Lowy Institute

The Indo-Pacific is a strategic system encompassing the Indian and Pacific oceans, reflecting the expanding interests and reach of China and India as well as the enduring role of the US. The Lowy Institute's International Security program presents a weekly selection of links illuminating the changing security picture in this increasingly connected super-region.


By Dr Merriden Varrall, the Lowy Institute's East Asia Program Director, and Jackson Kwok, an intern in the East Asia Program.

Given the somewhat rocky few months President Xi Jinping has endured, his state visit to the US provided an ideal opportunity to reinforce his domestic legitimacy and his success in steering China towards achieving its dream of national rejuvenation. The Chinese media has played its part, emphasising China's role as an important and responsible great power on par with the US.

The positive spin is not a surprise, considering a media directive by the Cyberspace Administration of China which warned Chinese news organisations not to publish 'negative news' about Xi's visit. The challenges facing US-China relations were sidelined as 'petty' issues to be overcome by further cooperation.

The visit was also of great interest to Chinese netizens – the hashtag #FollowUncleXitotheUS remained Weibo's highest-trending topic for a week, with the combined posts gaining more than 500 million views. However, just as in the official media, discussion has been heavily monitored and the vast majority of comments 'harmonised'.

Responding to the media directives, Chinese official media coverage portrayed China as a great power with international relevance equal to the US, enjoying a 'special relationship' with the US that has global implications.

People's Daily, for example, said 'US-China relations will determine the future of the world together', and characterised the US and China as inseparable. An article in Xinhua said US-China cooperation is a 'gospel' for the world, stressing that both powers carry great influence and responsibility. Xinhua portrayed the Obama-Xi summit as a conversation between two mutually respectful friends which reached 'important consensus and results.' In this narrative, win-win cooperation will prevail over the 'petty' issues of cybersecurity and maritime disputes.

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The Chinese media also frequently referred to the concept of 'a new type of great power relations' to demonstrate the parity between the world's two largest economies – without recognising that Washington has not embraced the concept. Indeed, a document published by People's Daily outlining the 49 outcomes of the Obama-Xi summit lists the new type of great power relations as the first item where 'a main consensus and outcome was reached by the two sides.'

Reiterating the idea that the future of the world's prosperity depends as much on China as it does the US, state-owned media repeatedly noted the importance of Sino-US cooperation. Both the US and China were lauded for overcoming their 'stormy history' and committing to work together for mutual and global benefit. Indeed, Xi mentioned in one of his speeches in Washington that 'the US and China have no choice but to seek win-win cooperation.' Areas for further cooperation between the two countries included climate change, energy, and food security. To add credence to the claim that the future of the planet depends on China and the US working together, and that China was well and truly embracing this responsibility, Chinese media referred to interviews with high profile international commentators including Henry Kissinger and Kevin Rudd.

Chinese media coverage of Xi's speech to the UN also emphasised China's contribution to the greater global good. Xinhua used Xi's address to the UN General Assembly (see video) as an example of how China, as a global power, is taking on its share of responsibility. China's pledge of $2 billion to fight poverty was reported as evidence of this commitment to global issues.

Across Chinese state media, Xi himself was portrayed as a confident leader on the world stage, respected by and popular among the international community. According to an article in the Global Times, his addresses were met with 'waves of applause' and 'gained the wide-spread support of the international community.' A separate article discussed how he 'moved the hearts of the American people.'

In spite of the amount of Chinese coverage of the visit, there was very little reportage of the challenges facing US-China relations. Contentious issues and areas where the two countries' interests might conflict were conspicuously avoided. The fraught issue of cybersecurity, for example, shifted from a topic not even open for discussion in China to being portrayed as an area where the two countries can successfully cooperate. US concerns about China's controversial construction in the South China Sea went virtually unmentioned in Chinese reports. Details of street protests and petitions in the US criticising China's human rights records were similarly absent.

Following the controversial Tianjin explosions and a series of stock market crises last month, public confidence in Xi's leadership has, arguably, needed some serious bolstering. The 3 September military parade partly addressed this need by portraying Xi as firmly in control of ensuring China's future as a strong and respected global power. Likewise, Xi's state visit to the US was used to highlight China's powerful and important position on the world stage and Xi's own status as a respected global figure. Coverage has aimed to strengthen the Chinese people's impression that Xi is capably representing China and building its image so that it is accepted and respected by Washington and the international community. This supports the greater narrative of Xi's 'China dream', in which Xi and the Communist Party are portrayed as confidently steering China on the path towards national rejuvenation.

It will be interesting to see how committed Beijing remains to this rhetoric in the lead-up to the US elections as American politicians compete to prove they are 'tough on China'.


Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has just announced that Australia will bid for a seat on the UN Security Council in 2029-30.

That's 15 years from the end of our last Security Council seat (2013-14). But it compares against the 27 years between our fourth and fifth outings at the Security Council. In total, Australia has held a non-permanent seat on the Security Council in 1946-7, 1956-7, 1973-4, 1985-6 and 2013-14.

The bid for the 2013-14 seat was riven with controversy from the start, and regarded by some as a Kevin Rudd vanity project. The bid was announced in 2008 while the two other candidates for the seat, Luxembourg and Finland, commenced their pitches in 2001 and 2002. The late start was heavily criticised, as were the reputed costs of the bid. Notionally these were around $25 million, but there were some arguments that Australia's aid to African countries had been ramped up to win support for the bid. If it were valid to account for this somehow, the overall costs would be considerably higher.

The Coalition opposition, under Tony Abbott, proposed to scrap the bid if it won the 2010 election.

It didn't. Australia won the seat. Nonetheless, scepticism persisted through the early days of the tenure, and in the lead-up to his election, Tony Abbott promised a 'more Jakarta, less Geneva'  foreign policy. But MH17 changed all that. The Foreign Minister's intense diplomacy secured a relatively strongly-worded resolution from the Security Council (2166) setting up an investigation and calling for those responsible to be held to account. It won plaudits here and abroad

The Coalition Government now appears to be a Security Council convert.

