As the Australian federal election steam rolls onward, The Interpreter covered some other issues this week, including a very good and insightful breakdown by John Edwards of Saudi Arabia's plan to economically reinvent itself:
Though he is yet to reveal the details of the plan, Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has excited world attention with his Vision 2030 announcement for the oil-exporting giant. It is important for Saudi, and important for the rest of us. The oil giant is at the beginning of a vast economic change that must, if it is successful, also profoundly change Saudi society and politics. Even failure will bring changes, perhaps bigger ones. As Saudi changes over the next decade or so, it will change regional and then global political calculations.
This was apparent in the recent sweeping cabinet reorganisation in the Kingdom, explained as a necessary preliminary to executing the new plan under younger officials more closely aligned with Prince Mohammed. The cabinet changes are merely a portent of bigger changes to come.
In Part 2, John predicted that Saudi Arabia might be able to indeed pull off this incredible transformation:
If it is united and resolved, the ruling family can mobilise the resources necessary to transform the economy. Unlike Bahrain, it can run large fiscal deficits for a very long time. There is a reasonable chance Saudi will be a very much bigger economy in a decade, with a much higher proportion of Saudis employed in reasonably good private sector jobs, with higher workforce participation by women and higher average levels of education and training. Unlike the UAE, Saudi has a substantial population of nationals.
The Interpreter also covered the Australian election however. Earlier in the week, Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale outlined his party's foreign policy platform in a speech at the Lowy Institute. Malcolm Jorgensen pointed out some of its pitfalls:
Di Natale repeatedly appealed to former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and his deep scepticism of the US as a 'dangerous ally'. Fraser's position had its limitations, but was at least internally coherent in accepting that a more independent strategic posture entails significantly increased defence expenditure – in the realm of '2.5 percent or 3 percent'. Di Natale, by contrast, called for a reduction of spending below current projections of 2%, in part because the response to Sino-US tensions is not yet 'clear'. In effect, the Greens choose to 'do nothing and hope for the best', and thereby relegate Australia to a mere observer of the most consequential foreign policy challenge of a generation.
Sam Roggeveen also touched on the speech, but pointed to a previous point he has made, the idea that the US-Australia alliance has almost become an ideology unto itself:
The US-Australia alliance has always been more than a practical arrangement for common security; it is also based on deep cultural affinities and historical ties. But as I've argued previously, in Australia in recent years it seems to have evolved (or perhaps calcified) into an ideology, a political totem before which anyone with pretensions to being politically mainstream must genuflect.
Darshana Barauh wrote on India's policy in the Pacific:
At first blush, the fast-changing maritime domain in Asia — where an increase in geo-political competition is binding the Pacific Islands and Indian Ocean into a single theatre — is the obvious trigger for India’s relatively new interest in these islands. However, there are few pressing reasons for Delhi to engage with the Pacific Islands from a defence point of view. While India carries out training with and for Fiji’s defence staff and engages occasionally in naval exercises, there is nothing that is institutionalised or regular about this defence cooperation.
Maria O’Sullivan looked the PNG Supreme Court's decision on Manus:
Although the court decision is not technically binding on Australia (as we were not named as a party to the litigation), it could be argued that it is important as a regional leadership issue for Australia to display respect for the jurisprudence of the PNG Supreme Court. This is particularly so given that successive Australian governments have been concerned about political instability, corruption and weak governance in PNG.
Where does trade fit into the Australian election? Stephen Grenville gave us a bit of history:
One Labor Party insider attributes his party’s free-trade conversion to the power of ideas, overriding the vested interests which had dominated the debate. The Labor Party in this reform era was dominated by big-thinking internationalist politicians who envisaged a global role for Australia and saw that this was incompatible with inward-focused industry protection. Australia’s role in forming APEC (the high point being the tariff reduction pledges at Bogor in 1994), was not compatible with protectionist policies at home. Others were influenced by the example of Sweden, a small economy whose wealth relied on trading with the world.
A great piece from Marie-Alice McLean Dreyfus which looked at Hollywood in China:
This is evident in various ways. To begin with, China is keen to promote domestic films over international films and has recently announced cash bonuses for films that do well domestically and internationally. Films that gross more than ¥20 million can apply for a bonus of up to ¥$6 million. The release date of foreign films is also tightly managedto ensure only Chinese films are shown in the most profitable cinema-going weeks in China such as Lunar New Year and the summer months.
