Lowy Institute

Promoting mutual distrust in the Asia Pacific now appears central to Chinese strategy. As Hugh White has argued persuasively, China seeks greater influence in Asia through weakening the faith of America's regional allies and partners in US resolve to remain engaged in the region. This will be compounded if US preparedness to work collectively as a hedge against Chinese hegemony is eroded.

Clearly, central to such a strategy is the stigmatisation of Japan, given its locale, continuing economic, technological and cultural clout, and alliance with the US. In recent months, wilful misrepresentation of Japan's contemporary character as a society and a polity under the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has escalated.

This has been evidenced starkly in Chinese media reaction to Abe's recent visit to Australia and the close and deepening ties affirmed by the Australian and Japanese governments. Shrill criticism from mainland media soon became news in its own right in Australia, and a counterweight to the otherwise upbeat news cycle around Abe's visit.

Overblown Chinese reactions to the Abbott Government's warm embrace of Abe appeared in Australia too.

'Japanese militarism is back' screamed the headline on the front cover of the Australian Chinese Weekly on 19 July. Within the paper was a full-colour glossy feature on Abe's visit to Australia, including a two-page spread repeating the headline overlaid on images of Abe and Abbott speaking together in Canberra and the rising sun emblem. The message was clear: the Australian Government, in welcoming Abe, is aiding and abetting the return of Japanese aggression.

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As has recently been discussed on The Interpreter and elsewhere, the local Chinese-language media increasingly mirrors the political intentions of Beijing's leadership. Whatever the motivations for such scaremongering, it is consistent with what appears to be a deliberate strategy from Beijing of delegitimising Japan.

A core narrative is that Japan is guilty of reckless endangerment of regional peace through provocative actions towards China. This centres now on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with the nuances of Abe's worldview and statements disregarded as he is branded a dangerous rightist-nationalist-historical-revisionist. Such shorthand has become widespread in Western media reportage, as seen is this sloppy New York Times editorial.

Certainly Abe has given critics material to work with, most recently through his Government's review (though not retraction) of the 1993 Kono Declaration apologising to Korean 'comfort women'. Abe's visit to Yasukuni shrine stands, for critics, as having a totemic association with the glorification of past Japanese militarism despite the explicit disavowals of such a meaning by Abe.

Relations between China and Japan deteriorated markedly prior to Abe's election, primarily but not exclusively around the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute. A turning point was when Beijing chose to interpret the September 2012 decision by the left-leaning Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) Government of Yoshihiko Noda to purchase three of the Senkaku islands (from a private Japanese owner) as a major escalation of the dispute. The nationalisation decision was actually a preemptive move to stop moves by right-wing Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara and various other nationalist activists to take control of one or more of the islets. What was widely understood in Japan as a move to defuse the territorial dispute was instead interpreted by China as an act of state aggression.

China blew a rare opportunity to drive a wedge between Japan and the US during the period of DPJ governments of Hatoyama, Kan and Noda by succumbing to hubris and belligerence just when a charm offensive was called for. The only consolation for China is that Abe is an easier target for delegitimating Japan.

Japanese public opinion towards China, for a long time more positive than that felt on the mainland for Japan, has deteriorated dramatically since 2010. Arguably, the resulting political climate helped Abe's return to the Liberal Democratic Party leadership. The more trashy elements of Japan's free media increasingly exploit domestic unease about China for commercial gain, although Japanese political leaders don't appear to be boxed in, policy wise, by public opinion in relation to China. Yet there is widespread acceptance of the need for an effective China hedge through better relations with both the US and other nations of the region. Moreover, Japanese of all political persuasions are tiring of being pressured by Beijing, and by Seoul, to make symbolic concessions just to start talking.

Japan could only consider distancing itself from the US if China seemed completely benign, and such a scenario is currently unthinkable to most Japanese. This is by no means costless to China, in either security or economic terms. Japanese FDI to China is down a third on the previous year. Japanese firms have long hedged against political risk in China by maintaining a strong commitment to investing in Southeast Asia and beyond.

Viewed from China, memories of wartime Japanese aggression, instances of a defiant lack of repentance by some Japanese identities, and conjuring up the spectre of resurgent Japanese militarism would seem the ideal means to stigmatise Japan throughout an Australasia with a shared experience of suffering in the Pacific war. Yet to date, fears of present and near future aggression from China (rather than increasingly distant memories of a past Japan) seem to have greater salience.

Only in South Korea, where collective memories of the trauma of Japanese colonialism has been central to legitimating political ideologies since the Korean war, is a large proportion of both elite and popular opinion critical of Japan. But with South Korea still dependent on US security guarantees, ill will between it and Japan is primarily an issue for America.

Prime Minister Abbott's warm welcoming of Abe infuriated Beijing not just because he was prepared to be magnanimous on matters of history. Rather, by simply stating the fact that Japan has been a model international citizen for nearly seven decades and deserves 'a fair go', Abbott struck a forceful blow against Beijing's strategy of delegitimising Japan and driving an attitudinal wedge between it and its longstanding postwar friends.

Image courtesy of REUTERS/Alex Ellinghausen.

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  • What's the value of Australian Aid scholarships? ANU's Dev Policy Blog have started a three-part analysis.
  • With  news of airlines cancelling travel from Ebola-effected countries, interesting that the WHO is against the idea.
  • Australia steps up humanitarian aid to South Sudan, with fears of a worsening food crisis.
  • Interesting reading on Social Impact Bonds.
  • Nice interactive over on Devex on the long history of USAID.
  • Why  the Gates Foundation isn't (yet) supporting the drive for Universal Health Coverage.
  • Listen to the Lowy Institute's Jenny Hayward Jones and Tess Newton Cain  discuss the diplomatic wrangle between Fiji and PNG over the appointment of Meg Taylor as Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat.

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While Indonesia's losing presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto is still busy challenging last month's election results at the Constitutional Court, president-elect Joko Widodo, better known as Jokowi, has already laid ground rules for how he wishes to arrange his cabinet. The court is due to announce its verdict on the election on Thursday, and it now seems highly unlikely that the result will disrupt Jokowi's plans for the presidency.

