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Weekend catch-up: Turnbull in DC, Taiwan and Vanuatu elections, lessons from Jakarta and more

Weekend catch-up: Turnbull in DC, Taiwan and Vanuatu elections, lessons from Jakarta and more
Published 23 Jan 2016   Follow @BrendanTN_

With Malcolm Turnbull's first visit to Washington DC as prime minister this week, commentary on his speeches and appearances has followed. Of course The Interpreter participated, first with a piece from Hugh White, who said Turnbull didn't deliver the message America needs to hear:

Whatever we might wish, escalating rivalry in Asia will not be avoided if we wait for China to make all the concessions. America too is going to have to rethink its role in Asia and its relationship with China – these are ‘the radical changes in attitudes and actions’ that Allison is urging.

This is a message that Washington still doesn’t get and badly needs to hear, and not just from scholars like Allison. It needs to hear it from leaders like Turnbull. He missed the opportunity this time. Maybe next time.

James Curran also jumped in, but made the argument that Turnbull's comments were more nuanced than the usual Alliance rhetoric:

Over the last two decades, however, we have witnessed an extraordinary bipartisan intensity in the Alliance, one that has in some ways begun to distort how Australia presents itself to the region and the world. Turnbull's speech in Washington may very well have exhibited a difference in degree rather than kind in terms of alliance rhetoric, but that fits perfectly the current moment. It is a time for shades of grey, not thunderous absolutes. In light of the rather exuberant flights of oratorical fancy we have been served up in recent years by Australian leaders in Washington, Turnbull's subtler tone is not one to dismiss lightly.

What about the election and the Alliance? Binoy Kampmark:

 While the continuum of US-Australian relations is unlikely to be disturbed for some years to come, next year there will be a new president in the White House. In this election year US politics is in a fractious state.The Democratic camp remains split between the dynastic Hillary Clinton and the alternative, albeit political veteran, Bernie Sanders. The GOP contenders remain a fruit salad collective of extremes. Candidates are jousting and sniping.

In his first post for The Interpreter, Peter Cai wrote on the Taiwan election and cross-Strait relations: [fold]

Among Tsai’s parliamentary colleagues are some whose desire for independence is stronger than her own. This group could team up with 'deep green' supporters of DPP in calling for a hard-line stance on the issue of sovereignty. As Douglas Paal, the vice-president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the former unofficial American ambassador to Taipei has warned, this 'could get messy’.

It's clear that the election was also a victory for Taiwan's democratic system, said Marie-Alice McLean-Dreyfus:

While Tsai, now president-in-waiting, is the clear victor in Saturday’s election, there was perhaps one bigger winner – Taiwan’s democracy. Tsai’s election marks the third ‘turnover’ of the ruling party to the opposition in Taiwan’s democratic history. According to Samuel Huntington’s democratic theory, a democracy is only truly consolidated if it passes the ‘two turnover test'; with power peacefully transferred to the opposition and then back again. Taiwan reached this milestone in 2008 but this election result further strengthens the country's democratic credentials. Tsai’s victory and the increased vote for third parties has strengthened the people’s faith in Taiwan’s democratic credentials, and led to a greater sense of popular political empowerment.

Robert Sutter on the consequences for the US:

As indicated by State Department statements on Taiwan made in anticipation of the ending of the Ma Administration, the delicate cross strait situation following the January 2016 election is likely to cause the US Government to double down on efforts to encourage both Beijing and Taipei to avoid provocations, seek constructive communications and reach compromise formulas or understandings that will avoid a break in cross strait interchange detrimental to peace and stability. 

In a popular post, Eva O’Dea said China is exerting influence over Mandarin-language media in Australia:

The influence of journalists from mainland China on Australian Government funded Chinese language programs from SBS and the ABC has increased in recent years. Sources close to SBS Mandarin Radio say it has increased the number of journalists on its staff who have previously worked for Chinese state media, and coverage of issues deemed controversial by the PRC, such as visits by the Dalai Lama, have been reduced and the angle of coverage shifted. Other sectors of the Australian Chinese community with backgrounds in Taiwan, Hong Kong or Malaysia are also receiving less focus.

Was the historic deal between Japan and South Korea over comfort women just symbolic? Ross White-Chinnery:

The historic deal reached by Seoul and Tokyo last month on the so-called 'Comfort Women' issue is an important step forward for the two East Asia neighbours. Such is the symbolism that even in the midst of consultations about Pyongyang’s nuclear test, Barack Obama was keen to extend his congratulations to each country’s leader.

