The week that was on The Interpreter.
Last weekend saw the 2018 edition of the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual gathering of defence ministers and other officials in Singapore. Euan Graham on US Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s address:
Mattis warned of ‘much larger consequences’ in future if China denies its neighbours ‘the freedom of political action’. Unless China can find a way ‘to work more collaboratively’, then consequences ‘will continue to come home to roost’. There is, of course, significant doubt in the region about US willingness to match words with actions. That is nothing new. Nonetheless, the sense of a broader pushback against China was palpable at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue.
Ian Hall on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech:
Modi used the speech to make the pitch that India stands willing and able to defend the ‘rules-based order’. He emphasised that those rules and norms have a purpose. Above all, they uphold the sovereignty and autonomy of all in the region, especially the small and middling states that comprise Southeast Asia.
And Robert Kelly reports on discussion at Shangri-La of North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible nuclear disarmament:
Pyongyang spent almost fifty years developing these weapons. It endured extraordinary sanctions, isolation, and economic costs to get them. Nuclear missiles provide it direct nuclear deterrence against the US mainland, and thereby a powerful shield against US-led regime change. Were Pyongyang to surrender all that, it would almost certainly demand concessions so great – such as the end of the US–South Korean alliance – that such a swap would be likely rejected.
In Moscow on 26 May, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin held their 21st bilateral meeting. Rikki Kersten:
Japan’s predicament vis-à-vis missiles launched over its territory by a nuclear-capable North Korea has spurred it to deploy more Aegis missile systems to Akita and Yamagata prefectures. Seeing this, Russia is even more convinced that if Japan had any sovereignty over the Kuril islands they could become a launch pad for a US military presence in the Russian Far East.
The G7 countries, minus the US, released a stinging communiqué criticising Washington’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium. Tom Chodor:
As has been well reported, the ‘national security’ defence is pretty tenuous, necessary for US President Donald Trump to decree the tariffs without Congressional approval, rather than highlighting any actual threat to security. Likewise, it is well established that the real target is China, which has been depressing global steel prices with excess production.
In response to increasing violence in Kashmir, India and Pakistan agreed to implement the conditions specified in the 2003 ceasefire. Stuti Bhatnagar:
While these positive developments provide hope, it is a familiar path for India–Pakistan relations constrained by a historical pattern of dialogue-disruption-dialogue. The two sides continue to be severely critical of one another at international forums, and a discussion on crucial issues of contention at a formal level is yet to yield results.
Last week, Papua New Guinea Minister for Communications Sam Basil floated the possibility of banning Facebook for a month in the Pacific islands country. Kasek Galgal:
A complete ban of an important, if imperfect, platform would be a serious impediment to freedom of expression, and all but confirm speculation that the ban was merely censorship under the guise of user protection.
The amendment to legislation in Indonesia that criminalised homosexual acts may not be the significant breakthrough hoped for by LGBT rights activists. Febriana Firdaus:
Indonesia’s LGBT community also holds out hope that President Joko Widodo will eventually break his silence on the issue, making a bold statement to protect the LGBT community as a minority within Indonesia. But even the best designed measures to protect the LGBT community will founder if homophobic politicians see political reward in vilification.
Political parties are jostling in the lead-up to New Caledonia’s referendum in November. Denise Fisher:
The preparedness of some leaders to put short-term political gain in local elections ahead of constructive participation in a referendum process which pro-independence groups fought for, and see as the culmination of decades of promises, marks a potentially dangerous change.
Bo Seo on the challenges faced by Chinese international students in Australia:
Chinese international students in Australia are a group of young people who have their sights fixed in two directions: one here in Australia, and the other in China. This dual stance offers opportunities as well as dangers. And some international students seem to understand that patriotic displays and cooperation with the government may enhance their future prospects in China.
Elliot Brennan on Chinese dams being used as strategic levers:
Of the hydroelectricity dams on the Mekong, the vast majority of currently installed capacity (megawatts) is in China, accounting for more than 15,000 MW. Together these dams can hold back 23 billion cubic metres of water, or 27% of the river’s annual flow between China and Thailand.
Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei is the subject of a new documentary, Yellow is Forbidden, which traces her rise in the world of haute couture. Bernadette Anvia:
To view Pei’s creations as mere pieces of clothing is to overlook their profound significance. Her designs are firmly rooted in the political: she has successfully reclaimed 5000 years of Chinese history and fashion from Maoism, and is now showing Chinese culture on the world stage.