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Weekend catch-up: Shinzo Abe, Turnbull's first trip to China, women's rights in Lebanon, air power in South China Sea and more

Weekend catch-up: Shinzo Abe, Turnbull's first trip to China, women's rights in Lebanon, air power in South China Sea and more
Published 16 Apr 2016   Follow @BrendanTN_

This weekend's catch-up will start with an engaging piece from long-time Japan watcher Grant Newsham. Grant makes the case that once Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is gone, the US is sure going to miss him:

Abe is the first Japanese Prime Minister in decades with a strategic vision of Japan's role in the world. He recognised that Japan could no longer sit quietly, writing the occasional check, while events unfolded around it. Foremost, he saw that close ties with the US are indispensable for Japan – and that forging a strong Japan-US relationship required Tokyo to become a more 'useful' ally. And by playing an active regional and global role — including militarily — Japan could raise its stature.

Malcolm Turnbull made his first visit to China as Prime Minister this week. The trip was mostly economic and trade focused and so The Interpreter carried some pieces on the Australia-China economic relationship. The first is from Stephen Grenville on Chinese foreign investment in Australia:

That said, we don't treat all foreigners quite equally. If history has resulted in an economy with many state-owner-enterprises (SOEs) — which is the case with China — these SOEs will be treated with greater circumspection than privately-owned foreign firms.

Nor do we treat all Australian industries as equally open. Around 80% of Australian mining is foreign owned, while agriculture (with only a little more than 10% foreign owned) seems especially sensitive. When foreigners buy up housing, we feel ambivalent about higher house prices (depending on whether we are already owners) and see them as crowding out our children's ownership dreams.

A second piece on the topic was written by Leon Berkelmans:

That green line should start going crazy soon. Australia will become the world's largest exporter of the stuff, overtaking Qatar, perhaps some consolation for missing out on hosting the World Cup.

This all sounds like a substantial effect on the Australian economy. Why is the mining boom hard to see in the top line numbers? One reason is that the Australian dollar plays a remarkably good stabilising role. 

Vanessa Newby wrote on the status of women's rights in Lebanon following the arrest of an Australian 60 Minutes crew there last week: [fold]

Until very recently civil marriage was forbidden in Lebanon, but sustained popular pressure to legalise it has gained traction in recent years. In 2013 a couple wed in a civil ceremony and with the help of their lawyer invoked a previously unused French colonial-era law from 1936 which permits civil unions outside the country's 18 official sects. With the help of activists they subsequently pressured the Lebanese Government into registering their civil marriage as legal in Lebanon. Inspired by this ruling many more couples since have had civil marriages, but despite protests none have been approved to date and civil marriage continues to be condemned by the religious authorities.

Akira Igata submitted a Japanese perspective to the submarine debate that The Interpreter hosted last week. His piece was framed around a marriage metaphor:

In short, White's concerns may be akin to that of an overly-protective parent who tells his daughter that she shouldn't go on a date with one of her good friends, because he will now expect her to accept a proposal, get married and have three kids. Admittedly, the restaurant that he reserved is a little too expensive for a first date, so he's definitely hoping for a second date – but this doesn't mean that he expects her to plan their next three or four decades together. Such a commitment is scary for her date as well. One of them seems to be relatively more eager than the other, but both are nevertheless thinking of moving the relationship forward. Yes, the future is uncertain, circumstances may change, and their interests will likely ebb and flow. Yet, the dinner is neither an engagement ring nor a marriage certificate, much less a joint bank account for the college education fund of their three future children.

Hugh White replied that instead of a first date, it was more like Japan was asking Australia to put a ring on it:

So, to push the metaphor a step further, Japan is offering us not just dinner but an engagement ring on our first date, and if we walk away from the relationship, they will want the ring back. And here the metaphor breaks down, because a successful submarine project depends not just one a one-off transfer of technology and skills, but on continual interaction and exchange – and hence on continued Japanese trust and goodwill for decades into the future. 

A popular post from Henrik Paulsson on air power in the South China Sea:

The aircraft available to China vastly outnumber anything Vietnam, Malaysia or the Philippines have. In the southern Guangzhou Military Region alone there are around 158 modern combat aircraft and some 164 older ones in both the Air Force and Naval Aviation commands. Most of the new ones belong to the Sukhoi Su-27 family, totalling around 110 aircraft. Even accounting for logistics and the capacity of air bases just in the Guangzhou Military Region, the Chinese can deploy a force that outnumbers and outguns all their opponents combined.

Also, Marie-Alice Mclean-Dreyfus with an original and intriguing piece comparing China's Great Wall with its island building activities in the South China Sea:

What can the similarities between the two walls teach us about the current political situation in China? The fact that China now feels the need to build walls to protect itself from the outside world suggests it is feeling increasingly threatened from within. As China now feels the need to surround itself with a protective border suggests a certain loss of confidence in its own natural resilience. Recent events in China such as an growing crackdown on dissent and increasing controls over censorship indicate that an external show of force (such as a wall) are masking an internal loss of control. Whether or not the regime that built the sand wall will go the same way as the rulers who built the Great Wall remains to be seen. What is clear is that history in China has an uncanny habit of repeating itself.

