This week, The Interpreter covered a lot of ground, with the Shangri-La Dialogue concluding in Singapore, the Trump campaign seemingly reaching a turning point in the US and Brexit nearing. However one event deserves more attention. On Wednesday, after several weeks of protests at the University of Papua New Guinea, police shot and wounded at least 17 students after they attempted to march on PNG's parliament. After initial reports that four of the students had been killed, that number was officially revised down to zero. Sean Dorney wrote on the incident and warned that if the trouble spreads, this could be a volatile situation for Papua New Guinea:
What is going on in Papua New Guinea at the moment is tragic. And if the trouble spreads through the Highlands it will become very messy.
Peter O'Neill is not the quintessentially evil character his critics brand him as. But by closing down Task Force Sweep (which he had set up primarily to tackle corruption) and refusing to allow the police to question him over serious corruption allegations, he has allowed the perception to become common belief that he has placed himself above the law.
That is very dangerous in a country like Papua New Guinea, which is teeming with people with a grievance.
Two pieces from resident Lowy experts on the Shangri-La Dialogue. The first from Euan Graham, who attended the Dialogue, reflecting on US Defense Secretary Ash Carter's speech:
Carter's speech notably did not call out Chinese behaviour in specific terms. Nor was there any repeat call this year to reverse course on island-building and militarisation. This left some delegates wondering if the US was in fact backing down. Carter recycled a rhetorical assertion from his Annapolis speech that Beijing's actions in the South China Sea 'could end up erecting a Great Wall of self-isolation'. Carter's assumed aim at SLD was to invite a qualitative comparison between an American brand of 'principled' engagement and Chinese actions that threat to 'undercut' shared principles. China's pushy nationalism has certainly alienated many countries in Asia. But it would be wrong to characterise China as isolated.
Merriden Varrall put a different line, saying that Team Washington and Beijing are talking past each other:
So, how should the script be changed? This is of course the difficult bit. Team Washington needs to genuinely listen to what Beijing is saying and design its responses not to how it thinks Beijing should see the world, but how Beijingdoes see the world. This does not require any of the dangerous 'A words': agreement, acquiescence or appeasement. It does however require acknowledgement that the Washington perspective is not the only one. This would at least provide a starting point for redesigning the script so as to allow genuine communication rather than just delivering pre-fabricated, albeit very sincere, phrases that simply whistle past China's ears and land on an already very large pile labeled 'the US is picking on us again'. Presumably more nuance is being used in diplomatic exchanges behind closed doors, but public discourse affects the policy space in which actors can operate, and the policy options for both sides are narrowing.
Next comes Trump. Emma Connors in her weekly column noted a scary trend among some Trump supporters:
That was three months ago. At the time, you could have been excused for thinking this was not a widespread phenomenon. Moreover, Trump was still a long way from being the presumptive Republican nominee. But now...well now it's hard not to feel like Alice down a rabbit hole. Suddenly we are in a distorted world where many voters who hope Trump will be the next US president are assuming he doesn't believe a large amount of what he says.
And Crispin Rovere, writing on the racist remarks Trump made concerning a judge overseeing a litigation against Trump University, said this time it really is different:
Trump is unlikely to apologise for his statements; however, both the GOP and the public will need to believe that Trump realises his mistake and is taking steps to dramatically correct his course. If Trump does so properly this incident will not be fatal, as some believe. The most well-meaning folly repeated this past year is that one characteristic or other ‘disqualifies’ Trump for the presidency. This is akin to labelling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program ‘unacceptable’, a term used only by the impotent.
Juliet Davis rounded out our US election coverage with a great piece exploring what mandatory voting would mean for US politics:
Australia's voting system certainly hasn't removed dog-whistling from the Australian political discourse, but a similar system, if adopted in the US, might incentivise Trump and Trump-like candidates to tone down some of their rhetoric. Mandatory voting could also help break down systemic barriers to political engagement and influence among disadvantaged and minority groups. As the US electorate struggles with ideological division and voter disillusionment, shouldn't the government of the people and for the people be determined by all the people?
The relationship between China and North Korea is complex. Robert Kelly on the curious 'love-hate' relationship between Pyongyang and Beijing
Nevertheless, an accommodation with the US is unlikely. US-North Korean relations are unlikely to improve so long as North Korea retains nuclear weapons. But that puts Pyongyang in a catch-22: keep the weapons and be stuck with creeping Chinese economic domination, or surrender them and hope for a US deal. Both are unpalatably risky, which I believe is the reason for the new Five Year Plan announced at last month’s Workers’ Party Congress. If North Korea can actually function economically on its own, then its need for China, or a US deal, would recede.
