two superpowers have signaled a confluence of interest in destroying ISIS but traded pot shots over who is to blame for its rise.
Next is a piece from Kerry Brown reflecting on President Xi's visit to the US, and the lost opportunities for Chinese public diplomacy:
Talking directly to the American people through their media, and through a more spontaneous kind of visit, would be a massive asset for China. Like it or not, this is an audience they cannot ignore. American presidents can come to China and reach out over the heads even of managed media, gathering popular plaudits. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, by contrast, shows itself once more to be one of the most cautious and risk averse in the world. Management and control remain their main objectives, not trying to reset the attitudes towards their country by more creative visit programs by one of their key assets – their national leader. Symptomatically, Xi's 'interview' in the Wall Street Journal turned out to be responses to queries submitted in writing, raising questions about just how much input the President even had in the answers finally published.
Bonnie Glaser wrote an in-depth piece on the memorandum of understanding that the US and China signed concerning airborne military intercepts:
The now-completed MOU on rules of behavior for safe military encounters at sea and in the air is not a panacea for the US-China military relationship. The PLA will continue, for example, to criticise US close-in surveillance operations near Chinese territory as well as US arms sales to Taiwan, For their part, the US military remains concerned about the possibility that China will use its newly-built artificial islands in the South China Sea to exert control over the air and sea within China's nine-dashed line.
And how did Chinese media cover Xi's trip? Merriden Varrall and Jackson Kwok:
Following the controversial Tianjin explosions and a series of stock market crises last month, public confidence in Xi's leadership has, arguably, needed some serious bolstering. The 3 September military parade partly addressed this need by portraying Xi as firmly in control of ensuring China's future as a strong and respected global power. Likewise, Xi's state visit to the US was used to highlight China's powerful and important position on the world stage and Xi's own status as a respected global figure. Coverage has aimed to strengthen the Chinese people's impression that Xi is capably representing China and building its image so that it is accepted and respected by Washington and the international community. This supports the greater narrative of Xi's 'China dream', in which Xi and the Communist Party are portrayed as confidently steering China on the path towards national rejuvenation.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced this week that Australia intends to run for a 2029 seat on the UN Security Council. Alex Oliver says this might be an early sign of what foreign policy is like under the Turnbull Government:
Much will no doubt be made of this first major announcement from the Turnbull Government on foreign policy. It may well be that, together with the renewed push for a 2018-20 seat on the UN Human Rights Council, multilateralism is 'back'. This will become clearer over the course of the government under its new leader. In the meantime, what is clear is Australia's renewed enthusiasm for participation in the Security Council as the world's most important multilateral organisation.
Peter Nadin wrote on what Australia needs to do in order to ensure its seat in 2029:
Now that Australia has announced its intention to run for a seat, it has 15 years to prepare. A first-order priority must be the Council's core business – peacekeeping. At Monday's summit Australia committed airlift capabilities for future crises, but no extra personnel on top of the current commitment of 48. Many other middle powers have pledged to do more.
Australia cannot rest on past achievements – in peacekeeping and in the Security Council. Genuine and thoughtful engagement with the UN should constitute a foreign policy priority, because, put simply, the UN amplifies the influence of middle powers.
Danielle Cave wrote an excellent piece on DFAT's digital diplomacy strategy (or lack thereof):
This struggle will continue unless a review is commissioned into the type of digital diplomacy the Australian Government needs to meet its international ambitions. An independent review should address resourcing levels and examine what outside expertise the Department needs to complement what it already has. Such a review could use lessons learned by those diplomats and embassies excelling within DFAT, to help guide those who are not. It should look closely at what other countries are doing and highlight potential areas for collaboration. It should assess whether it is in Australia's interests for the online presence of the Australian aid program to remain idle(particularly given the public's preference). Canada's tactic of separating out core functions online might help DFAT better target and engage with audiences with various interests. The review could collect and crowdsource opinion from the Australian public and embassy audiences, as well as stakeholders from the business and NGO sector.