More than a month on from the election, Indonesian voters have generally accepted the results announced on 22 July by the General Elections Commission (KPU), which delivered the presidency to Jokowi at a split of 53% of the votes to Prabowo's 47%. Jokowi has returned for now to his position as Jakarta governor, awaiting his inauguration as president in October.

Heavy security was deployed in Jakarta ahead of the KPU's announcement, with some fearing that violence could erupt from either side at news of a defeat. Fortunately, the results were received peaceably, though this was in no way helped by the reaction of Prabowo and his supporters.

After refusing to accept the results of reputable quick counts and claiming victory for himself on election day, Prabowo announced hours before the release of the official count that he would 'withdraw' from the election, an ambiguous statement that left constitutional law experts scratching their heads about whether it would have any bearing on the results. Most concluded that it wouldn't, while some even suggested that Prabowo could face heavy fines or jail time for violating the presidential election law with his withdrawal.

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When official results showed that Jokowi and his running mate Jusuf Kalla had won the vote, their supporters were asked in the interests of security to celebrate privately rather than on the streets as they had done on election day. Meanwhile, Prabowo and his running mate Hatta Rajasa urged supporters to publicly 'secure' the vote at the KPU office, and embarked on a campaign to delegitimise the election results. They released a public statement alleging 'structural, massive and systematic' electoral fraud and claimed that their right to a democratic election had been violated.

The case was taken to the Constitutional Court, which after a recent scandal that saw its chief justice jailed on bribery charges, is eager to regain public trust.

From the start, the court described Prabowo and Hatta's lawsuit as unclear, unconvincing and riddled with spelling errors, a clear signal that the court would not easily reject the results of the KPU. Having agreed to hear testimony from 25 of the 52,000 witnesses the Prabowo team claimed to be able to put forward, the court has grown increasingly impatient over the course of the trial as witnesses have failed to provide convincing evidence of cheating. Some have only been able to provide second-hand reports of money politics, while others have been accused of making logical leaps in their testimony, as in the case of one witness who produced a newspaper clipping reporting Surabaya mayor Tri Rismaharini's public congratulation of Jokowi on his victory as evidence of vote-rigging in the East Java capital.

Outside the courtroom, Prabowo's support base is reportedly shrinking. The results of a national survey by the Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI) released last week showed that if another election were to take place today, Jokowi would remain the victor, with an even bigger margin of support at about 57.06% of the vote to 30.39% for Prabowo, and 12.55% retreating to the category of 'undecided'. Crowds have dutifully gathered outside the Constitutional Court in a show of support for Prabowo throughout the trial, though even these supporters were reported to be losing interest when demonstration organisers failed to provide enough of the obligatory rice boxes to go around on Friday afternoon.

It's unclear how Prabowo will react to what now appears will be a certain loss for his appeal at the Constitutional Court. However, with waning support for his failed presidential bid, it's looking unlikely that the announcement could spark any public unrest. As Jokowi makes quiet preparations to take power in the coming months, it appears that Indonesia is ready to accept him as its democratically elected president.

Photo by Flickr user Charles Wiriawan.

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Bringing together all the longer Interpreter articles you were too busy to read this week.

Rodger Shanahan's provocative piece on ISIS's 'strategic gift' to the Obama Administration got a lot of attention early this week:

Iraq clearly needed military assistance but the US needed to offer it in such a way that it wouldn't be seen to profit Maliki politically. What better way to introduce US firepower than in support of a humanitarian cause and in defence of Kurdish-controlled areas? It came with the imprimatur of the Iraqi Government but is not directly in support of it. It is a difficult act to juggle but it gives the US some leverage: if Maliki tries to cling to power, expect a narrow range of US military support. If he leaves and is replaced by a more inclusive government, then air support could be more widely employed.

Anthony Bubalo looked at the domestic angle to the Iraq crisis:

The main reason the Islamic State has made such gains in Iraq is that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has not ruled for all Iraqis. In particular, by disenfranchising the Sunni minority, he created a fertile field for the Islamic State to plow. There is no way the group's relatively few fighters could have made the gains they did without the implicit and in some cases explicit backing of Sunni communities in Iraq's north.

That backing came not because these communities loved what the Islamic State was offering. Quite the contrary. In fact, the main threat to the Islamic State's gains is not the Iraqi Army (with or without US air cover), but the likelihood that ordinary Sunnis will chafe under the Islamic State's harsh rule. Indeed, it is a significant measure of Sunni discontent with Baghdad that Sunnis are prepared, for the moment at least, to do a deal with this particular devil.

Which brings us to Australia.

We also talked about the annual AUSMIN talks, held in Sydney this week. I warned about the implications of missile-defence cooperation, and here's James Brown:

...the long term issue of most importance to the alliance which needs to be discussed this year is the future force posture of the US Navy in Australia.

At the 2012 AUSMIN in Perth, then Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith said that the growing strategic importance of the Indian Ocean was leading the US Navy to shift its attention to the waters off Australia's northwest coast. That AUSMIN meeting committed a joint working group of Australian and US officials to investigate options for the additional presence of US Navy vessels on Australia's west coast. A formal study didn't begin until December 2013, and the group will report its finding to the leaders over the next few days with a view to forging a way forward to new naval force posture arrangements.

Stephen Grenville looked at the crisis in multilateral trade negotiations and Mike Callaghan called on the G20 to save the World Trade Organization:

One of the threats to global economic cooperation that the G20 must confront is the impact of India's veto of the Bali WTO trade deal.

The G20 must respond and restore confidence in the multilateral trading system and the WTO. Tom Miles sums up much of the reaction to India's decision when he says that 'India has dealt a potentially fatal blow to the World Trade Organization's hopes of modernising rules of global commerce and remaining the central forum of multilateral trade deals'. Simon Evenett from the Swiss Institute for International Economics said that 'without a serious shake-up, the WTO's future looks like that of the League of Nations.'

The US military did some cozying up to Vietnam this week, reported Elliot Brennan: 

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Hanoi has long pushed its brand of 'more friends, fewer enemies' foreign policy. Of course, a stronger American partnership now could be a counterweight to Chinese assertiveness and what some might see as a fitting punitive measure. But while this Pentagon visit offers a welcome window for greater cooperation with the US, it should not be overstated. Vietnam's 'orbit' is well populated. Indeed, that has been Vietnam's policy since 1988. For Washington, there is probably also a concern not just about Beijing's recent assertiveness in the South China Sea but also of Russia's increasing ties with Hanoi.