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Any criticism of this bid would need to come up with something new. Shadow Foreign Minister Tanya Plibersek, while broadly supporting the bid, labelled it 'unambitious'. Looking at the numbers on the periods between our occupancy of a seat (9 years, 16 years, 11 years, 27 years: average = 15.75 years), the 15-year gap sounds pretty good to me, and is a dramatic improvement from the 27-year gap last time.

Ms Bishop has set out her government's reasons for the timing: there is only one applicant for the slot to date (Finland), so the seat is more likely to be uncontested; the length of time means that the costs of the bid can be apportioned across the span and absorbed in the normal operations of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

In an article supporting our last Security Council bid, Michael Fullilove argued that 'the principal reason that Australia is right to run is that the Security Council is the world's pre-eminent crisis management forum.' It is the only international body that can make a decision to authorise the use of force. Australia's 2013-14 experience would appear to have borne out that argument.

Much will no doubt be made of this first major announcement from the Turnbull Government on foreign policy. It may well be that, together with the renewed push for a 2018-20 seat on the UN Human Rights Council, multilateralism is 'back'. This will become clearer over the course of the government under its new leader. In the meantime, what is clear is Australia's renewed enthusiasm for participation in the Security Council as the world's most important multilateral organisation.

Photo courtesy of Minister for Foreign Affairs.


Just two weeks ago former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was ousted by his party colleague Malcolm Turnbull. However, there seems to be no change in the country's reluctant climate policy.

While Australia is the world's biggest coal exporter, the country is extremely vulnerable to climate change. Yet Canberra is lacking ambition in the run-up to this year's Climate Summit in Paris. Howard Bamsey, formerly Australia's Special Envoy on climate change, explains in this interview why the Australian Government has seemingly lost interest in cooperating with climate leaders such as the EU. Rather than a lack of common concern, he claims, mutual suspicion and differences in diplomatic style are hampering the relationship. 

Howard Bamsey is an Australian professor at the Australian National University and former diplomat and negotiator with extensive experience in international climate policy making. As well as serving as Australia's Special Envoy on Climate Change, he was co-chair of the UN Dialogue on Long-Term Cooperative Action on Climate Change and CEO of the Australian Greenhouse Office. He is a high-profile advocate of stronger emissions targets for Australia, and recently co-authored a research paper for the Lowy Institute on Australia's diplomatic handling of climate change.

Olivia Gippner: You have been involved in the international climate change process for years and represented Australia at several big summits and intersessionals. What defines the Australian position at these negotiations and how has it evolved?

Howard Bamsey: To most observers, Australia's position would have swung like a pendulum over the last 20 years. First at the Rio meeting and afterwards, Australia was very progressive with an intention to lead, then more cautious and eventually at one with the Bush Administration on non-ratification of Kyoto. With the advent of the Rudd Government, whose first act was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and that had an ambitious plan for emissions trading, Australia swung back strongly to the progressive side of the response effort. The Abbott Government reversed all that. Cautious changes under Turnbull are slowly emerging.

Nevertheless, there is an underlying continuity in the perception of national interests. Abbott was widely criticised for proclaiming that coal is good, but it was the Rudd Government that endowed the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute in part to try to ensure a future for Australian coal exports. The simple fact is that greenhouse gas-intensive industries in Australia are relatively important to the economy. Even though the financial costs of a transition to a decarbonised economy will be small, that transition will carry many sensitivities and adjustments.

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This volatile stance on coal demonstrates what I see as the abiding characteristic of Australian multilateral diplomacy: its essential pragmatism. Australian delegates will often eschew the rhetorical and emotional approaches to issues that can be important for others. They sometimes miss the salience of symbolism. This can give Australian statements a hard edge and Australian delegations can unwittingly seem aloof and uninterested in what drives engagement for other countries. A previous Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC said he found Australian interventions 'scary'. 

Realising this, the leader of the Australian delegation a few years ago instructed her colleagues to include an emotive element in their statements. Suddenly, surprised Australian delegates had the unaccustomed pleasure of being congratulated on their fine interventions by delegates from all groups. 

That is a question of style. On substance Australian pragmatism and analysis have delivered some thought-leadership to the negotiating process over many years. Australia advocated differentiation of national reductions targets before it was respectable within the EU. Australia insisted on provision for market mechanisms in the Kyoto Protocol against resistance from many in the EU. Add the Cartagena Dialogue, the first serious attempt to unite progressive voices across the UNFCCC membership, and the idea of schedules, which now take the form of INDCs, to the list of ideas which Australia has helped pioneer. 

As a colleague and I argued in an article in The Guardian, Australia actually has a lot to gain from and offer in the negotiations: we should maximise our influence by engaging fully rather than tentatively in the negotiations with ministers attending whenever required. We should also send a negotiating team of adequate size and expertise, and use our location and technical capacity to actively engage with our neighbours in the Asia Pacific to help them in preparing and then implementing their INDCs. 

Olivia Gippner: How does Australia see the EU, especially in light of the US 'Pivot to Asia' and in a context where China is increasingly important for Australian exports?

Howard Bamsey: The Australia-EU relationship on climate change has generally been awkward, even prickly for reasons that may not be immediately obvious. For Australian officials and politicians, long-standing differences with the EU over the protectionist and market-distorting aspects of the Common Agriculture Policy have bred a suspicion that Brussels has a broad protectionist agenda that intrudes into any field with a trade dimension. The consequence is a suspicion of European motives, for instance when negotiating the new EU-Australia Framework Agreement this year. 

Second, Australians – as many Anglophone observers – see the EU predominantly through the lens of the British press and their international affiliates. British reporting often focuses on the EU's institutional ineffectiveness, a loss of sovereignty, the democratic deficit and more recently on the idea of a British exit from the EU. The bizarre result is that on climate change matters, Australian representatives and their EU counterparts are often on different sides when fundamentally they have a great deal in common.

Olivia Gippner: Until 2013 Australia and the EU were in intense discussions to link their respective emissions trading schemes. After the abolition of the Australian ETS under the new conservative government, bilateral climate cooperation has reduced drastically from weekly meetings to climate change becoming a peripheral topic at EU-Australia high level meetings. What areas of cooperation on climate change are now left between the two?

