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Weekend catch-up: Syria strike (redux), Japanese rare earth, and climate geopolitics

The week that was on The Interpreter.

Yemeni protesters hold a photo of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad following US-led airstrikes (Photo: Mohammed Hamoud/Getty)
Yemeni protesters hold a photo of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad following US-led airstrikes (Photo: Mohammed Hamoud/Getty)
Published 21 Apr 2018 

The US, UK, and France launched airstrikes against Syrian military facilities following the Assad regime’s gas attacks against civilians. Daniel Flitton:

The US military claims the ability of the Syrian regime to use chemical weapons has been set back ‘for years’ following strikes on Saturday. Given it is just one year since the US last struck Syrian targets following a chemical weapons attack, the latest claim won’t wash for many.

But other European countries and the EU had mixed responses to the airstrikes. David Ritchie:

It’s the very ambivalent reaction at a European level and from key EU member states that has been most disappointing. The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, set the tone by commenting that the European Union ‘understood’ the need for the strikes, while calling for more peace talks. This is about as neutral as she could’ve been, given the horror of the chemical weapons attacks.

The Maldives is looking to China to aid their climate change adaptation efforts. Kumuda Simpson:

The proxy battle between India and China for influence in the Maldives is a worrying example of the way in which climate adaptation support, delivered through infrastructure development and land reclamation, could in future be manipulated for political leverage.

John Fitzgerald on the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department:

In October 2017, UFWD officials described their overseas mission as ‘winning the hearts of overseas Chinese’ to realise the China Dream, repeating the leadership’s claim that ‘all Chinese sons and daughters at home and abroad are striving to realise the China Dream’ and ‘oppose “independence” and advance reunification’. 

While the US and China shadow-box on trade, what does it mean for smaller economies? Hannah Ryder:

The sad fact is, the balance of global trade is already so out of kilter vis-à-vis African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries that it is hard to say if they will lose much more from a US–China trade war, even if it’s protracted.

Alexander Harper on the use of commercial drones on the battlefield:

The now regular appearance of cheap, often commercially purchased drones in the hands of non-state actors marks a shift in modern asymmetric warfare. Non-state groups today have access to the kind of operational awareness previously held only by state militaries.

Japan has discovered an enormous deposit of rare earth materials in their exclusive economic waters. Frederick Kuo:

Despite the news-grabbing headlines, it may be too soon to celebrate this discovery as Japan’s rare earth El Dorado. The minerals are buried 6000 metres deep in the ocean.

Bobby Anderson studied Indonesian Government statistics on violence in Indonesian Papua:

While our analysis is not yet complete, what we have discovered thus far is revealing: crime kills more Papuans than the state; both crime and insurgency are extremely localised; and security actors tend to ignore violence unless they are targeted. A threadbare state is more apparent than a police state in 2018, as well as in 2014.

Andrew Selth on the Myanmar military’s role in the Rohingya crisis:

Who is responsible for the behaviour of troops in the field? The easy answer is the Commander-in-Chief. In practice, however, the exercise of military power in Myanmar and, in the recent case of the Rohingyas, its gross misuse tends to be more complicated.

On 12 May, US President Donald Trump must decide for the fifth time whether to comply with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and waive nuclear-related sanctions against Iran. Barbara Slavin:

Trump’s threat has led to a process of negotiations not with Iran but with the three major European powers – Britain, France, and Germany – that helped clinch the initial agreement in 2015 and have worked to find a diplomatic solution to curbing the Iranian nuclear program since 2003.

Jay Song and Daniel Thambar offer a preview of Song’s new Lowy Institute paper, Labour Migration as Complementary Pathways for Refugees in the Asia-Pacific:

For refugees, gainful employment can be immensely empowering, providing a degree of self-sufficiency, financial stability, and sense of purpose which might otherwise be lacking while they await resettlement. Since humanitarian quotas are full, and unlikely to sufficiently increase in the near future, it is high time for the Australian Government to rethink its approach to refugee intakes: labour migration, as a complementary pathway to protection, could be an answer.

Japan and India’s defence industries are moving to collaborate, deepening the ties between the two countries. Purnendra Jain:

India’s growing economy offers incentives for a stagnating Japan to pursue new business opportunities. The improved India–US relationship is another reason for Japan to forge ties with India with more confidence than before. But above all it is China that has brought the two countries closer together.

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