Julian Snelder discussed China's rough treatment of multinationals: 

International business people are often told here that 'they are not invited to China to profiteer; they are invited to make the Chinese better'. The guests are held to higher standards than locals, and they should be. Chinese officialdom is making a mighty effort to build future Chinese global champions like Immelt's GE. Knocking foreigners is part of their strategy, forcing them to be more responsive and competitive. Multinational companies are 'making China better', but China is making them better too.

Here's Mathew Sussex on that mysterious Russian aid convoy bound for Ukraine:

The idea that the Russian aid convoy really contains heavily armed soldiers, ready to pour out of their trucks and open fire, is probably better left to Hollywood.

The troops would automatically be discovered at the border and turned back. And if they decided to fight, they would be quickly cut down as they left their vehicles. Either way, it would be a public relations disaster for Moscow, with domestic as well as international consequences. Putin would have been caught out in a barefaced lie about humanitarian relief. And engaging in a shooting match from trucks makes for a senseless and unpopular waste of well-trained personnel.

It is almost definitely the case that the convoy does indeed contain aid, and it will continue to do so as it attempts to cross into Ukraine. The International Committee for the Red Cross was able to confirm, as the convoy moved towards the border, that the trucks were indeed full of relief supplies.  

But this raises a couple of scenarios much more likely than the idea of a series of Russian Trojan Horses.

Twitter loved Hugh White's question: Is China making a big mistake about Japan?:

One thing is for sure: China's conduct, especially over the Senkakus, is undermining Japan's post-war strategic posture, a posture which has served both Japan and China so well for so long. The foundation of that posture has of course been Japan's confidence that it can rely on America for its security, which in turn has seemed essential to Japan's unique version of 'national pacifism'.

As I have argued before (Explaining China's behaviour in the East and South China Seas), China's actions over the Senkakus seem deliberately designed to undermine Japan's confidence in American support by showing Japan that on a critical issue America is not willing to risk a clash with China on Japan's behalf. And that seems to be working. Despite President Obama's bold affirmation of US support over the disputed islands in Tokyo in April, Japanese confidence in US support against China does seem to have waned. The clearest signs are of course Mr Abe's steps to embrace collective self-defence and start looking for allies in Asia, including Australia.

These are exactly the kinds of steps towards normalisation that we could expect Beijing to want to avoid. So what is going on? There seem two possible alternatives to the conclusion that Beijing is just making a mistake.

Malcolm Cook disagreed, and there will be more on this debate next week.

Photo by Flickr user Hamster Factor.

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China wants to play an active and constructive role in achieving peace in the Middle East.

That's what Liu Jieyi, China's permanent representative to the UN, recently said when reiterating Foreign Minister Wang Yi's 'Five Point Proposal' promoting an end to violence in Gaza. This was presented as an extension of Xi Jinping's May 2013 'Four Point Proposal' on the Palestine issue.

While China seeks to project a soft-power image with such proposals, China's domestic policy in Xinjiang threatens to undermine its potential to move toward a more active and constructive Middle East policy.

In China, religious activity is strictly monitored and regulated by the Communist Party, which fears any belief system that may undermine its authority. While restrictive policies have been in place for a number of years, in reaction to the spate of attacks and violence in Xinjiang since last year, the Chinese Government has enforced further regulations curbing expressions of Islamic identity in the region. During the month of Ramadan, several government departments required employees to sign pledges to not fast. In universities, Muslim students were forced to eat meals with professors to ensure government orders were being followed. This policy was only applied to Muslims in Xinjiang — other Muslim minorities, such as the Hui, living in other parts of China, were not subject to the same restrictions.

While onlookers in Beijing may interpret these as necessary precautions against the spread of terrorism and extremism, or as evidence of the Government's unwavering authority in Xinjiang, China's restrictive policies are further fueling anti-government sentiment among the Uighur population. On the day before Eid al-Fitr, nearly 100 people were killed in the violence that ensued when government buildings, police stations and vehicles were attacked in the western city of Yarkand. Shortly afterwards, Jume Tahir, the government-appointed Imam of Kashgar's Grand Mosque and vocal advocate of the Party's anti-terror policies, was stabbed to death.

China's Xinjiang policy is counterproductive to its image across the Middle East, as demonstrated by anti-China protests held in Saudi Arabia and Turkey in July.

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These events, however, have not led to a change in China's approach. Authorities have now implemented a ban on long beards, headscarves, long dresses, the niqab, as well as star and crescent symbols (the 'five abnormal styles'), in public spaces in the city of Karamay for the duration of a sporting tournament it is hosting from 8-20 August.

By linking Islamic dress, symbols and traditions so closely with the threat of terrorism, China risks alienating not only its domestic Muslim population, but the rest of the Muslim world. Yet as the world's largest net oil importer, China has vital interests in the Middle East. Iraq is now China's fifth-largest source of oil. With four projects in operation, China's CNPC is the largest foreign investor in Iraqi oil.

While the region is preoccupied with the crises in Gaza, Syria and Iraq, China's Xinjiang policy may escape scrutiny. But as China's interests and presence in the Middle East grow, it will need more forward-looking policies. While China frequently regards external criticism of its domestic policies as interference in the country's 'internal affairs', China's policy-makers need to recognise that its Xinjiang policy has serious implications for its engagement with the Middle East.

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'The place for you right now is Vietnam.' So President Obama and Defense Secretary Hagel reportedly told the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, and so originated the first visit by a top US military chief to Vietnam since 1971.

That historical event began yesterday when Dempsey met with his Vietnamese counterpart Lt Gen Do Ba Ty in Hanoi. In part, the visit is a piece of protocol, a return visit for one made by General Ty to Washington last year. However, the timing may allow for further cooperation between the erstwhile enemies.

Following an initial closed-door meeting, the Vietnamese Ministry of Defence hinted that closer military cooperation would take place. While relations have been increasingly strong (particularly on the economic front) since the 1995 normalisation of relations, military cooperation has been limited.