One may as well focus on the symbolism, for the actual terms of the agreement don’t amount to much. They include an apology to South Korean foreign minister Yun Byung-se from his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida, later reiterated by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to South Korean President Park Geun-hye by telephone, and a 1 billion yen (approximately $11.4 million) compensation fund. In return the South Koreans agreed to considermoving a statue that has long been an irritant to the Japanese, though this has met with opposition in Seoul.

What have been the lessons from the terrorist attack in Jakarta last week? Catriona Croft-Cusworth:

On the home front, 12 suspected terrorists were arrested across Indonesia in the wake of the attacks, while one was shot dead in Poso, an extremist battleground in central Sulawesi. A 'shoot on sight' policy for terrorist suspects, as well as allegations of torture perpetrated by law enforcers, have perpetuated ongoing violence between terrorists and police. Questions should be raised about the efficacy of this hard approach against terrorism and its implications for the protection of human rights in Indonesia. As for a soft approach, the impact of deradicalisation efforts will come under scrutiny this year as hundreds of convicted terrorists are due for release in Indonesia after completing their prison sentences.

Resident Vanuatu specialist Anna Kirk wrote on the snap elections occurring this weekend:

This election may herald generational change in Vanuatu politics as many of the old hands have been jailed or otherwise tainted by the scandal. What is certain is that a new coalition government will assume power in Vanuatu as no one party can win sufficient votes to govern in their own right.

It is less certain what the likely make up of that coalition will be, and what kind of impact it will have on governance in Vanuatu going forward.

It looks like Christine Lagarde will get a second term as Managing Director of the IMF, and Hannah Wurf thinks she deserves it:

Critics will point to the mistakes of the IMF under Lagarde's oversight, most notably the handling of Greece and Ukraine. But nobody expects that IMF policy would radically change with the departure of Lagarde. If anything, she has softened the reputation of the Fund for austerity through her rhetoric on inclusive growth, the empowerment of individuals in developing countries and promoting women in the global economy.

Mike Callaghan on the AIIB President and his plan for the institution:

The AIIB President is  wisely taking a cautious approach to establishing the bank. It will be under intense international scrutiny and all the credit China has gained will be lost if there is any suggestion that the concerns of those who opposed it were being realised and it was a China dominated body. The AIIB President has appropriately indicated that in its establishment phase the bank will draw on the expertise of the existing MDBs and focus on co-financing arrangements. He has also said the need to attain a high credit rating and issue dollar denominated bonds will initially constrain the AIIB’s leverage ratio and project selection. This is appropriate.

Trump is going to win, according to Crispin Rovere:

Theories about how Trump loses the nomination have become increasingly incredible. The most popular now holds Trump will lose to Cruz in Iowa, implode from narcissistic rage, and then perform worse than expected in New Hampshire. Simultaneously, low performing candidates drop out and unify the vote around a single establishment figure like Rubio or Christie. The remaining establishment candidate then receives a huge boost with a lot more air-time right as Trump fades.

This disturbingly mainstream view is so ridiculous I feel embarrassed repeating it.

An interesting post from Julian Snelder on China and market-economy status:

Predictably these international firms — driven by the usual mix of greed and fear — are not saying publicly what they really think. Their various industry chambers are furiously lobbying for and against China’s MES approval.Some free-marketeers think the NME/MES distinction is inherently protectionist. Trade lawyers cannot agree on what was agreed; the original legalese around China's automatic 'graduation' is fiercely disputed. And even if China is granted MES, rivals can, and will, wield other safeguards to prevent a tsunami of Chinese goods.

Lastly, should Indonesia join the TPP? Retno Marsuti:

Widodo’s commitment to building infrastructure and providing a friendly investment climate could also be informing his preference to join the TPP. In 2015 and upcoming 2016, infrastructure has the highest allocation in the state budget and the Widodo government has also simplified overlapping regulations and cut red tape in a bid to provide better investment incentives.

In the next few years, we will know if the government's economic stimulus package and infrastructure building projects have been successful. A confirmation of intent to join the TPP would, by signalling a commitment to free trade, increase the chances of such success even if, as the government has acknowledged, the necessary preparations would take years.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user CSIS | Center for Strategic & International Studies.

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