Saleem Javed on Afghan refugees:

The irony is that the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, dubbed the 'mayor of Kabul' due to his limited writ in other parts of Afghanistan, said in his latest interview with the BBC on 31 March that he had 'no sympathy' for Afghan refugees. He had earlier criticised Afghan citizens who risk their lives to reach Europe by saying that 'they (the refugees) think streets of Europe are paved with gold'. Ashraf Ghani, who is accused of being too soft on the Taliban in the name of  encouraging peace talks, has reportedly agreed with European countries that Afghanistan will receive all Afghan citizens if they are deported. 'If a person is expelled from another country then you have to accept your own citizens when they return', Ghani told Swedish Radio.

Crispin Rovere on Trump's comments on nuclear weapons and the implications for Australia:

Of course there are serious risks if Korea and Japan do go nuclear. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty would be destroyed and efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to other parts of the world could be terminally eroded. Moreover, the US is often a constraining influence on allies, reducing the risk of crisis escalation and moderating responses to low-level provocations – this could be complicated if nuclear armed allies are exerting greater independence.

With the World Bank-IMF spring meetings in Washington this week, Mike Callaghan said that it will likely be a case of deja-vu:

This is unfortunate, because the risks to the global economy currently identified by the IMF Managing Director are real and are rising – particularly in the political domain. As Lagarde has warned, the global economy is beset by an array of political risks, from terrorism to the UK's potential departure from the EU. The IMF's chief economist, Maurice Obstfield, has warned of the trend in Europe to reject economic integration in favour of national solutions. But this trend is not limited to Europe. The call at the moment is to build walls between countries rather than take them down. 

What are the dilemmas facing ISIS and al-Nusra? Catherine Hirst:

ISIS's hard-line stance is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the group's self-professed divinely mandated mission creates an appealing and empowering narrative. This has been a powerful message, servicing group cohesion and attracting would-be recruits. On the other hand, this narrative also creates an 'us against them' mindset and ensures that, while it may be able to forge temporary alliances, its lack of subtlety and inclusivity prevents it from creating broader support networks. The very thing that has grown its numbers is also expanding the number of its enemies.

David Wells called for a new EU intelligence body (or the improvement of Europol) after the terrorist attacks in Brussels:

The ISIS threat to Europe revealed by Paris and Brussels needs not just 'information exchange' but also an increasingly coordinated, multilateral response. A response led by an organisation with access to intelligence feeds from all member states; the ability to look strategically across these feeds to identify common threads and links; and most importantly, with the mandate to coordinate action across Europe when threats are identified.

Fergus Hanson wrote on the leak of Australia's new cyber strategy to iTnews:

Somewhat awkwardly, Australia's new cyber security strategy was leaked online Monday, pointing to the hard work ahead. The review will be Australia's first update since 2009.

The update is well overdue. There are gaping holes requiring attention, several of which appear to be covered in the strategy. However, early responses suggest the strategy will be more about catching up with better global practice rather than positioning Australia out towards the front. 

With the release of a new Lowy Institute Report yesterday, Anthony Bubalo wrote on how Indonesian students see the turmoil in the Middle East:

The perspectives provided by the students did throw up some surprises.

Most of the students interviewed in Egypt for example, backed the military in its 2013 coup against the elected-president Mohammad Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood.

One might have expected that they, as religious students, would show more sympathy toward the overtly religious Morsi. Why they didn’t reflected a range of factors, not least a sense (as demonstrated in the quote above) that the locals seemed an unruly mob who required a firm hand.

Where was Kevin Rudd in all the coverage of the race for UN secretary-general this week? Richard Gowan:

None of this is decisive. The rules of the race are still loose. Rudd can enter any time he likes, and there will surely be another round of hearings (or more) with him, Malcorra and other late entrants. While diplomats are currently rather buzzed by the last week's hearings, the adrenaline will fade, and they will need another fix. By the end of the year, this week's discussions may be forgotten. And at the end of the day, the General Assembly doesn't have much sway over who gets to run the UN anyway – the choice still lies, for good or ill, in the hands of the five permanent members of the Security Council. Russia in particular distrusts all the transparency.

And finally, I wrote a piece on the debate around China's future nuclear posture and capability:

Overall, I am unsure of the direction of China's nuclear posture (other than clearly seeking a more assured second-strike capability) and am a little sceptical of calls that Beijing is headed towards a limited nuclear war-fighting (and winning) footing. In terms of doctrine, they have a long way to go. But things are changing when it comes to Beijing's nuclear posture, and perhaps more quickly than in the past.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user APEC 2013.

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