Dempsey's four-day visit – which also takes in meetings with the Prime Minister and Defense Minister – comes amid growing tensions in the region. After months of tensions and clashes, in July China's state-controlled oil company CNOOC withdrew its drilling rig from Vietnamese waters (Carl Thayer explained why here). For Beijing, it was a successful foray to test the resolve of the US and ASEAN (both failed to react strongly) and to alter the status quo. By the end of the crisis, the media had stopped reporting that the rig was in what international law considers to be Vietnam's EEZ, instead opting for 'disputed waters'. This irked many in the region and worried Vietnam's leadership.

As a result, there have been calls for Hanoi to distance itself from China's influence. Gary Sands, in a piece for Foreign Policy, argues that now is the time to re-engage Vietnam as it spins 'out of China's orbit'. As he explains, this view has been pushed by many in the Vietnam Communist Party.

But the story is more complex than binary ins-and-outs.

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Hanoi has long pushed its brand of 'more friends, fewer enemies' foreign policy. Of course, a stronger American partnership now could be a counterweight to Chinese assertiveness and what some might see as a fitting punitive measure. But while this Pentagon visit offers a welcome window for greater cooperation with the US, it should not be overstated. Vietnam's 'orbit' is well populated. Indeed, that has been Vietnam's policy since 1988.

For Washington, there is probably also a concern not just about Beijing's recent assertiveness in the South China Sea but also of Russia's increasing ties with Hanoi. Moscow is a key ally and primary supplier of military hardware to Vietnam. Hanoi signed 17 separate agreements on military and economic ties with Russia during President Putin's visit in October last year. Hanoi has begun taking delivery of Russian Kilo-class submarines, Gepard class light frigates, and SU-30MK2 aircraft. This new capability may embolden Vietnam to take a more aggressive posture on its borders, a concern for all in the South China Sea.

Hanoi is also a key component of Russia's plans for a strong Eurasian Customs Union, seen by Russia as 'a vehicle to reintegrate the post-Soviet space', according to Chatham House. Vietnam is a key component of that Asia expansion, with eyes also on the South China Sea's best deep-water port of Cam Ranh Bay (Russia previously leased a naval base in the Bay).

It is therefore no surprise that with the door ajar, the US may be keen to strengthen relations with Hanoi. Moreover, in sending a military leader, the US can largely avoid comment about Vietnam's human rights problems, which have created headlines recently. 

Photo courtesy of the US Defense Department.

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Here's The Australian's Greg Sheridan on this week's AUSMIN talks:

...the two governments committed to establish a working group on integrating their efforts on ballistic missile defence...In time, the US ideal is to be able to track and follow any hostile missile with seamless allied co-operation, and have the missile interceptor with the best shot, whether ground or sea-based, from whichever allied nation, shoot the missile down. This could even involve US commanders being able to fire, remotely, missiles from Australian ships.

Marc Lippert, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel’s chief of staff, told me how the US already, at times of heightened missile tension with North Korea, co-ordinates its ship placements with Japan to provide the best possible cover. Australia is a long way from this kind of integration. We don’t have air warfare destroyers in service. But that’s the road we’re on.

Yes it is. Mind you, it's a long road. The AUSMIN communique says only that Australia and the US will establish 'a bilateral working group to examine options for potential Australian contributions to ballistic missile defence in the region'. And as Sheridan says, the Australian ships are not built yet.

Still, given that the lead Air Warfare Destroyer is due to be delivered in 2016 and that North Korea provokes an international crisis approximately once a year, it's not too early to ask why we are on this particular road. The deployment of missile-defence ships has become a standard part of the Japanese and American response to heightened tension with North Korea, so you would think that if this trilateral integration goes ahead, Australia too would deploy a ship in the event of a crisis. It would certainly be diplomatically awkward to develop the joint capability and then refuse to take part.

And yet, Australia has not participated militarily in response to recent crises such as the 2013 nuclear test, the 2012 satellite launch or the 2010 Cheonan sinking. No political leader in Australia pushed for it, and the Japanese, Koreans or Americans did not seem to mind that we stayed out. So why are we contemplating a capability that would make it near impossible for Australia to stay out of regular North Korea crises? It is a particularly pointed question given that, if North Korea one day deployed missiles that could reach Australia (they don't have them yet), the missile-defence system being envisaged in partnership with the US and Japan could NOT protect the Australian continent. Any North Korean missile of that range would fly too high and too fast for the AEGIS-based system to intercept it.

The obvious response to these concerns is that Australia is getting involved in order to be a good ally. But there are may ways we can do that.

Photo courtesy of the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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Michael Fullilove began our series on great speeches about Australia's place in the world with a selection of ten speeches, here and here. Graeme Dobell's first pick in this series was Bob Hawke's APEC creation speech. His second choice is John Howard's speech on the US alliance and Australia's response to the September 11 attacks.

Australia's House of Representatives convened on 17 September 2001, six days after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington had set the direction of the first decade of the 21st century.

The Prime Minister, John Howard, who was in Washington on the day of the attack, rose to give one of his finest parliamentary performances, formally invoking the treaty provisions of Australia's alliance with the US. It was a speech from the heart as well as the head. Howard stood with a long line of Australian leaders over the previous century who had built the security relationship with the US. Howard's passion was clear, as were the principles he spoke to – but much that followed was to become a dark time in the alliance.

Howard moved a motion that the House:

  1. expresses its horror at the terrorist attacks which have claimed so many lives in the United States of America;
  2. conveys to the Government and people of the United States of America the deepest sympathy and sense of shared loss felt by the Government and people of Australia;
  3. extends condolences to the families and other loved ones of those Australians killed or missing as a result of the attacks;
  4. declares that such attacks represent an assault, not only on the people and the values of the United States of America, but of free societies everywhere;
  5. praises the courageous efforts of those engaged in the dangerous rescue operation still underway;
  6. believes that the terrorist actions in New York City and Washington DC constitute an attack upon the United States of America within the meaning of Articles IV and V of the ANZUS Treaty;
  7. fully endorses the commitment of the Australian Government to support within Australia's capabilities United States-led action against those responsible for these tragic attacks; and
  8. encourages all Australians in the wake of these appalling events to display those very qualities of tolerance and inclusion which the terrorists themselves have assaulted with such awful consequences.