Howard Bamsey: Yes indeed, it was the high point of collaboration when the common commitment to carbon pricing was at the centre of the relationship. Australia was also working closely with China on their pilot carbon markets. Of course, both of these activities have fallen away since the Australian Government turned its back on carbon pricing and both relationships have suffered as a result – probably without too much examination in any of the capitals. My impressions is that Australia's climate relationships with the EU (and China) are now focused on the Paris process and although cordial enough, lack bilateral substance. 

Olivia Gippner: The US-China agreement in November 2014 was hailed as a breakthrough in the global climate process. What does China's proactive climate policy mean for Australia?

Howard Bamsey: Australian governments have long focused on Chinese policy on climate change as a benchmark of the global effort, sometimes in order to justify doing less. In my opinion Australian politicians have often underestimated how seriously the Chinese Government is committed to dealing with the problem. 

As officials we had a window into Chinese thinking through an unusual bilateral partnership. Almost unannounced a group of Chinese officials arrived in Canberra on 7 January 2003 and said they wanted to collaborate with us as they prepared their first National Communication under the UNFCCC. They had looked at some of the approaches and methods we had used in our Communications and were impressed. 

But before they left Canberra we proposed to our visitors that we expand the relationship beyond technical matters to broader dialogue and real projects. We explained that we had in mind a real partnership, not a one-way process and that every project would have to deliver a benefit to both countries. And we added that unlike other countries (Canada had just pledged $20 million) we had no money to contribute; all activities would have to be co-funded. The Chinese gulped but eventually agreed. The partnership flourished, delivering benefits for business and research in both countries and eventually being elevated, almost uniquely at the time, to ministerial level. 

As I understood it, the Chinese Government sees climate change as a critical national interest issue for China. Curiously this commitment and the domestic action that has followed in China have not generally been reflected in Chinese positions in the international negotiations. There China has stuck to its long-established role as a developing country and recited the doctrine of dependency economics. Perhaps the Obama-Xi deal will allow Chinese delegates to move away from their accustomed position and exercise real leadership in the negotiations. A change in this direction would have a marked effect on other governments, including Australia's.

Olivia Gippner: Finally, what is your expectation for the UNFCCC Summit in Paris in December and November this year? 

Howard Bamsey: There are promising signs from a negotiator's perspective. As hosts, the French appear to have achieved a degree of 'vertical integration' in their Government that matches Mexico's before and during the successful Cancun meeting in 2010. By that I mean, from the President of the Republic down to junior officials, they seem to be working from the same game plan. They say they will avoid the problems that afflicted the Copenhagen COP, which I have heard them describe as a failure of European diplomacy.

For Paris, in contrast with Kyoto, the sequence of commitments is sensible. The COP decided a year ahead of Kyoto that the results, whatever they might be, would be legally binding. That naturally enough made countries cautious, chilling ambition on targets. This year we are deciding on the substance of commitments before we agree on their legal form. 

The pressure must continue to help bid up efforts over time. I hope that the Paris agreement will include a provision for continuous improvement in commitments through an ongoing review process. 

Recently Australia's business leadership, including the extractive and manufacturing sectors, as well as civil society organisations, including trades unions, have joined to create the Australian Climate Roundtable. For businesses in Australia as anywhere else, policy stability is essential for long-term investment decisions. Putting it another way, the Australian economy will suffer if political parties do not soon reach some degree of consensus on the issue. 

Already there are some signs that this plea may be bearing fruit. Australia's INDC target (Intended Nationally Determined Contribution) is a good deal better than might have been expected even though in my view it is far from ideal. It may be a step towards a platform on which a stable policy can be built. 

Olivia Gippner: Thank you for the conversation.

Photo by Flickr user Jimmy Balkovicius.

  • The Asian Development Bank adjusted PNG's economic growth forecast from 15% to 9% in 2015 and 5% to 3% in 2016. Considering population growth is about 2.1% in PNG, this means per capita economic growth in 2016 will be negligible.  
  • Nikunj Soni provides a good assessment of PNG's economic situation and the potential political ramifications.  
  • Matt Dornan and Tess Newton-Cain look at the new Framework for Pacific Regionalism adopted at this year's Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' meeting. They argue it has made the meeting more inclusive and recognised the political nature of regionalism.  
  • Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Colin Tikuitonga, gave the first ever Pacific community statement at the UN General Assembly outlining the Sustainable Development Goals that are most relevant for the Pacific.  
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping announced at the UN General Assembly plans for debt relief for developing nations. The news has sparked cautious optimism in the Pacific, where a number of nations are struggling to repay Chinese loans.    
  • Fijian Prime Minister Bainimarama and New Zealand's Prime Minister Key formally met on the sidelines of UN leaders week in New York, the first such meeting since the 2006 coup in Fiji.   
  • Last week Jonathan Pryke explained why Prime Minister Turnbull's new cabinet is great for the Pacific.  
  • Papua New Guinean PhD candidate Lawrence Kaiapo Gerry writes about his experience studying in Sydney and the contrast to his life in PNG.  
  • The first free counselling hotline in PNG has proven a success in its first month of operation, providing much-needed support to victims of family violence. 


The economic debate in Australia is dominated by the impact of the unwinding of the commodities 'super-cycle'. Australia is having to adjust to substantially worse terms-of-trade (the price of what we export compared with the price of our imports), the slowing of the spectacular resources investment boom and reduced fiscal revenues from resources.

Australia is not, however, the only country which has to undergo this adjustment. In fact, our fiscal dependence on resources is quite low by global standards. It's hard to see on this crowded graph, but Australia is eighth from the right, with less than 5% of budget revenue coming from resources during 2000-2011, according to these IMF figures.

This analysis was delivered at a conference in Jakarta, where Indonesia is fumbling to sort out the mess of its mining legislation. The focus was on our neighbours, with regional data presented in this more legible graph:

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The extreme cases here (Brunei and East Timor) have such huge oil revenue that the current lower prices won't affect budgetary expenditure much in the near future. Timor is accumulating substantial oil revenue in its sovereign wealth fund, rather than spending it all in the budget. But for the other five, the fall in revenue will be painful and immediate.