In the second post in her series on the migration-security nexus, Jiyoung Song delved into some detail:
Asia is also the leading region for Australia's humanitarian migrant stream. Of the top 10 source countries for humanitarian visas, half are Asian countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, Bhutan and Iran. It's important to note that, the disproportionate media coverage of boat people in recent years notwithstanding, only 6.6% (13,768 people) of Australia’s entire permanent migration programme were permanently settled on humanitarian grounds in 2014 (see Figure 4). The scale of this humanitarian migration programme is vastly different from Europe, where millions of refugees and migrants are pouring in from the Middle East and Africa, but still the arrival of refugees by boat in Australia from Southeast Asia has been largely depicted as a crisis and a threat to border security.
Andrew Selth wrote what is perhaps the only review of memoirs written by former Australian diplomats that served in Burma:
Also, such memoirs help reveal the inner workings of a Western diplomatic mission in Burma, and its relationships with the home country, the receiving government and local society. Over the years, Australian officers have provided insights on a wide range of contemporary issues, of a kind that are often difficult to find elsewhere. This includes frank observations about key personalities. From his personal contacts with her, for example, Wilson writes that Aung San Suu Kyi is an impressive figure but ‘very conscious of her own importance’ and ‘prickly to deal with’.
Filing the latest piece in The Interpreter's Australian election analysis, Geoff Kitney looked at 'celebrity' Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's track record:
Of course, assessments are subjective, depending on the view of the observer about the state of Australia’s most important relationships and what might need change to enhance Australian security and its place in the global order.
In summary, though, the consensus view seems to be that Bishop is competent, conscientious and cautious but neither especially imaginative nor creative.
Is Putin the most Western-friendly politician in Russia? Glenn Diesen:
While the West devotes much focus to Russia violating its trust, little attention is dedicated to Russia’s sense of being betrayed. A consensus has been reached in Moscow that any prospect of a ‘Greater Europe’ has failed. With the demise of Putin’s reformed ‘pro-Western’ platform, the opposition is winning the argument that Russia must prepare the military to counter NATO.
Arka Biswas laid out the reasons why India should be admitted to the Nuclear Suppliers Group:
The argument to keep NSG membership restricted to NPT signatories thus stands weak, given that one of the primary objectives with which the Group was set up was to include non-NPT signatories. This would help allow NPT signatories to control the exports of nuclear supplier countries which had no obligations to abide by the guidelines issued by the Zangger Committee under the NPT.
Where's Kevin? Sarah Frankel looked at Kevin Rudd's strategy in the race for UN Secretary-General:
By waiting, Rudd is also introducing an externality to his chances of winning; he is relying on the official candidates to each run afoul of at least one permanent member and for the Security Council to become deadlocked. Rudd is, in a way, forfeiting some control over his own involvement in the process.
Chinese innovation is supported by the world's fastest growing R&D budget. This is on track to surpass the US one by 2020, a trend ringing alarm bells in the US scientific community. A key driver is the rapid growth in R&D spendingby foreign firms within China. This spending is aimed at accessing not just the Chinese market but the local knowledge ecosystem, based on one of the world's largest pools of STEM graduates.
A great book review on China's statecraft from Julian Snelder:
It is China's statecraft that most impresses the authors. 'Chinese leaders draw geopolitical leverage from (an) ad hoc regulatory system and the arbitrariness it affords, venting displeasure with the foreign policy decisions of another country through punishing its companies.' When Washington criticises Beijing's state-sponsored hacking of American businesses, purportedly '(it) puzzles the Chinese, for whom their state-owned industries are part of their national security structure. They don't really understand what it is the US is trying to accomplish in making this distinction.' That is balderdash, of course. The Chinese well understand the difference between state mercantilism and private capitalism; they merely prefer to mix rather than separate them.
Following President Obama's visit and speech at Hiroshima, Stephen Fruhling and Andrew O’Neil said that nuclear weapons are still highly relevant in many countries' national security strategies:
As unpalatable as it is to advocates of nuclear disarmament, nuclear weapons remain central to the defence and security of a wide range of states. Predictions that nuclear weapons would decline in strategic value have failed to materialise, and they are arguably more significant than ever in shaping key facets of international relations. Importantly, this is the case not only for nuclear-armed states and nuclear wannabees like Iran, but also for the dynamics of America's Asian and European alliances.
Hannah Wurf warned that the UK should not reject multilateralism in Brexit:
International pressure has been building against Brexit, and not just from other EU countries. The G7 and G20 have made statements about the potential ramifications of Brexit. The G7 concluded last month that 'a UK exit from the EU would reverse the trend towards greater global trade and investment, and the jobs they create, and is a further serious risk to growth'. This follows the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bankers' communiqué in Februarylisting 'the shock of a potential UK exit from the European Union' as one of the downside risks and vulnerabilities for the global economy.
Finally, Robert Ayson provided a breakdown of New Zealand's latest Defence White Paper:
But Australia and the US (whose Asian rebalance the Key Government's White Paper specifically endorses) will need realistic views on the maritime combat power New Zealand can offer. They might also have noticed that while New Zealand's latest White Paper breaks new ground in endorsing a more militarily active Japan, it also places more emphasis on China as an 'important strategic partner' than was evident in the equivalent Australian document.