I've watched many Howard performances in the old and new parliament, and this was one of those rare times when he stepped beyond his role as a political warrior and a great debater. It was the speech of a leader explaining to Australia that 'the world has changed. We are all diminished, we are all changed, and we are all rather struggling with the concept that it will never be quite the same again.'

The speech had three parts: the first focused on what Howard called 'a tragedy and an obscenity of an appalling and repugnant magnitude'; then on the fight ahead and the values involved; and finally ANZUS.

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Tragedy:

In the 27 years that I have been privileged to be a member of this parliament, I can think of no more sombre occasion than the circumstances under which this House meets today. We have had tragedies of a national and international kind before. We have been touched by the poignancy of the deaths of people. We have confronted significant moral and national challenges, but none matches in depth, scale and magnitude the consequences of what the world must now do in response to the terrible events in the United States last week. In sheer scale, the death and destruction are almost incomprehensible in a time not regarded as a time of war...It goes beyond the death so cruelly inflicted without warning, without justification and without any skerrick of moral authority on innocent people merely going about their daily lives; its context represents a massive assault on the values not only of the United States of America but also of this country— the values of free men and women and of decent people and decent societies around the world. It is an act of terror. It is an act which is repugnant to all of the things that we as a society believe in. On occasions like this, those things that divide us in this parliament, those things that we might bicker and quarrel over as a people, as we go about our lives, are so suddenly and so quickly put into perspective. I remember the morning in Washington— as the House knows, I had been in the United States. I had been for an early morning walk. It was a beautiful Washington morning— there was just a touch of autumn. I had walked past the Lincoln memorial and many of the other great memorials of that great nation which stood between us and tyranny on one critical occasion in our history. I, like millions of other Australians, was deeply moved and distressed. I felt an enormous sense of empathy towards the American people who had suffered this awful deed.

Values:

There is united, righteous, deep, seething anger around the world at present. But, as the months go by and as perhaps the early dividends of retaliatory action are not ready and not apparent, some of that anger may subside; and some may argue that the extra miles that are required to be travelled are not really worth it. But, if those who died last Tuesday are not, in the judgment of history, to have died in vain, there is an obligation on all of us to persevere, to travel the distance, to persist and to root out the evil that brought about those terrible deeds. But, in the process of responding, we must do so with care as well as with lethal force. We should understand that barbarism has no ethnicity and evil has no religion. Both around the world and within our own society, we should take pause lest we engage in the evil of scapegoating individual groups within our society. I have said on a number of occasions that I know that my fellow Australians of Islamic faith are overwhelmingly as appalled about what happened as I am, as an inadequately practising Christian. This is an assault on values common to all the great religions of the world, and it is also an assault on the values of many people who profess no religion. I say to my fellow Australians of Islamic faith or of Middle Eastern descent that I extend to you the hand of friendship. You are part of our great society; you are part of the fabric of the great, decent, freedom loving, fair minded Australian nation; and you are as entitled to share my outrage, my sorrow, my anger and my sadness as are others within our community—because wouldn't it be a terrible, tragic, obscene irony if in responding, however we do it as individuals or as nations, to these terrible terrorist attacks we forsook the very things that we believed had been assaulted last Tuesday in New York?

Alliance:

In every way, the attack on New York and Washington and the circumstances surrounding it did constitute an attack upon the metropolitan territory of the United States of America within the provisions of articles IV and V of the ANZUS Treaty. If that treaty means anything, if our debt as a nation to the people of the United States in the darkest days of World War II means anything, if the comradeship, the friendship and the common bonds of democracy and a belief in liberty, fraternity and justice mean anything, it means that the ANZUS Treaty applies and that the ANZUS Treaty is properly invoked. As a proud, patriotic Australian, I was literally moved to tears by what occurred in the United States. I was filled with admiration for the spirit of the American people. I can with genuine affection and fondness say that their behaviour in the wake of those events and their determination to respond appropriately, to heal the wounds and to help those who mourn and grieve demonstrates very powerfully that the American people do live, in the words of their wonderful national anthem, 'in the land of the free and the home of the brave'.

Formally invoking the treaty for the first time, Howard marked another moment in an Australian tradition: Deakin inviting the US Great White Fleet; Curtin turning to the US in the Pacific war free of any pangs for the traditional links to Britain; Spender achieving the ANZUS treaty; Menzies committing to Vietnam with the new great and powerful ally; Holt going all the way with LBJ; Whitlam hanging on to the alliance despite Vietnam and the controversy over the US bases in Australia; Hawke incorporating the US bases into the alliance.

The course Howard, set with his speech and parliamentary resolution, took Australia to Afghanistan and Iraq. The commitment Howard made was not just to the alliance but to George W Bush. The Push With Bush was to impose great political costs on Howard and Tony Blair, and significant alliance burdens on their nations. Iraq divided Australian politics while, by contrast, the major parties maintained their consensus on the commitment to Afghanistan over the 12 years of what became Australia's longest war.

Throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, the centrality of the US alliance for Australia endured with barely a wobble, proving the strength of the idea about the US relationship at the heart of Howard's speech.

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Hugh White's latest post immediately reminded me of three things: my admiration for Hugh's ability to spark debate; an Interpreter post I wrote on the same topic 18 months ago; and the fact that I frequently agree with Hugh's analysis of the situation and disagree with his conclusions.

Hugh poses the questions of whether China is being 'dumb' by provoking Japan toward a more 'normal' defence policy, and sets up a dichotomy that assumes Chinese provocation of Japan is aimed at undermining Japanese confidence in and commitment to the US-Japan alliance: either China stops trying to undermine the US-Japan alliance, which leaves US strategic weight in Asia largely intact as the principle limit to Chinese ambitions, or it undermines the US-Japan alliance, in which case Japan replaces America as the major balancer of Chinese power in Asia. Which would Beijing rather deal with? I think they'd probably prefer Japan, Hugh says, concluding that therefore China is not being dumb.

Yet the answer to Hugh's question of whether China is being 'dumb' by provoking Japan may very well be 'yes'.

China's provocations in the East China Sea certainly are supporting Japan's less abnormal defence policy. However, Japan's changes are not aimed at replacing the US as a balancer of Chinese power in Asia but rather helping to support America's continued role as the primary balancer. Rather than the White-envisioned US-Japan split in the face of a more aggressive China, there is a growing unity, with Japan stepping up to play a more active alliance-based role. The Abe Administration's reinterpretation of Article 9 to include the limited exercise of the right of collective self-defense is primarily motivated by Japanese alliance responsibilities and the upcoming revisions of this very treaty, as well as Japan's role in the US-led regional ballistic missile defense system.