Indonesia, for example, improved its budget position by cutting petroleum subsidies last year. But lower commodity prices are offsetting much of this improvement. Indonesia also has some self-inflicted challenges. Current Indonesian legislation requires mineral exporters to process ore domestically, which is discouraging investment. The objective sounds reasonable enough: to shift from a simple focus on resource revenues towards a new objective of boosting the wider economy. But this is an illusion. The better way to think about this issue is to see the processing requirement as an imposition, like a tax: if Indonesia didn't impose this obligation, it would be able to collect more mining revenue. This lost revenue is being directed into what are probably low-return investments in ore processing, rather than being available for higher priority budget expenditures, such as infrastructure.

For Australia, there are other elements in this painful adjustment: adaptation to the ending of the investment boom and the lower terms-of-trade. The lower resource revenue requires a policy response, and the IMF argues that a resources-rent tax should be a key element of tax strategy. This is not only a matter of equity: a tax which varies with the commodity cycle would greatly assist macro-economic management.

The resources-rent tax proposed by Kevin Rudd was so complex and confusing that the mining industry pulled off the greatest public-relations coup of all times (combined with political ineptitude of a high order), with super-rich miners winning the debate. The proposed tax was reduced by Julia Gillard and even this tiny vestige was abolished by the Abbott Government. That's not the only reason why Australians now find themselves with an inadequate tax take, but abolishing a tax, no matter how rhetorically attractive, has to be made up by other taxes sooner or later.

There is talk that all elements of taxation will be on the table under Australia's new leadership. Is this one included? Low commodity prices provide the best environment to introduce a super-profits resource-rent tax, because profits are not super in this phase of the cycle, and resistance may not be so fierce. Once in place, the tax is ready to help manage the next upswing, whenever it comes.


Having a Catholic Pope and the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China descend on Washington at almost exactly the same time helped illustrate something important about diplomacy. When staging a high-level state visit, there is a simple choice: emphasise either the head or the heart. This is especially the case if it concerns the US and China, where the relationship evades simple rational descriptions. Almost invariably, despite its risks, appealing to the heart brings better returns. 

Yet President Xi almost entirely missed that opportunity.

Xi Jinping after the White House Rose Garden joint press conference. (Win McNamee/Getty.)

True, in terms of hard political outcomes, President Xi's US sojourn achieved its objectives. There was a solid agreement on the environment, some progress on trade and a little (but enough) on cyber security. But the curious thing about Xi's intensely managed and controlled visit is the way it illustrates just how profoundly conservative Chinese diplomacy is, and how poor it is at conveying one of the most exciting and dynamic stories of our age – China's transformation.

Xi is a better communicator than his predecessor, Hu Jintao. He laced his Seattle speech with nice popular touches, even describing the current anti-corruption struggle in China as 'no House of Cards.' But the promise of this speech, and the expectations in terms of public diplomacy of the visit overall, quickly dissipated.

His meeting with technology companies in Seattle was symptomatic. Sitting prominently on the podium beside Xi after listening to the President's peroration on the importance of technology and creativity was Mark Zuckerberg, the creator and owner of Facebook, whose wildly successful website is famously blocked in China. A picture circulated afterwards of Zuckerberg shaking Xi's hands, while Lu Wei, China's top internet regulator, stood smiling in between. Were Chinese officials trying to convey some point about how even those it paints as threats have, in the end, to come and bid obeisance? This messaging might play well as a display of power in China. For Americans, however, it was portrayed in the press as ironic and controlling, never the best way to an audience's heart.

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Xi did no walkabouts where he might have slightly less scripted encounters with the American public. He had a couple of staple visits to a school and a factory, but there was nothing in these to fire the imagination. For this, we have to look at the master of public appeals, Pope Francis, whose frugal use of a simple Fiat car for transport, and stopping to bless a boy with cerebral palsy, proved stories too good to keep off the US front pages. The Chinese Communist Party propaganda department really needs to look at the skill of this remarkable leader and take some lessons.

Complaining about a biased Western press cuts no mustard here. This press is free. Ways can be found to get China's message across, and the Pope has shown that, even heading an organisation emerging from one of the worst scandals imaginable, he can still get its core messages across. 

The Chinese Government might argue that in the end their main priority is to use the US trip for messaging back home. And there, of course, it saturated the media, night and day. But one has to have the sneaking suspicion that they will be a little disappointed that Xi wasn't able to reach out directly to the American people the way his wife did, just through using decent English when speaking on women's education at the UN. 

Talking directly to the American people through their media, and through a more spontaneous kind of visit, would be a massive asset for China. Like it or not, this is an audience they cannot ignore. American presidents can come to China and reach out over the heads even of managed media, gathering popular plaudits. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, by contrast, shows itself once more to be one of the most cautious and risk averse in the world. Management and control remain their main objectives, not trying to reset the attitudes towards their country by more creative visit programs by one of their key assets – their national leader. Symptomatically, Xi's 'interview' in the Wall Street Journal turned out to be responses to queries submitted in writing, raising questions about just how much input the President even had in the answers finally published. 

It doesn't need to be this way. Deng Xiaoping in the early 1980s had extensive interviews with journalists like Oriana Fallaci from Italy and Mike Wallace from CNN. Jiang Zemin did the same. Jiang was even willing to sprinkle his speeches with English, Russian and French. It's odd that President Xi's visit did not take a few more risks.

The visit to the US did have things the wider American public, and in the rest of the world, need to be aware of: huge moves on climate change, and a lot of recognition of common trade and security challenges. But on the whole, the person best placed to speak about these issues and promote recognition of them, Xi himself, was confined behind a wall of minders and protocol. The question impossible to answer now is whether this is because of a failure of imagination by those serving him, which can be rectified by making them think more boldly, or whether it is because of the President himself. That would be a far harder problem to address.


After the coup in May 2015 that overthrew the democratically elected Pheu Thai Government of Yingluck Shinawatra, hundreds of politicians, activists, journalists, and people accused of supporting the deposed government were summoned for 'attitude adjustment'.

