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Weekend catch-up: Trump-Turnbull talks, shortwave services, digital diplomacy, and more

US President Donald Trump's infamous temperament visited itself upon Australia this week in the form of a reportedly terse phone call with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Photo: Getty Images/Drew Angerer
Photo: Getty Images/Drew Angerer
Published 4 Feb 2017 

US President Donald Trump's infamous temperament visited itself upon Australia this week in the form of a reportedly explosive phone call with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The fallout prompted a meeting between Australian Ambassador Joe Hockey and Trump advisors Steve Bannon and Reince Preibus (though notably not with Trump himself). Sam Roggeveen highlighted what Australian policymakers need to consider in such an unpredictable environment:

Australia has many interests and they don't always align, but I would argue that the most important for our long-term future is to prevent conflict between the US and China. War between these two great powers would be disastrous on any number of fronts, and Australia should work constantly to prevent or avoid the conditions which would make it more likely. The alliance, too, needs to be considered in this context. What kind of alliance with the US will make it less likely that we will face a devastating conflict in the Pacific?

The sticking point of the call was a 'dumbrefugee-swap deal signed between Australia and the Obama Administration. Australia should use the opportunity of Brexit and Trump's election upending established norms on migration (and the positive attitude Australians have towards a potential increase in immigration) to formulate our own new policy, argues Henry Sherrell:

Step one would be to capitalise on highly skilled and talented people in the US and the UK who either want to move or will be forced to do so due to visa restrictions. Researchers and scientists, business leaders and entrepreneurs; you name them, we want them. The Australian IT industry is constantly grumbling about how difficult it is to compete with Silicon Valley. The Trump Administration presents the best opportunity we will ever see to present Australia as a place of welcome and innovation, a place where your visa won't be torn up if you have the 'wrong' passport.

Nick Bisley outlined what we know about US policy priorities in Asia:

As Asia comes to terms with a highly nationalistic president who openly embraces a neo-Nixonian unpredictability and, it is fast becoming clear, meant much of what he said on the campaign trail, it is time to prepare for a region that will become a much more unstable and dangerous place.

Trump's protectionist streak is a distraction from the bigger challenge that is the jobs market, wrote Stephen Grenville:

The key is a vibrant economy that creates new jobs. Any damage to America from NAFTA or China has been trivial compared with the 2008 financial crisis and the limp recovery since then. If you lose your job when the unemployment rate is 8%, the long-term loss of income (either unemployed or employed at a lower wage) will be twice as high as it would be if you lose your job when unemployment is at 6%.

Rodger Shanahan pointed out the fundamental challenge facing any US strategy on Syria:

Conducting a brutal cost-benefit analysis of US interests in Syria, it should be apparent to the Trump administration that Russian and Iranian sunk costs in maintaining the Assad regime are significant, while Washington's are minimal. It will take a massive investment of resources to change that dynamic and there's little indication of the requisite willpower.

This week the Lowy Institute hosted the Australia-Republic of Korea (ROK) Emerging Leaders International Security Forum ​​​​​​in both Sydney and Canberra. A number of participants wrote for the Interpreter; first, Jaehyon Lee argued that as fellow 'constructive' middle powers, it was time for greater Australia-South Korea cooperation:

Both have a similar strategic outlook. Both are committed to a rule based international and regional order, open economy with free trade, and universal values such as democracy and human rights. Australia and South Korea are partners in regional multilateral institutions including the ASEAN Regional Forum, East Asia Summit, and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. Moreover, Australia is one of only two countries with which South Korea has a 2+2 partnership. Finally, both Australia and South Korea are capable of economically, militarily, and politically contributing to the whole region and are willing to do so.

And Justin Hastings analysed how North Korea's 'dark economy' allowed it to ameliorate the effects of international sanctions:

As the North Korean state takes a cut from the profits of entrepreneurial activity at each level, the regime has alternative sources of revenue to those targeted by sanctions (or that can realistically be sanctioned). This creativity and entrepreneurialism may also have freed the regime from whatever scant obligation it had to provide for the population; losing control of the economy may have politically emboldened the regime.

Valerie M Hudson and Susan Hutchinson argued that the international community should not tolerate legislative efforts in Russia to decriminalise certain acts of domestic violence:

Nations with high levels of violence against women are the most unstable, insecure, and violent of all nations. Men who approve or even simply acquiesce to the subordination and coercion of the women in their midst are approving and acquiescing to something more.

France isn't immune to the polarising politics gripping Europe, wrote Lisa Louis:

The outcome of the French left's presidential primary vote this week marks an about face for the country's Socialist party. By electing Benoît Hamon as the presidential candidate, French socialists have shown that they want the party to return to core left-wing values and away from the business-friendly agenda of President François Hollande's government. 

This year's elections in France have cast a shadow all the way to New Caledonia. Denise Fisher:

But the timing of the national elections is a complication given the hard negotiations ahead, the potential for manipulation of policy positions, and ongoing violence involving some alienated young Kanaks. The territory can ill afford discussions to stall for nine months when only 22 months remain before the referendum deadline.

Annmaree O'Keeffe lamented the end of shortwave Radio Australia services being broadcast across the Pacific and Southeast Asia:

One by one, the lights of Radio Australia, Australia’s longest-running international public broadcaster, are being extinguished. The decision by the ABC to decommission RA’s shortwave services is the latest in a long line of efforts by governments and ABC management to cut RA’s services, gouge its budget, or even dispense with it completely.

While we've historically considered South Asia and the Middle East as separate strategic regions, they are becoming increasingly interlinked, wrote Shashank Joshi:

As American leadership in the Middle East wanes, and India wages a campaign to isolate Pakistan everywhere it can, both New Delhi and Islamabad will pay careful attention to the countries across the Arabian Sea. We can see evidence of this in the last few weeks alone.

Does Australia need a Digital Ambassador? Damien Spry:

Denmark’s recently announced plans to appoint a Digital Ambassador appear to be a world first: an ambassadorial representative from a nation state dedicated to an industy sector. In this case, the Ambassador will liaise with the world’s digital and tech giants - including Apple, Google and Facebook - who, as the Danes remind us, have an economic heft approaching G20 status.

Finally, Elliot Brennan examined the prominent civic role played by Muslim Myanmese lawyer and Aung San Suu Kyi advisor U Ko Ni, who was assassinated outside an airport in Yangon last Sunday:

U Ko Ni’s death need not be in vain; it should be a wake-up call to the deepening societal divisions across the country. It could, in fact, be the powerful catalyst that pulls Myanmar from the brink of further divisions. That would be the most fitting way to honour him.

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