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Weekend catch-up: Trump–Putin rendezvous and more

ASIO and DFAT talk China, Mohammad bin Salman’s reforms and Japanese floods: the week that was on The Interpreter.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump speak during the G20 summit in Hamburg, July 2017 (Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty)
Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump speak during the G20 summit in Hamburg, July 2017 (Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty)
Published 14 Jul 2018   Follow @lowyinstitute

The week that was on The Interpreter.

Following this week’s stops with NATO leaders and British Prime Minister Theresa May, US President Donald Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Stephen Blank:

In Moscow the prevailing media line is that the fact of the summit itself is a victory for Putin over the West, because the West allegedly yielded to Russia’s demand to be treated as an equal and could not prevail against Putin’s redoubtable diplomacy. Thus, the advent of the summit with Putin reflects an ongoing US strategic failure to learn to think how Moscow thinks.

The US and China have threatened further tariff increases in their simmering trade conflict. Roland Rajah:

China won’t budge on core US demands to dismantle its industrial policies. In fact, there is instead real concern Trump’s bullying tactics are only strengthening the hand of those in China who want greater national self-reliance and believe in a more statist approach – to the detriment of those pro-market reformers the US should instead be trying to bolster.

Flooding in western Japan has caused widespread damage and killed more than 200 people. Kumuda Simpson:

There is a reluctance to talk about climate change in the wake of tragedy, particularly when linking a specific weather event to climate change is complex. Establishing a direct causal link involves complex scientific modelling and analysis of data, with results that are often nuanced rather than clear-cut. The conclusion is often that while floods and droughts have always occurred, climate change is making their occurrence more frequent. 

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson resigned from his post this week. Daniel Flitton:

Johnson has spectacularly fallen out with Prime Minister Theresa May, and it was always the debate over details that appeared more difficult than the soaring promises of ‘boundless excitement and optimism’.

Saudi Arabian women were recently legally permitted to drive as part of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s proposed social and economic reforms in the Kingdom. Anthony Bubalo:

But what if the great Saudi reform push he leads is coming to a grinding, stuttering halt? What if, like some of his predecessors (and in fact other autocratic rulers around the Middle East), he ends up choosing the path of cosmetic rather than deep change for his country?

Regional elections took place across Indonesia on 27 June, prompting attempts to map the results on to the national stage. Aisyah Llewellyn:

Projecting a win for either Prabowo or Jokowi based on 1.6 million regional voters in a province of 9 million is simply impractical. While the regional elections in Indonesia provide opportunities for colourful analysis at a district level, they serve as a shaky predictive tool for what may lie ahead in 2019.

Last week the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation met with a number of corporate boards to discuss the growing influence of China in Australia. Frasier Howie:

The simple division of state versus private business is frankly too blunt. Some 70% of the 1.9 million Chinese private companies have party organisation operating within them, and recent stock market regulator guidelines proposed that all listed companies promote party-building as a way to improve corporate governance.

Catherine Wilson spoke to New Caledonians about the upcoming independence referendum and the contemporary debate about decolonisation:

New Caledonians speak not only of concerns that embrace historical justice and indigenous rights, but also of global forces generating economic uncertainty and the small territory’s vulnerability to geopolitical power plays in the Asia-Pacific region.

The New Zealand Government released a defence policy statement this week. Robert Ayson:

While the new defence statement acknowledges that this wider region ‘is facing a range of acute challenges’, it offers the rather undemanding recipe of ‘supporting regional peace and security by developing relationships with countries and on contributing to the strength of regional security arrangements and architecture’.

As part of this updated defence policy, New Zealand recently opted to spend NZ$2.3 billion on a new fleet of Boeing P8-A aircraft. Euan Graham:

Possessing a meaningful, deployable capability allows New Zealand to retain some influence among its allies and partners, rather than free riding on its presumed geographical isolation. Shared values matter, but intelligence sharing is highly transactional. New Zealand’s P-8s will help convince partners of its continuing value within the Five Eyes.

Cambodia will hold national elections on 29 July. Of the 20 parties contending, there is only one possible victor: Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party. Astrid Norén-Nilsson:

Although the elections are unlikely to bring any significant surprises, they could hold a few minor ones in store. The Grassroots Democracy Party, the main real oppositional alternative, could make a surprise strong showing if former CNRP supporters voted for them at the booth. The voter turnout will be an obvious factor to watch, as the vote has turned into one on its own legitimacy.

James Goldrick on teething problems for China’s rapidly expanding People’s Liberation Army Navy:

As its fleet expands, China must find and train the people to operate its tactical development teams, experimental units, training schools, certification organisations, and its future capability design and planning systems without assistance. None of these activities are trivial: all require a leavening of practical experience, as well as technical expertise.

Alvin Camba assesses Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s China investment drive:

A prevailing narrative in major newspaper reports is that Chinese FDI in the Philippines has barely increased during the Duterte administration. This criticism appears founded on the assumption that Duterte’s accommodation of China, particularly in the South China Sea, has been made with the expectation of a China boom. While the chorus of critics is growing, there are several problems with this perspective.

The Syrian city of Deraa, once the cradle of the Syrian uprising, has effectively surrendered to regime forces. Rodger Shanahan:

The recapture of Deraa continues the military momentum achieved since the Russians intervened on the side of the regime. With the ISIS-held elements of the Yarmouk refugee camp outside Damascus cleared in May, and the rebel-held areas of eastern Ghouta retaken the month before, the momentum which had partially stalled has picked up again.

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