A year later and the junta has embarked on a new round of 'attitude adjustments' aimed at convincing opponents about the necessity of the military's seizure of power. Those targeted had continued to defy the junta's authority.

In the days after the coup, names were read out on television and radio listing those wanted for 'attitude adjustment' and setting the time and location for the interrogation. These people, considered by the junta to be opposed to the coup, were brought before a panel of National Intelligence Agency officers and asked their views on the monarchy, the coup and former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

While most complied with the conditions for their release, such as agreements not to criticise the junta and restrictions on foreign travel, others have maintained a low level of dissent, using social media to question the economic and democratic credentials of coup leader and current prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his leadership team.

Two former Pheu Thai politicians, Pichai Naripthaphan and Karun Hosakul, were detained in mid-September. Pichai was energy minister from 2011-2012 in the Pheu Thai government of Yingluck Shinawatra. It was the eighth time Pichai has been detained in the 15 months since the coup. A few days later, well-known journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk (see video) was also picked up. Pravit was arrested hours after tweeting 'Freedom can't be maintained if we're not willing to defend it.' It was the second time he had been detained, the first time being just after the coup.

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All three men had previously been subjected to 'attitude adjustment' sessions but this time the treatment was harsher. At least one was hooded for an extensive period. All were kept in solitary confinement. Their locations were not disclosed and they had no contact with friends or family during their week-long detention.

One week earlier, the military junta revoked the passport of former Pheu Thai politician and junta critic Chaturon Chaisaeng.

Thai officials defended their decision to detain the two former politicians. The junta, known formally as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), said the men were acting against the interests of the country and must stop making remarks contrary to 'national reconciliation.' 'Everyone is entitled to their opinions. However, they should speak their minds in a constructive manner. They are free to offer recommendations but not criticism,' said NCPO Deputy Secretary-General Chatchalerm Chalermsuk.

Coup leader Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has threatened to use an 'attitude adjustment' program on anyone who speaks out against the junta. 'All those who cause divisiveness or make groundless accusations against the government will face charges of inciting unrest and prosecution,' he said during a routine press conference while the men were detained.

Responding to questions about the detained men, Prayuth said those opposed to him or his government could even have their mouths taped shut. 'And as for politicians and political parties that keep talking these days, I beg you, if you don't slander me with your words, I will leave you alone. But if you still attack the government, let me ask you, who will let you do that? Especially my type of government. No one can speak like that. In the past, I let you talk and write on social media. You can write anything. But you cannot oppose me. No one will let you to do that. I hold that I have given you many chances already.'

Upon his release, Pravit Rojanaphruk, under pressure from colleagues at The Nation, where he worked as a journalist for 24 years, resigned from his position. 'Mr Pana (President of the Nation) told me that if I left, it would help lessen the pressure from all sides,' Pravit said. 'I left, reluctantly, in order to spare this battle.'

According to the Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw), the NCPO has interviewed at least 751 people since last year's coup. While some were officially summoned, others were subject to harassment outside their homes and offered invitations for coffee or for a meal. Cooperation was obligatory. Of those summoned, 22 were arrested and six charged with lese majeste, the controversial Article 112 of the criminal code which makes it illegal to offend the monarchy. Rights groups have highlighted the increased use of lese majeste to prosecute political opponents and stifle freedom of expression. Since his latest 'attitude adjustment', Pichai Naripthaphan has refused to give interviews and has toned down his tweets and Facebook posts.


In his post of 21 September on Australia's future submarines, Stephen Grenville cautioned against the arguments of regional and industrial lobbyists and challenged those who believe Australia's future submarines should be built at home rather than abroad to make the economic case.

I suggest that readers consider the large volume of studies, commentary and reports already produced. They will conclude that the case for building the submarine in Australia has been subjected to more than sufficient study already.  

Any consideration of this subject should start with this piece from February 2013 on why Australia needs submarines, and the unique capability they offer governments to deal with our increasingly challenging maritime environment. The arguments for 12 long-range submarines were accepted in the 2009 and 2013 Defence White Papers, although media speculation about the 2015 White Paper envisages building eight with an option for four. Our geography requires a large submarine with long range, high endurance and a large payload.  

Given these requirements, successive Australian governments have spent years and millions of dollars to study the options, and all have concluded that there is no off-the-shelf solution to our requirements. Australia, in partnership with an experienced overseas submarine designer, will have to design and build a suitable replacement for the Collins class. In 2014 and 2015, the Senate Economic Reference Committee heard evidence from the Department of Defence, industry and submarine experts, and reached bipartisan agreement on this point. To quote one of the Committee's recommendations:

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Given the weight of the evidence about the strategic, military, national security and economic benefits, the committee recommends that the government require tenderers for the future submarine project to build, maintain, and sustain Australia's future submarines in Australia.

There is no production line; we must pay to set this up, either in France, Germany, Japan or Australia. French and German designers have indicated that they can build 12 suitable submarines in Australia for $18-24 billion.  

Grenville questions the level of self-sufficiency we can achieve. He has a point, but the situation for submarine support is far better than he implies. The majority of Collins sustainment is undertaken using Australian-supplied components, and if push comes to shove, it's easier to air freight components rather than a whole submarine. This happy situation has arisen because the Australian build of the Collins class has resulted in an extensive industry capability spread across Australia (not just South Australia). As the Senate Economics Reference Committee found after industry visits:

Based on the evidence presented to the committee and independent studies, there can be no doubt that Australia has a substantial and solid foundation on which to build a competent and highly skilled workforce for the construction of the future submarines.

Collins sustainment, much improved since ASC began managing the entire supply chain, demonstrates the breadth of Australian industries' capability – over 90% of every dollar ASC spends on Collins sustainment is spent in Australia.

Professor Goran Roos has argued eloquently for the overwhelming economic justification for building the submarine in Australia: 'Sending $20 billion overseas for an off-shore build would remove $20 billion from the economy. In contrast, investing the same amount on-shore would deliver a multi-billion dollar return in terms of innovation, exports and employment.' When the multiplier and spillover effects Professor Roos cites are taken into account, it will cost Australia more to build overseas.  