Also well-worth reading article from Aaron Connelly on American attitudes and assumptions about Australian views and policy:
In several corner suites, moreover, there is a concern, not that the Chinese leadership might be undermining the rules-based order, but that the US is recklessly raising tensions with China in a contest for regional primacy. This view holds that Australia's closeness to the US could pull it into a conflict that is not in Australia's interests. Such arguments overrate the risk of conflict between the US and China, and underrate the importance of the rules–based order to Australian prosperity. Some in the Australian defence community discourage their American counterparts from taking these arguments seriously, breezily declaring their proponents to be soft on China. But the Australians making them are not uninfluential.
Is Prime Minister David Cameron building his legacy with his recent corruption summit? Daniel Woker:
With his crusade against corruption Cameron has now also hit on a more immediate and visible target. Corruption is the main impediment on the road to economic well-being, democracy and the rule of law for most emerging and developing countries. It is a truly global problem: sustained and equitable economic growth in the South would mean fewer economic migrants to the North, more democracy, fewer political refugees and more personal and economic security for locals and foreign investors alike.
Bal Kama covered the ongoing student protests in Papua New Guinea:
The students are making personal sacrifices and even risking suspension from studies. As of this week, armed riot police including the feared ‘mobile squad’ units have been sent to UPNG at the invitation of the University Council. The police are not allowed to enter UPNG unless invited. The Police Commissioner has argued that the police are there to ‘restore normalcy’ on the campus. But how can ‘normalcy’ be restored against a peaceful legitimate protest?
Is there a growing finacial campaign against Hizbullah? Rodger Shanahan:
As well as legislative lines of operation, law enforcement have also targted Hizbullah's income streams. In February this year a multinational law enforcement operation busted a drug operation that saw Hizbullah operatives, including a senior Hizbullah money launderer, working with South American drug cartels to raise profits for repatriation back to Lebanon for Hizbullah's use.
A lengthy and in-depth piece from Merriden Varrall on the place of the Cultural Revolution in modern China and its relevance to the Chinese Communist Party:
For a second Cultural Revolution in which people were to question and challenge authority, the Party–state would somehow need to be shown to be fallible. In Mao's time, Mao declared it to be fallible to pursue his own personal power. Xi is unlikely to do the same, as his commitment to the Party–state seems to be paramount (although conceivably as a vehicle for his own power). Cracks do exist that could develop into fissures allowing people to question the inevitability of the Party-state, such as the environment and the economy. However the leadership is supremely aware of these vulnerabilities, and will be managing them closely. Success is not guaranteed.
With Rodrigo Duterte's election in the Philippines last week, Lowell Bautista wrote on his South China Sea policy:
While Duterte has indulged the public with spur of the moment histrionics, including a pledge to plant a Philippine flag via jet ski on Chinese-occupied artificial islands, his position on China otherwise appears to have been conciliatory and amicable. Election pronouncements of Duterte on China and his views on the South China Sea disputes appear to be diametrically at odds with the current design and trajectory of Philippine foreign policy on these important issues.
Hannah Wurf with a brief breakdown of the latest G20 Monitor from the Lowy Institute:
In my own article in the Monitor, I argue that the G20 should to go back to basics and focus on cooperation and communication, even if there is no headline-stealing outcome. The G20 has already set three ambitious targets: an intention to lift global GDP by 2% by 2018, a goal to reduce the gap in labour participation between men and women in G20 countries by 25% by 2025 and a commitment to reduce the share of young people most at risk of being permanently left behind in the labour market by 15% by 2025.
It's clear that One Belt, One Road is a geopolitical project, says Julian Snelder:
Within China, one million documents have been published referencing the initiative. OBOR is going to happen and official China is mobilising for this ambitious program. Words of warning are few, and muted. But in the private sector, there is scepticism. True, Chinese firms are going to win big. But one can sense a resignation that this is going to be a costly geopolitical project rather than a commercial one.
Finally, Amy Maguire wrote on a recent government report about how Australia can improve its advocacy against the death penalty. Part of this looked at the Bali Nine case:
The Committee's view was that such changes would likely be sufficient to ensure that the AFP does not act in ways that privilege law enforcement agendas over the protection of human rights and human life. In support of this conclusion, the AFP noted that it has not been involved in information-sharing resulting in a death sentence for an Australian national since the Bali Nine case.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Stephen Downes.