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Weekend catch-up: US missile strikes, the Xi-Trump meeting, China-Russia relations and more

CRAs holding back Indonesia, why an Australia-China extradition treaty was always a bad idea, Vietnamese trawlers at Scarborough Shoal, and more.

Tomahawk missiles fired by the USS Porter at an airfield in Syria, April 2017 (Photo: Getty Images/US Navy)
Tomahawk missiles fired by the USS Porter at an airfield in Syria, April 2017 (Photo: Getty Images/US Navy)
Published 8 Apr 2017 

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

Yesterday the US launched a missile strike on an airfield near Sharyat, Syria, the apparent source of a chemical weapons attack in Idlib earlier this week. The act represents the US enforcing a red line on chemical weapons, but doesn't appear to signal a dramatic shift in US policy on Syria, wrote Rodger Shanahan:

This US response has been swift, targeted and, perhaps most importantly, proportionate. One of the constraints in undertaking military action against the Syrian government has been the need to do so without tipping the military balance in favour of opposition forces, whose disunity and increasingly overt Islamist influence long ago wore out Washington's patience with many of them.

On 4 April, Shanahan observed just how successful Assad's strategy of patience has been thus far:

It is also worth pausing to consider how successful Assad's 'wait it out' strategy has been by examining the fate of some of the world leaders who have called for his removal over the years.

The US missile strike was launched as US President Donald Trump hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago. Shen Dingli provided a view of the meeting from China:

In terms of substance, there are ample areas for the two presidents to address. These include: revitalising the global economy; aligning Chinese and American ambitions for future prosperity; and addressing their differences on the Taiwan issue, bilateral trade, the Korean Peninsula and the South China Sea. So, what should we realistically expect from this summit?

Given how scripted the meeting is likely to be, the issues Trump and Xi don't discuss will be as noteworthy as those they do, argued John Edwards:

Of all the startling events of the Trump Administration's first three months, the one most consequential for the rest of the world is quite likely the meeting between Trump and China's President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Largo, beginning Thursday. The importance of this meeting is not any likely outcome, but that it is taking place at all.

Last Monday the Lowy Institute launched the latest Lowy Institute Paper, Bobo Lo's A Wary Embrace: What the China-Russia Relationship Means for the World. In the wake of the St Petersburg bombing, Sam Roggeveen interviewed Lo for the Interpreter:

The Interpreter hosted reviews of A Wary Embrace from Kyle Wilson

Lo is perhaps the sole Australian scholar who has followed closely the evolution of Sino-Russian ties for decades. His report shows that he knows virtually all that is to be gleaned from open sources about Sino-Russian relations. And more besides. Some may not endorse all of his conclusions but no-one can, in this writer's view, credibly cavil over the depth and rigour of his argumentation.

Peter Rutland

Russian scholar Andrei Sushentsov has a nice metaphor of Russia and China standing back to back, looking out at Europe and Asia respectively. But China's huge deep integration with the economies of Central Asia (which Lo documents) and interest in the Artic indicates that the Pacific giant now has a 360-degree perspective.

And Alexander Gabuev:

This static, black and white picture, so common in many Western capitals, obscures important developments in Sino-Russian relations, which start to surface once one tries to compare current developments to the state of the ties some years ago before the global financial crisis and Crimea annexation. One of the many merits of Bobo Lo's Lowy Institute Paper, A Wary Embrace, is that he has included post-Crimea developments in his analysis.

Last month Coalition backbenchers staged a revolt against the proposed ratification of an extradition treaty between Australia and China, signed all the way back in 2007 by then-Prime Minister John Howard. The treaty was always a bad idea, argued Malcolm Patterson:

The recent fiasco over ratification of the Australia-China extradition treaty demonstrated two weaknesses: an unsettling incoherence in Liberal/National Party ranks over the substance of Australian national interests; and an inclination among some politicians to evade a genuine national interest in asserting human rights norms.

Vietnamese trawlers at Scarborough Shoal (alongside Vietnamese Coast Guard vessels) represents an interesting development in South China Sea politics, wrote Euan Graham:

The appearance of a Vietnamese fishing flotilla near one of the South China Sea's most remote flashpoints is not just about catching fish. Hanoi's legal and diplomatic motivations run deeper. It will be interesting to see if China reacts. The Hague tribunal ruling, meanwhile, remains in play.

South Korea's political drift during the Park Geun-hye scandal and impeachment means that whoever takes the presidency will face policy challenges on every front, wrote David Kang:

There is shrinking room for the new president to manoeuvre, and the options are more sharply defined than before the impeachment crisis began last year. Yet there is cause for optimism, as well.

Frances Kitt on how leading candidate Moon Jae-in would address relations with China and North Korea as South Korea's President:

Moon's handling of China and North Korea will have a far-reaching impact. If he wins the Blue House, his stance on THAAD is likely to give some indication of how much influence China can have over South Korea's foreign policy.

After getting hammered in the Global Financial Crisis, credit rating agencies are now too conservative in their assessment of Indonesia, argued Stephen Grenville:

If S&P's fiscal concerns were assuaged by Sri Mulyani's expenditure-cutting efforts, it has found other matters to justify delaying an upgraded rating: a weaker company sector and hence higher non-performing loans in the banking system. The rating has remained below investment-grade. S&P's ranking of Indonesia is now clearly out of line with other similar countries that have investment-grade status: for example India, the Philippines and South Africa.

In Hong Kong, the election of Carrie Lam as Chief Executive was a harsh wake-up call for the city's idealists, wrote Vivienne Chow:

Ever since the popular John Tsang lost the Chief Executive election to the Beijing-anointed Carrie Lam on 26 March, Hongkongers are finding ways to accept a reality they wanted to avoid: a polarised Hong Kong under Beijing's grip for the foreseeable future.

And finally, Samir Saran and Ashok Malik on what the 21st century has in store for the prevailing world order and the world:

It would be safe to say that the next decade is likely to see the death of many institutions and arrangements that have hitherto been considered central to managing global affairs. At what stage will we begin to shape successor arrangements? And will these retain the agency of the state, or dissipate the powers of governance to big corporations, non-monolithic cultures and an individual's sense of moral conduct?

Sweeping change, induced mostly by technology, will not just pose questions for the institutional matrices of the early 21st century, but also test the relevance of the very hierarchies of international relations of the past half-century. There is a fundamental mismatch between institutional arrangements currently in place to manage crises or 'keep the peace' and the disruptive tendencies that do not respect the state's seal of sovereignty.

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