There are a number of studies to support this conclusion and there is a strong case for building the future frigates and submarines in Australia. The time for a decision is rapidly approaching; indeed we may be too late to avoid incurring the additional expense and a consequent capability gap of extending the life of Collins.

Enough studies – it is time for a decision!

Photo of a US Virginia class submarine under construction courtesy of Flickr user Marlon Doss.


Media reporting from the third summit between US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping was dominated by cybercrime and news of cooperation on greenhouse gases. But observers interested in US-China relations and Asian security matters should also pay attention to a little-noticed accord signed by the US and Chinese militaries on 'Rules of Behavior for Safety of Air-to-Air Encounters.'

The agreement is an annex to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on rules of behaviour for safe military encounters at sea and in the air that was signed at the prior Obama-Xi summit in November 2014. The now completed MOU underscores the commitment by the US and China to reduce the risk of unintended military incidents that could harm the overall relationship.

Reaching agreement on best practices to ensure safe navigation when American and Chinese military assets come into close proximity is a milestone. This landmark achievement was made possible in large part by Xi Jinping's recognition of the increased danger of US-Chinese military accidents and the damage they could do to bilateral ties. The Chinese armed forces also deserve credit for realising the need for the PLA to have a common understanding of operational safety with the international community.

The recently inked Annex of the Rules of Behavior for Air-to-Air Encounters establishes procedures to prevent collisions between US and Chinese military aircraft such as occurred in 2001 between a Chinese fighter and US surveillance plane. Unsafe intercepts have continued, though they have decreased in frequency over the past year, with the most recent incident occurring on 15 September when a Chinese fighter came within 500 feet of an American reconnaissance plane. In 2014 there were at least five incidents. The most serious near miss involved a Chinese fighter that came within 30 feet of a US P-8 Navy surveillance aircraft. A Pentagon spokesman described the Chinese warplane's actions as 'very, very close, very dangerous.' The Chinese fighter purportedly flew above, underneath, and alongside the US surveillance craft, and at one point performed a barrel roll to display its weapons.

The norms of behaviour set out in the Air-to-Air Encounters annex are consistent with the Convention on International Civil Aviation (which contains provisions guiding civilian flights and encounters between civilian and military planes), and the Code of Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES; which contains guidelines for encounters of naval aircraft). The agreement breaks new ground in establishing rules of engagement between military aircraft of different countries.

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To avoid mishaps, the two sides agreed that aircraft operators should engage in active communications in the interest of flight safety. This includes clarifying their identity and conveying aircraft maneuvering intentions. Pilots will conduct communications in English, refrain from uncivil language and physical gestures, and use internationally-accepted radio frequencies for air distress.

In addition, the agreement identifies specific actions that 'a prudent pilot' should avoid, including actions that impinge upon the ability of the other side's military aircraft to maneuver safely, approaching the other side's military aircraft at an uncontrolled closure rate, use of a laser in a way that could harm personnel or equipment, and actions that interfere with the launch and recovery of military aircraft by the other side's military vessel.

Especially noteworthy is the section that establishes responsibilities for aircraft when an intercept takes place. According to the agreement, the aircraft commander initiating the intercept should maintain safe separation while the operator of the aircraft being intercepted should avoid reckless maneuvers. The distance between aircraft that constitutes safe separation is not spelled out; rather it is dependent on circumstances. While this is sensible, it leaves split-second decisions up to the discretion of Chinese fighter pilots, who often lack experience.

One missing element is any provision for emergency landing rights. Perhaps it was impossible to agree on a common position, even though 14 years have passed since the US landed an EP-3 on Hainan Island after a Chinese J-8 fighter jet collided with it in flight. In addition, in several places, the text includes the language 'if mission permits,' suggesting that in some circumstances either side can refuse to implement the agreed-upon rules of behavior. For example, a US bomber flying through China's Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea to demonstrate freedom navigation and transit through international airspace would not likely communicate with a PLA Air Force interceptor aircraft.

Unlike US and Chinese surface naval vessels, which have practiced CUES procedures on several occasions since the two nations signed up to them last year, there are currently no plans to practice implementation of the protocols laid out in the new air-to-air encounters agreement. The US and Chinese air forces don't hold joint exercises and are unlikely to for the foreseeable future.

A positive development is that the signing of the MOU has reinvigorated US-China consultations within the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA), which was created in 1998, but failed to serve as an effective mechanism for ensuring operational safety. The MMCA was essentially moribund until Xi Jinping's rise to power in late 2012 breathed new life into the US-China military-to-military relationship. Going forward, incidents between US and Chinese ships and aircraft will be discussed in the MMCA.

The now-completed MOU on rules of behavior for safe military encounters at sea and in the air is not a panacea for the US-China military relationship. The PLA will continue, for example, to criticise US close-in surveillance operations near Chinese territory as well as US arms sales to Taiwan, For their part, the US military remains concerned about the possibility that China will use its newly-built artificial islands in the South China Sea to exert control over the air and sea within China's nine-dashed line.

Nevertheless, this confidence-building measure, if strictly implemented by both sides, can reduce the risk of accidents between American and Chinese forces operating in increasingly close proximity to each other.



The US and China have jointly announced their vision for the Paris climate talks and the steps they will take at home. But what took the headlines was China's announcement to introduce a national emissions trading scheme in 2017.

The announcement is no surprise. The Chinese government has been foreshadowing a national emissions trading scheme for years. But its inclusion in this high profile announcement means we can expect that it will in indeed be done. The announcement also makes clear that the scheme will cover electricity generation and heavy industries including iron and steel, chemicals, building materials, paper-making, and nonferrous metals. These are the main sources of emissions and the most cost-effective options to cut emissions using pricing instruments.

But don't expect emissions trading to become the mainstay of China's climate policy overnight. It will take time to become fully effective, and it may not be the biggest factor in China's climate change policy toolbox for some years. One reason is that other policies — such as mandated closures of highly polluting plants, regulations for minimum energy efficiency, and state-directed investment in renewable power — have strong effects. Another reason is that large parts of heavy industry and the electricity sector are still run by state regulation or as state-owned enterprises.