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Likewise, Japan's developing strategic partnerships with Australia, India, the Philippines, Vietnam and others parallel US developments with these countries. In the case of Australia it is being done explicitly to bolster the US-Japan-Australia trilateral relationship. The Abe Administration's loosening of arms export bans will also allow Tokyo to play a more active and central role in US-Japan and US-led multi-partner weapons systems' developments, and will allow Japan to export its indigenously developed arms. Changes to Japan's planned military capabilities, particularly the expansion of its Aegis-capable fleet, also are consistent with Japan seeking greater security through a stronger alliance with the US and not outside it.

Certainly, policy-makers and the wider security community in Japan are worried about the US strategic position in Asia and the rising threat from China (and North Korea). Yet, all the steps taken by Japan so far are either driven by or fully consistent with a stronger US-Japan alliance with Japan playing a more active role.

Photo by Flickr user US Navy.

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He promised during his victory speech in May to be the sort of Prime Minister who would “take everyone along.” To do that, he must articulate a more inclusive nationalism that re-brands the BJP as a party that celebrates India’s Hindu tradition while recognizing the country’s richly plural identity.

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The Russian 'aid' convoy, 12 August 2014 (REUTERS/Nikita Paukov)

The mysterious Russian 'aid' convoy — announced with much fanfare by the Kremlin on 11 August — has now reached Voronezh near the Ukrainian border. What happens next has been the subject of intense speculation. But it does seem that Vladimir Putin has made up his mind to intervene directly in eastern Ukraine.

The news that Russia would be contributing its own humanitarian relief to Donetsk and Luhansk sent what one source neatly referred to as the 'geopolitical telephone' into meltdown. Did the 280 identical white trucks really only contain food and medical supplies? Or would the cargo be unloaded and replaced with Russian Special Forces and military equipment en route to Ukraine?  Why had Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, suddenly changed his tune on the need for humanitarian corridors for Ukraine when he had previously been so vehemently against them for Syria? And why did the relief convoy have stickers marked 'MC' (short for 'Mirotvorcheskiye Sily' or 'peacekeeping'), the exact same ones to be found on vehicles operated by Russian forces in Transnistria, South Ossetia and most recently in Crimea?

In the lead-up to the convoy's departure, the Kremlin engaged in a hefty amount of signaling. Russia moved more troops up to the border with Ukraine, bringing the total from 12,000 to 20,000. Reports increased about heavy weapons (including Grad unguided rocket systems) moving into separatist-held areas. Ukrainian fighter aircraft were shot down by Russian jets. There was even evidence that Ukrainian ground forces were repeatedly coming under artillery fire from within Russian territory.  

In addition to its build-up on the border, Russia held a coordinated series of military exercises involving front-line air assets, assault forces and artillery. Partly this was designed to show off new hardware which had become ready for operational deployment following the Kremlin's ambitious 2008 modernisation project. But during an address to his troops, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu also told Russian forces that they should 'expect the unexpected'.  He went on to note that the world had changed, and that peace-keeping units could be called upon without warning.

The idea that the Russian aid convoy really contains heavily armed soldiers, ready to pour out of their trucks and open fire, is probably better left to Hollywood.

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The troops would automatically be discovered at the border and turned back. And if they decided to fight, they would be quickly cut down as they left their vehicles. Either way, it would be a public relations disaster for Moscow, with domestic as well as international consequences. Putin would have been caught out in a barefaced lie about humanitarian relief. And engaging in a shooting match from trucks makes for a senseless and unpopular waste of well-trained personnel.

It is almost definitely the case that the convoy does indeed contain aid, and it will continue to do so as it attempts to cross into Ukraine. The International Committee for the Red Cross was able to confirm, as the convoy moved towards the border, that the trucks were indeed full of relief supplies.  

But this raises a couple of scenarios much more likely than the idea of a series of Russian Trojan Horses.

The first is that the Russian convoy moves up to the border and the Ukrainians refuse to accept it or guarantee safe passage. That will open up a new window for the Kremlin to accuse Kiev and the West of appalling double standards: that aid from the Europe and the US is acceptable, but Russian aid is not. It will allow the language of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) to be used, showing that there is one set of rules for the West and another for everyone else.

The second scenario is that Ukraine allows the convoy to pass, but along the way it is forced to turn back due to 'provocations', has its cargo stolen, or is even fired upon. That will represent a perfect pretext for Putin to launch a rescue mission using his new military machine. 

However contrived, it will nonetheless be defensible on both statist and humanitarian grounds. Putin will be able to claim, with justification, that Kiev has failed in its obligation to protect civilians and those assisting them. He will also be able to point to the targeted use of force by Russian peacekeepers as an entirely reasonable response under the circumstances.

Putin's recent moves, and his likely intentions, have further incensed leaders in the US and the West more broadly. This is mainly because there is little they are prepared to do to stop it. International attention is now much more closely focused on the renewed conflict in Gaza and the American intervention in Iraq. The US population is also worried about the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. 

As a result, the war in eastern Ukraine has been slipping off the radar, and marshaling the domestic and international will for a firm response to any Russian intervention will be difficult. But equally, preventing Putin from achieving his ambitions will take much more than symbolic sanctions, tough talk or 'de-friending' Putin at the upcoming G20 summit in Brisbane. 

Given the series of half-measures witnessed so far, one must wonder whether the West has inadvertently sent a signal to Putin. If so, he seems to have received the message, and is acting accordingly.

