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Weekend catch-up: South China Sea, Theresa May, AAA, and more

Weekend catch-up: South China Sea, Theresa May, AAA, and more
Published 16 Jul 2016 

By John Gooding, Digital Editor at the Lowy Institute and Associate Editor at The Interpreter.

This week the Permanent Court of Arbitration delivered a ruling in a case brought by the Philippines in 2013 over China’s claims in the South China Sea. The tribunal ruling favoured the Philippines and undermined much of China’s ‘nine-dash line’ claim. Euan Graham:

With the legal bolt-from-the-blue now delivered from the faraway Hague, what the South China Sea needs above all is an interregnum that allows all parties to digest the ruling in its entirety and to take stock of the implications.

Darshana Baruah outlined India’s diplomatic approach to the ruling:

The statement focuses more on the need to respect international law; it is not a position on China or the Philippines, or on the South China Sea for that matter.

Is UNCLOS even the most ideal method for settling these kinds of territorial disputes, asked Stephen Grenville:

Tuesday's South China Sea adjudication demonstrates that the UNCLOS framework is totally unsuited to sorting out the complex conflicting claims in the South China Sea in a way that the relevant parties will accept. By effectively announcing the Philippines as winner and China as loser, the tribunal's finding is now the basis for empty point-scoring. There is zero chance that China will accept an outcome arrived at in this way.

Malcolm Cook outlined what this ruling means for China, Taiwan, the Philippines and the US: 

The ruling by the Arbitration Tribunal that is comprehensively in favour of the case filed by the Philippines in January 2013 poses four separate tests, none of them easy.

This week also saw Theresa May become prime minister of the United Kingdom, following David Cameron’s resignation. Shashank Joshi examined what foreign policy initiatives we could expect from May:  [fold]

Theresa May has set out a strikingly left-wing, domestically-focused, one-nation Tory agenda that will not come cheap. Unless overseas aid is cut — and this remains possible — it is hard to see her finding the funds for significant investment in defence or diplomacy.

The appointment of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary raised more than a few eyebrows. David Wells analysed the potential political motivations behind May’s choice:

Despite the fallout from the EU referendum, Boris remains a hugely popular (albeit divisive) figure in the UK. Better for May to have him in a cabinet role with comparatively minimal domestic impact than biding his time on the backbenches. Given enough rope in this diplomatic portfolio, Boris might even hang his future leadership chances.

Elsewhere, ISIS’s continual failure to launch successful attacks in Indonesia may be cause for some introspection among ISIS leadership, wrote Sidney Jones: 

The obvious solution is to send someone back from Syria to be an instructor, but that is easier said than done given the vigilance at the Turkish border. ISIS may also need its most experienced fighters to stay put. It is still an option but probably not the preferred one.

A second option is to designate someone with more professional training to whip a terrorist cell into shape. The possibilities are released prisoners with overseas training or combat experience at home, in Ambon or Poso; someone with more recent experience working with pro-ISIS groups in the southern Philippines; or someone with a background in the military or police.

Credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded its outlook for Australia’s AAA rating, but who cares? Stephen Grenville:

The secret of our comparative success is the bipartisan policy of promising to prioritise restoring the budget to surplus quickly, yet not actually doing it. The very characteristic that S&P complain about (failure to deliver on budget promises) is the masterstroke that allowed Australia to sail through the crisis without a recession and record a rate of growth twice that of the advanced economies.

In 2009, the G20 agreed to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, but seven years later little progress has been made, wrote Hannah Wurf:

Even though the Saudis are reducing domestic subsidies due to budget pressures, they are not signing up for any international commitments that could have a negative effect on the world's demand for oil. Despite Russia's estimated $79 billion in total subsidies, the Russian energy minister did not even attend the G20 [energy ministers] meeting.

The US and South Korea jointly announced their decision to deploy the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD]) on South Korean territory, angering China. Sukjoon Yoon outlined how China should best address the situation:

If the China-US confrontation on the Korean Peninsula could be mitigated, this would allow China to engage in genuine security coordination to deal with North Korean WMD threats. It is not too late to prevent THAAD deployment, but China must learn to recognise its true interests.

In Papua New Guinea, jobs in the formal economy are incredibly scarce. Jonathan Pryke and Anna Kirk on efforts to remedy this:

More formal sector opportunities are needed for these young people, but the government and the existing private sector cannot be expected to solve the problem on their own.  Support, and new ways of thinking, are welcome.

Finally, Kurt Campbell responded once more to Hugh White in their debate over Campbell’s new book, The Pivot: The Future of Statecraft in Asia:

White's prescriptions for American policy in Asia are stark and lack nuance. Essentially, to avoid what White sees as a nearly inevitable war with China, Washington should abandon the Pivot, generally withdraw from its longstanding leadership role in Asia, and grant China a substantial sphere of influence across the region through an ill-defined grand bargain

Photo: Getty Images/Pacific Press

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