China's embrace of market-based approaches to cut emissions is significant because it is being done in an economy where command-and-control approaches are still highly prevalent, and where market prices are only beginning to play the key role in the energy sector. China has a challenge on its hands making emissions trading work well in that context, but the introduction of emissions trading provides an opportunity to push ahead with faster market reform in China's heavy and energy industries.

If successful, emissions trading can grow into playing a major role in facilitating China's objectives for a cleaner energy and industrial system over coming decades, and for achieving its longer term emissions reductions targets.

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A recent expert survey in China by the China Carbon Forum found that a third of respondents expected major business investment decisions to be influenced by a carbon price in 2016, and over 80% expected an influence from emissions trading on investment in 2020.

However, it is clear that there will need to be energy sector reform, especially towards more market-based settings in the electricity sector, to make a carbon price work properly. This has been extensively researched.

Seven pilot trading schemes have been in operation. Their effect on emissions has been very limited, but that was not really their objective. They have shown that cap-and-trade can be made to work in China. That would have given the central government confidence in moving towards a national scheme. It is also expected that China's provinces will play an important role in the administration of the national trading scheme.

As part of the recent announcement, China also reiterated its target to reduce the emissions intensity of its economy by 60 -65% from 2005 to 2030, announced forestry measures and said there will be low-carbon measures for buildings and transport. It also announced a move to 'green power dispatch', giving priority on the grid to renewable power generation and high-efficiency fossil fuel power plants, which will help make emissions trading effective.

The launch of China national emissions trading scheme will have a major signaling effect globally. The world's largest economy is putting in place a price on carbon emissions, and this will be noted the world over. If China's experience is a positive one, its model will be emulated in many other countries, especially by emerging economies.

The US-China joint announcement, following last year's joint announcement in Beijing, also sends a strong message to other nations: the presidents of the two largest economies are united in their push for meaningful climate policy. It gives support to any nation that wants to see strong global climate action, and helps the argument of domestic constituencies in favour of action. A number of industrialising and developing countries may consider following China's example. In fact, many middle- and low-income countries have already made significant climate action pledges, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.

There is also a fascinating aspect to this for the US-China relationship. It is ironic that presidents Obama and Xi are united on the issue of emissions trading even though Obama is unable to implement such a scheme nationally in the US, where cap-and-trade was invented. The Chinese leadership may find some quiet satisfaction in this.

Photo by Flickr user Kaj17.


Thank you to Marie-Alice McLean-Dreyfus for raising the important question of whether China's non-interference policy works in the age of ISIS. She correctly argues that the recent capture of a Chinese citizen by ISIS raises uncomfortable questions, and adds that Beijing will need to re-evaluate its policy of non-interference.

I would frame my thinking differently: China has already significantly adapted its non-interference policy in other parts of the world, so why not in Iraq and Syria? 

Non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries is a long-held official Chinese foreign policy under the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. While the rhetoric of this policy has changed little over the years, its application has transformed significantly. 

This is most clear in China's involvement in UN peacekeeping operations (UNPKOs). Prior to 1989, China did not participate in any UNPKOs. As the UN's interventions have grown in scale and complexity, so has China's participation. As of September 2015, China has 3078 police and military troops participating in UNPKOs including a growing number of combat troops. China's personnel contribution is the largest of any permanent UN Security Council member.

Politically too, Beijing has become more involved in the affairs of other nations.

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In Sudan, Beijing publicly (and privately) pressured the Khartoum Government to accept the presence of a joint African Union-UN PKO, something Beijing has previously been reluctant to do. The Chinese have also facilitated meetings between the Taliban and the Afghan Government. This was part of a significant rethinking in China's Afghan policy – until 2011, 'They just used to send people to read out statements in meetings'.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials also recognise the shortcomings of strict adherence to the non-interference policy. China's special envoy to the Middle East, Wu Sike, said in 2011 that 'non-interference in each other's internal affairs does not mean doing nothing.' Similarly, a Chinese ambassador to Africa was quoted saying in 2014, 'Of course we are increasingly involved in the politics of African countries, we are being pulled in, we have no choice.' 

So why then is China not being pulled into Iraq and Syria? My view is that it is a strategic calculation, not an ideological one. The perceived threats don't justify the risk of significant involvement in Iraq and Syria.

Although China imports significant amounts of oil from Iraq, its supply is not yet affected by the country's turmoil. China's main oil assets are in the relatively stable south, and they are producing record amounts of oil. Perhaps future threats to oil assets would provide sufficient motivation for Chinese involvement (it did in Sudan), but the world is currently awash with oil.

The direct threat from ISIS is seen as more ideological than operational. ISIS and other global terrorist organisations have offered moral support for the Uyghur cause, but this hasn't translated into operational support. In fact, numerous Chinese observers indicated to me that ideological propaganda is the biggest security threat emanating from the Middle East (and Afghanistan/Pakistan too) – extremist propaganda from global organisations influencing dissatisfied Chinese Uyghurs in Xinjiang. It is unclear to these analysts that the degradation or defeat of ISIS would stop the ideological threat. The preferred method instead is to clamp down internally in China and stop the threat there. 

Finally, Chinese questions remain over the efficacy of a military solution in Iraq and Syria. China has watched interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 15 years and the outcomes have not filled Chinese observers who I speak to with confidence. The risks of involvement do not currently match the perceived threats. So while the capture of a Chinese hostage will likely cause much hand-wringing in Beijing, it is not likely to change China's strategic calculus in Iraq and Syria. Non-interference is simply a good justification. 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user United Nations Peacekeeping.


Over the weekend, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were ratified in New York, with celebrities and world leaders from Beyoncé to the Pope getting involved. Today's links will bring you up to speed with the achievements of the SDGs forbears, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and what makes the SDGs different.