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I spent some of this week in Fiji so it is the focus of this week's links:

  • Australia will co-lead a 14-country international observer mission to Fiji for the elections on 17 September. The Australian delegation will be led by Peter Reith.
  • Grant Bayldon of Amnesty International (NZ) looks at what is needed to support true democracy over and above holding elections in September.
  • The Fiji First party has been campaigning in New Zealand where they have had a mixed reception. When asked for assurance that there would be no more coups, Bainimarama's laughing response was 'You vote me into Parliament and there will be no coup'.
  • The interim prime minister will also visit Australia, where approximately 4000 Fijians have registered to vote in next month's elections. His visit is expected to prompt protests.
  • Current polling shows that Bainimarama enjoys 60% support as preferred prime minister but this is a 6% drop since May.
  • Away from politics, Fiji is preparing to welcome home a favoured son, golfer Vijay Singh, along with other big names who will take part in the first international tour event to be held in the country.
  • This coming weekend will see the celebration of the Hibiscus festival. More than just a beauty pageant, this year's theme is the impact of climate change: 

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Michael Fullilove began this series on great speeches about Australia's place in the world with two sets of five speeches. Over coming days I'll add three to this list. The first, by Prime Minister Hawke, was delivered on 31 January 1989

The oration on Asia's future was both cautious and visionary, and it produced one of the great Australian foreign policy achievements. The prose, though, was not great.

Perhaps you can't expect too much polish from a speech on trade policy. Especially when the writing finished at about 4am on the day it was to be delivered to a luncheon of the Korean Business Associations in Seoul.

The last-minute writing effort was because Australia's prime minister thought 'the footsteps of history' sounded ominous, plus he wanted to make a splash on a tour through Asia. As always, political need dances with policy demands. Hawke was going to roll the policy dice to propose the creation of a new Asia Pacific organisation.

The speech was the spark for APEC, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, which had its first ministerial meeting in Canberra within the year.

Hawke called for the creation of a government-level edition of the second track vehicle, the Pacific Economic Co-operation Conference, founded by Australian and Japan in 1980. The suggestion (which seems modest enough now) was for an Asia Pacific version of the OECD. Yet at that moment in 1989, APEC was not something Asia could have created for itself — not Japan, South Korea or ASEAN, and certainly not China. 

The speech was an expression, in trade-speak, of Hawke's imagining of an Australia deeply 'enmeshed' in Asia's future. APEC could be a regional expression of the unilateral liberalisations that the Hawke Government had made its central domestic agenda.

The idea, as unveiled, was portrayed in defensive and fearful terms, rather than glowing language. The fear was of the cracks appearing in the multilateral system because of the failure of GATT negotiations. Asia needed to respond to the trade blocs being created in Europe and North America. Here is Hawke mapping his aims:

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First, effective regional co-operation can greatly improve the chances of success of the Uruguay Round and could thereby give a vital boost to the liberalisation and therefore the preservation of the GATT-based trading system. The GATT system now faces its most crucial test. The Montreal impasse, essentially due to lack of progress on trade liberalisation in agriculture, must be overcome. If the Uruguay round fails, the underlying tensions which will have caused this failure will corrode the essence of the GATT system. We must work together to save the GATT system. The region's role will be critical given its strong growth, reliance on trade and growing world importance and responsibility...

Second, we must be prepared openly to discuss obstacles to trade within our region. From Australia's point of view, the success of the newly industrialising economies is an enormous opportunity, for us and for the whole region. Others see this very success as a threat, and it has led to frictions in trade relations within the region and beyond. There is undoubtedly room for dialogue and cooperation on this issue.

...The third area in which we could benefit from regional cooperation is through identifying the broad economic interests we have in common. We should try to investigate whether through co-ordinated Policy making we might better capitalise on the extraordinary complementarity of the economies in the region...

Before I leave this topic, I must stress that my support for a more formal vehicle for regional co-operation must not be interpreted as suggesting by code words the creation of a Pacific trading bloc. Australia's support for non-discriminatory multilateral trading solutions in the GATT framework is clear, long-standing and unambiguous.

Not a bloc, but certainly something that would be more than the OECD. APEC tapped powerful currents in the Asia Pacific and fundamental Australian interests.

The initiative was launched with scant preparation or consultation with key regional leaders; Hawke was going to ask for forgiveness, not permission. There was no certainty that having floated the idea of a regional ministerial meeting, Australia would be able to make it happen, particularly as the US was initially excluded and the concept cut across ASEAN's view of itself as the paramount regional organisation.

The sketchy details of Hawke's vision had been conjured up by officials on the plane flying with the PM and put into words during the all-night writing effort. In politics, a stuff-up can be as likely as a well-planned plot. Elements of APEC's birth illustrate a third category: fortunate happenstance, when an idea flourishes because of the alchemy of timing, history, luck, and personality, and lots of frantic follow-up pushing. APEC was something Asia needed. The region might not be able to talk openly about its strategic problems, but at least it could discuss trade.

The Hawke speech did not name intended members, but journalists traveling with the Prime Minister were briefed that Australia would consult initially with Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Southeast Asia. The line on possible US membership was that it was 'not for Australia to decide who is in and who is out.' This approach produced diplomatic fireworks in Washington. Looking back over his time as foreign minister, Gareth Evans said one of the most unnerving moments of the job had been 'having the mark of Zorro laid on me by (US Secretary of State) Jim Baker at our first meeting in 1989 when he was told that Bob Hawke's concept of APEC — as he had outlined it at that stage in his Seoul speech — didn't include the United States.' Baker later said he was incensed that Australia had not consulted the US but he 'accepted at face value their explanation that they were worried that if it included the US that ASEAN would be less likely to sign on.'

The reality was that Japan could never have signed up to a grouping that excluded the US, and Hawke's memoirs are explicit that he always wanted the US in. But the US spat meant the Seoul speech did the first thing a big proposal needs — it got plenty of attention from everyone in the Asia Pacific.

Image by Flickr user thenoodleator.

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Featuring the best Disqus comments by Interpreter readers, as selected by the editors.

Responding to Hugh White's post on whether China is right to dismiss Japan as a future strategic rival, commenter Peter suggests a couple of problems with the premises underlying Hugh's argument:

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Just because Japan is seeking to strengthen security ties with Australia and India for instance isn't necessarily a sign of a weakened alliance. First, the US for its part is very happy for Japan to shoulder a greater burden in East Asia. Japan spending more on ships, planes and tanks means that the US can spend less. Second, it is unrealistic to expect a "normal" country to depend solely on a single actor for its security. Australia also effectively enjoys a US security guarantee, but that doesn't stop it from pursuing defence cooperation with other actors in the region.

