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Weekend catch-up: satire explaining the US, more

Rebuilding Marawi, a dam collapse in Laos, Trump emulating Putin, and more: the week that was on The Interpreter.

Alec Baldwin as President Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live (Photo: Will Heath/Getty)
Alec Baldwin as President Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live (Photo: Will Heath/Getty)
Published 28 Jul 2018   Follow @lowyinstitute

The week that was on The Interpreter.

Sacha Baron Cohen’s new show Who is America? is part of a wave of politically tinged satire seeking to explain US politics to Americans and the world. Gabriel Wilder:

The truth is satire has always thrived when times are tough. When dictators control media, when governments control people’s lives, satire lives on. It just goes underground. Laughter is a coping mechanism, and people need it to survive.

Alyssa Ayres considers whether India is really a “major power”:

As Indian policymakers look towards the coming decades, it would be worth keeping the room for improvement in mind. Deeper and more extensive economic relationships could benefit the Indian economy by embedding the country more deeply in the global economy. And making strategic choices about the countries that can and are willing to support India’s transformation and its global leadership ambitions might be an opportunity worth seizing.

US President Donald Trump’s recent trip to Helsinki to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin brought up many comparisons between the two leaders. Kyle Wilson:

Trump’s demand to the former Director of the FBI, James Comey, as reported by Comey, that “I expect loyalty”, suggests he has also adopted elements of Putin’s approach to rule: surround oneself with a cluster of trusties – in Trump’s case, family members. Like Putin, Trump employs provocative, crude rhetoric and, routinely, arrant falsehoods. And like Putin, Trump springs tactical surprises to confound the foes and establish the principle that personal loyalty to the leader outweighs any perception of the national interest.

A major dam in Laos collapsed, reminding observers of the long-term effects of hydropower in the Mekong Basin. Milton Osborne:

Although there will be some short-term benefits in the agricultural section from control of the river’s flow, longer-term changes to the way in which the Mekong’s ecosystem functions will lead to a decline in soil fertility as a consequence of the diminishing of sediment flow down the river. The ultimate costs of these developments, the report states, will be a reduction in average GDP growth in all of the Mekong countries downstream of China.

Marawi in the southern Philippines was severely damaged by conflict in 2017, and the long process of rebuilding the city has made a slow start. Imelda Deinla:

Rebuilding trust between government authorities and people, and between different groups and clans ... is as important as delivering rehabilitation and infrastructure projects. After all, in the past, instigating building projects alone only resulted in failure.

Egypt’s parliament recently passed new media laws allowing the government to monitor and “supervise” users with more than 5000 followers on social media. Lydia Khalil:

While social media companies themselves are unsure how to respond, not so the Sisi regime. No longer content to weaponise information for its own political purposes, the regime is now using that very concern to restrict information flow and facts contradicting the official narrative.

Richard Heydarian on China’s promises of investment through the Belt and Road Initiative:

More than ‘debt trap’, what most targeted beneficiaries of the BRI should be concerned about is the yawning gap between China’s rhetorical promises of large-scale investments and the reality of its minimal substandard investments. Yet, and this is where the real problem comes in, even with minimal investments, China tends to get more geopolitical bang out of its largely imaginary buck. It manages to extract major geopolitical concessions from host nations by overawing them with large-scale offers of technology and capital.

The finance ministers of the G20 countries met in Buenos Aires last weekend. Mike Callaghan:

G20 finance ministers need to get real and signal that a tit-for-tat trade war will seriously damage growth, even if the US will not sign up to such a message. The US needs to be isolated and not accommodated. Moreover, the best thing G20 members could do to avoid a trade war is signal that they will ‘do nothing’. That is, they should commit to not engage in retaliation.

Last month, a deal between Australia and Taiwan to send asylum seekers from Nauru to Taiwan to receive medical treatment was revealed. Zoe Wang:

Some critics wonder how Taiwan benefits from this deal on a broader stage. Taiwan has not gained much support from Australia regarding the China–Taiwan controversy, including Qantas Airways’ rapid acceptance of China’s request to list Taiwan as a ‘Chinese’ destination.

North Korea appears to have followed through with removing its main rocket engine test site. Morris Jones:

The dismantling of the Sohae test stand is a textbook example of the power of satellite imagery as a verification tool in international affairs. Some of North Korea’s confidence-building moves have not really generated much confidence for international observers. The demolition of North Korea’s nuclear test site, for example, has not been verified to complete satisfaction, as observers were unable to access or remotely observe the condition of the underground tunnels at the site.

Stephen Blank on Kazakhstan’s political repositioning away from Russia:

In his visit to Washington earlier this year, President Nursultan Nazarbayev elevated Kazakhstan’s strategic partnership with the US. Even more aggravating for Moscow, Nazarbayev flatly refused to accede to Russia’s demand to abolish the visa-free regime with Washington.

Cambodia’s election is this weekend, and numerology is playing a curious role in both campaigning and protest. Erin Handley:

As the Khmer words for ‘election’ and ‘lottery’ are a homonym (words that are interchangeable), some voters and political leaders place weight on numbers and omens. Numerology also holds some sway in Cambodia, and extends far beyond the upcoming national election this weekend into everyday life. High and odd numbers, especially the number 9, are considered lucky, as are some consecutive numbers, such as 8888.

The territorial dispute between Malaysia and the Philippines over Sabah has been raised again. Malcolm Cook:

Unfortunately, the current push for revising the 1987 Constitution and introducing a federal system of government in the Philippines is making not asking the Sabah question in the Philippines more difficult.

Following recent consultations with both officials from both countries, India is feeling pressure from the US to downgrade its relationship with Iran. Stuti Bhatnagar:

India’s policy towards Iran is facing a crucial test once again with US withdrawal from the JCPOA and the expected new sanctions on the Islamic Republic. While the visit by the Iranian delegation to New Delhi featured claims of constructive discussions and the promise of follow-up meetings in Iran at a ministerial level in November, conflicting analysis is emerging on India’s Iran policy.

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