  • The MDGs were the world's first set of time-bound targets, agreed by heads of state in 2000, which Bill Gates in 2008 called 'the best idea for focusing the world on fighting global poverty that I have ever seen.' The eight goals, with a total of 21 specific targets, were infamously non-inclusive in their design, with legend having it that they were drawn up by a group of men in the basement of UN headquarters.
  • The development scorecard for the MDGs is mixed. Most famously, halving the proportion of the world's people living in absolute poverty was achieved with five years to spare. Most other targets have also been met, mostly thanks to progress in China and India.
  • There is no conclusive evidence that the MDGs had any influence on how developing-country governments spent their money. It is, however, almost universally agreed that the MDG's acted as a lightning rod for collective advocacy and fundraising efforts that has resulted in many additional billions being contributed in international aid.
  • The approach to developing the SDGs has been completely different, with the UN conducting the largest consultation program in its history over the past four years.
  • This process concluded that the MDGs were too narrow in their focus, and the SDGs have now ballooned to 17 goals with a whopping 169 targets that focus on universal objectives for the developing and developed world alike.
  • While we won't know until 2030 what impact the SDGs will have, the pundits are already lining up. The UN and most global advocates see it as an unprecedented success. Many development wonks are taking a cautionary approach, but there is still an underlying tone of optimism. The Economist, on the other hand, went so far as to call them the 'stupid development goals'. The magazine has since taken a more tempered view.
  • Whatever the outcome of the SDGs, they will help to keep development challenges at the centre of the global agenda and are a unifying force for global advocates, which can't be a bad thing. And at the very least, Manhattan got to have a hell of a party.

The silly season has been extended in this US presidential election cycle. All summer long, the press fed on Republican candidate Donald Trump's political posturing through back to back insults and outrages.

At each turn, the political establishment predicted the demise of Trump's candidacy and popularity in the polls. When he insulted Fox News anchor and debate moderator Megyn Kelly, insinuating that she was on her period while thoroughly questioning him during the debate, he was slammed by a number of conservatives and Republicans who expressed outrage over his misogynistic remarks.

Yet Trump's popularity has remained steady. When he voiced the opinion that immigrants from Mexico were mostly dangerous and 'rapists' he may have lost business contracts, but support among the Republican base increased. And most recently, when a voter took the mic in a town hall forum to say, 'We have a problem in this country, it's called Muslims...our current president is one', Trump did not correct him but responded to the man's further question ('When can we get rid of them?') by saying that 'we'd look into that and plenty of other things.' It solicited cheers of approval from his Republican supporters.

Trump's establishment critics continue to dismiss him as a political sideshow, an 'entertainer' who will eventually fade away when the real candidates emerge out of the pack. But this hasn't happened. He has made other more sober Republican candidates either drop out – first Rick Perry and now Scott Walker – or propelled other outsiders, even more popular candidates like Ben Carson, to also fearlessly eschew political correctness, particularly when it comes to Muslims and their place in America.

Carson was asked directly during a Meet the Press interview whether he believed Islam was consistent with the constitution. His response? 'No I do not. I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.'

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Both Trump's and Carson's public statements on Muslims in American life and politics have brought into focus the views of the Republican base. Despite condemnations from the GOP establishment, which argues that it is 'unAmerican' and unconstitutional to discount a Muslim from the highest office in the land, and that of course Muslims are integral to the multicultural American social fabric and entitled to the same rights as any citizen, the reality is that a sizeable portion of Republican voters agree with these anti-Muslim sentiments.

A survey done in August by Public Policy Polling shows that Trump's pronouncements on Muslims and his 'birther' stance represents the consensus among the GOP electorate, not merely a Tea Party or right wing fringe. Sixty-six percent of Trump's supporters believe Obama is a Muslim, while 61% think Obama was not born in the US. Among the overall GOP electorate, 54% think President Obama is a Muslim and only 29% grant that President Obama was born in the US. (Remember, it was Donald Trump who encouraged the whole 'birther' movement. For years, Trump publicly called on Obama to release his birth certificate, claiming that he was a Muslim from Kenya and not, as is the truth, a Christian born in Hawaii.)

The GOP establishment is doing all it can to distance itself from Trump, rightly worried that he will tarnish the new branding initiative of a more inclusive Republican party, open to women, immigrants and minorities. Yet the polls show that the Republican base is right there with him. As one sharp piece of analysis by Frank Rich in New York Magazine describes it, Trump:

...is calling the GOP's bluff by saying loudly, unambiguously, and repeatedly the ugly things that other Republican politicians try to camouflage in innuendo...Far from being a fake Republican, Trump speaks for the party's overwhelming majority...He's ensnared the GOP Establishment in a classic Catch-22: It wants Trump voters — it can't win elections without them — but doesn't want Trump calling attention to what those voters actually believe.

Ben Carson is another matter. The soft spoken African American with a compelling life story and a reputation as a brilliant pediatric neurosurgeon is not as easy to dismiss as a political buffoon, though he is a political neophyte. Carson has the highest favourability numbers among the GOP candidates. He is a minority candidate, which plays into the GOP establishment's narrative of a more inclusive Republican party, yet he is also an outsider – a good thing in the minds of many Republican voters. What's more, he shares and even exceeds Trump's positions on Islam in America.

Just as in Trump's case, Carson's Islamophobic positions have not damaged him among Republican voters. If anything, it has upped his standing in the polls. Donations to his campaign surged after he publicly remarked he would not support a Muslim in the White House. (This is despite the fact that the first amendment to the constitution prohibits a religious test for public office; the presidency, the very office Carson is running for, is tasked with enforcing the constitution.)

But like Trump, Carson is voicing mainstream Republican thinking on this matter. The latest Public Policy Polling results from 22 September show 'only 49% of Republicans think the religion of Islam should even be legal in the US with 30% saying it shouldn't be and 21% not sure. Among Trump voters there is almost even division with 38% thinking Islam should be allowed and 36% that it should not.'

A sizeable portion of the GOP base unambiguously believes Islam and Muslims present a real threat, that Islam is a religion of violence and that Muslims cannot be loyal American citizens because their religion dictates their politics through sharia law. Trump and Carson both know this and they are unafraid to say it. 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Gage Skidmore.