Additionally, it is not as though this behaviour is new. Japan previously made an attempt (under Shinzo Abe) to pursue new regional security arrangements, such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue as far back as 2007. While this may have again been prompted by fears of a rising China, it predates the period of China's "new assertiveness". Since Hugh White was a leading advocate against this dialogue it is puzzling that he doesn't mention it in the context of his argument.

AaronJH argues that China's provocation of Japan is being driven by domestic concerns:

Take a glance at any newspaper from the mainland, or watch Xinwen Lianbo, and you can see how the state controlled media milks any conflict with Japan for all it is worth, driving nationalistic fervour. That nationalism is one of the key techniques used by the Party to deflect attention from its current problems. It's much better to have people rioting in the streets overturning Japanese cars than to be protesting against the corruption of local officials.

It seems every time there are domestic disturbances, the rhetoric against Japan ratchets up dramatically. It was no coincidence that during the controversy around Bo Xilai, Japanese car dealerships had to close their doors, and Japanese restaurants shut down due to the rhetoric reaching fever pitch.

Maybe there is no over-arching strategy. Conflict over the Diaoyu Islands, and conflict with Japan in general plays well at home, and that is enough to justify the assertive tactics.

On the other hand, the conflict over the South China Sea is definitely part of the broader "New Silk Road" strategy of securing critical marine transit routes through the South China Sea, and road transport routes through Central Asia. However, the Diaoyu island dispute seems more geared around domestic concerns. If not primarily, then definitely as a major secondary motivation.

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'I really worry about China. I am not sure that in the end they want any of us to win', confided GE boss Jeff Immelt to a group of fellow multinational business-people dining in Shanghai in 2010.

So far, GE has mostly stayed out of trouble in China. But many other Fortune 500 companies have been whacked by the Chinese authorities: for corruption (GSK), food safety problems (KFC and MacDonalds), security concerns (Cisco, IBM and others), quality problems (Samsung), forced upgrades (Microsoft), monopolistic behaviour (Qualcomm), and 'unparalleled arrogance' (Apple).

Offshore deals have been postponed or even forbidden by Beijing. And recently, foreign carmakers have been hit for excessive pricing on the mainland (more on this later), an accusation which has also been directed at Starbucks, milk suppliers, luxury goods companies and drugs firms. The list is practically endless.

Beijing uses three agencies to prosecute foreign firms, depending on their sin: the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) reviews pricing, the Commerce Ministry approves mergers and acquisitions, and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) probes anti-trust matters. It is a formidable trio, and the Chinese state rarely loses cases on its home turf. Multinationals can also find themselves simultaneously brutalised in the Chinese press; almost all succumb meekly to the charges, correct their mistakes and apologise for hurting the feelings of the people.

To be fair, the Chinese authorities usually do have good grounds for complaint. Foreign companies often behave badly in China. But it seems that successful foreign companies are targeted, as if Beijing deliberately wants them humbled. Immelt appears surprised by this possibility. He shouldn't be.

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China is, first and foremost, a state capitalist. Like all nations, it covets the mercantilist objective of commercial success. Countries don't fight economic war like they fight militarily, but sometimes it feels that way. The AFR's Angus Grigg, in an intriguing short piece on the deteriorating business climate for multinationals earlier this week, reported a Chinese official acknowledging this point forthrightly: 'It's an economic war'.

Twenty years ago, John Fialka's superb War by Other Means described in scary detail how nations conduct underground conflict in the commercial realm; Japan then was America's most feared rival, although China was charging up the list. The Japanese, led by the masterly bureaucrats at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, had achieved global success based on a level of chauvinism in their home market that China has never approached. The Japanese were much too polite to say what the Shanghai official told Grigg, but no doubt embraced 'economic war.'

Unfortunately, this term literally applies to the worsening situation with Russia, which faces sanctions and other forms of 'lawfare'. Both China and Russia are perceived to be at the vanguard of growing anti-Western statism, but China is a more formidable and subtle player than the Soviet Union ever was. 'The Chinese were never as stupid as the Russians, who came to us and said repeatedly "we will bury you"', as Zbigniew Brzezinski splendidly put it last week.

Indeed, China's strategy in the state capitalism game seems beyond such easy explanation. Back to the car market. Chinese consumers have long complained about paying 2-3 times what Americans pay for luxury cars. Most of this gap is explained by formal levies, such as import duties and sales taxes. But not all. The authorities worked backwards through the pricing layers and found three anomalies. First, carmakers have been stiffing local dealers. Second, carmakers overcharge for spare parts. Third and most damning, Beijing has found that premium cars rolling out of German factories are marked up outrageously when heading for China, which may account for one-third of German carmaker profits. Chinese consumers are being gouged and Beijing is angered by this unfairness. Beijing probably also resents the fact that the brands are 'skimming' this money back home rather than sharing the profits with their China joint ventures.

Yet forcing foreigners' prices lower is the very opposite of what other mercantilists do. Japan and Korea are delighted to see foreign cars at huge premiums compared to indigenous alternatives; all the better to encourage buy-local preferences. Nations criticise each other at the WTO for 'dumping' — exporting below cost or home-market prices — yet China's objection is the reverse. Forcing foreign carmakers to lower their prices doesn't help China's national champions either; it hurts them by lowering prices relative to domestic brands. Are Beijing's actions about consumer advocacy, or does it simply want to take away the super-profits of foreign companies who might otherwise further dominate China's booming car market?

The claim of 'monopolistic' behaviour is iffy. Competition in cars is fierce and consumers can choose between many brands. Chinese car buyers act more affluently than Western ones, so it is hard to argue for greater affordability. Western companies in China are doing what all businesses do: charging whatever price the market bears. If Beijing is so concerned about monopolies, it could do much more by investigating its own state-owned enterprises. And perhaps Beijing should consider why domestic agricultural prices are soaring above international levels, a direct result of subsidising farmers at the expense of urban households. In other words, there are plenty of domestic pricing anomalies to investigate.

International business people are often told here that 'they are not invited to China to profiteer; they are invited to make the Chinese better'. The guests are held to higher standards than locals, and they should be. Chinese officialdom is making a mighty effort to build future Chinese global champions like Immelt's GE. Knocking foreigners is part of their strategy, forcing them to be more responsive and competitive. Multinational companies are 'making China better', but China is making them better too.

Photo by Flickr user dcmaster.

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