Australia has a new Minister of Defence, and Neil James reviews her record and what the continual personnel changes in the complex portfolio means for continuity:
Andrews' argument that he should have been retained for continuity in the Defence portfolio was always problematic, particularly once the party-political aspects are excluded. From the public-interest viewpoint the necessary continuity is instead best achieved in the careful selection of his replacement. Continuity is also enhanced by her junior minister, Mal Brough, a former ADF officer who previously served effectively as a junior minister in the Defence portfolio in the Howard Government. The nearly complete Defence White Paper and the selection process for new submarines, both at the stage where they are effectively the collective responsibility of the National Security Committee of Cabinet, also enhance continuity.
Lydia Khalil reviewed the Republican presidential candidates' views on Islam, starting with Trump and his supporters:
A survey done in August by Public Policy Polling shows that Trump's pronouncements on Muslims and his 'birther' stance represents the consensus among the GOP electorate, not merely a Tea Party or right wing fringe. Sixty-six percent of Trump's supporters believe Obama is a Muslim, while 61% think Obama was not born in the US. Among the overall GOP electorate, 54% think President Obama is a Muslim and only 29% grant that President Obama was born in the US.
Dirk van der Kley on what may be the changing attitude of the Chinese Government towards foreign intervention:
The direct threat from ISIS is seen as more ideological than operational. ISIS and other global terrorist organisations have offered moral support for the Uyghur cause, but this hasn't translated into operational support. In fact, numerous Chinese observers indicated to me that ideological propaganda is the biggest security threat emanating from the Middle East (and Afghanistan/Pakistan too) – extremist propaganda from global organisations influencing dissatisfied Chinese Uyghurs in Xinjiang. It is unclear to these analysts that the degradation or defeat of ISIS would stop the ideological threat. The preferred method instead is to clamp down internally in China and stop the threat there.
What does China's emissions trading scheme mean for the world? Frank Jotzo:
The launch of China national emissions trading scheme will have a major signaling effect globally. The world's largest economy is putting in place a price on carbon emissions, and this will be noted the world over. If China's experience is a positive one, its model will be emulated in many other countries, especially by emerging economies.
The US-China joint announcement, following last year's joint announcement in Beijing, also sends a strong message to other nations: the presidents of the two largest economies are united in their push for meaningful climate policy. It gives support to any nation that wants to see strong global climate action, and helps the argument of domestic constituencies in favour of action. A number of industrialising and developing countries may consider following China's example. In fact, many middle- and low-income countries have already made significant climate action pledges, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.
Both Tristram Sainsbury and Casper Wuite think the G20 needs to do more on the current refugee crisis:
The G20's approach to Ebola can be a blueprint for the refugee crisis. The first step should be for finance ministers, when they meet in Lima in two weeks' time, to do what they failed to achieve at their 4-5 September meeting and recognise the severity of the humanitarian crisis and need for a coordinated policy response. Then, when G20 leaders meet in Antalya on 15-16 November, they will need to decide how best to recognise the refugee crisis and how the world is responding.
Finally, Steve Grenville on commodity prices and Asia:
For Australia, there are other elements in this painful adjustment: adaptation to the ending of the investment boom and the lower terms-of-trade. The lower resource revenue requires a policy response, and the IMF argues that a resources-rent tax should be a key element of tax strategy. This is not only a matter of equity: a tax which varies with the commodity cycle would greatly assist macro-economic management.
The resources-rent tax proposed by Kevin Rudd was so complex and confusing that the mining industry pulled off the greatest public-relations coup of all times (combined with political ineptitude of a high order), with super-rich miners winning the debate. The proposed tax was reduced by Julia Gillard and even this tiny vestige was abolished by the Abbott Government. That's not the only reason why Australians now find themselves with an inadequate tax take, but abolishing a tax, no matter how rhetorically attractive, has to be made up by other taxes sooner or later.
Photo courtesy of The White House.