Lowy Institute

Yesterday evening in a busy hotel lobby I talked with the head of the UK's Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Sir Simon Fraser. Fraser is UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond's senior adviser, and they are in Sydney for the annual AUKMIN talks, which involve foreign and defence ministers from both countries.

We discuss the fight against ISIS, the state of UK-Russia relations in light of Moscow's aggression against Ukraine, and lastly I ask about the AUKMIN talks themselves. As you can see, the Joint Ministerial Statement from the talks runs to just six paragraphs, so I asked Sir Simon whether there is really enough substance to sustain an annual ministerial dialogue:


Of all the ink spilled on Tony Abbott's 'knightmare' over the course of the week, Greg Sheridan had what was, for me, the definitive take. I agree with every word.

It truly was a diabolically poor piece of judgment, as was the original decision to re-introduce knighthoods. Abbott may have believed that both initiatives were consistent with his conservative principles, but it was really the act of, at best, a nostalgic, and at worst a reactionary. It's true, to paraphrase William F Buckley, that occasionally the job of the conservative is to stand athwart history yelling 'Stop!' But true conservatives never hit reverse. Conservatism is not about undoing change but  about accommodating inevitable change within a stable and familiar social order. In that sense, Australia's evolving relationship with Britain is a case-study of conservatism done right: there was no revolution, and there has been no breach. Instead the connection with Britain has loosened gradually, organically, in line with the temper of society. Abbott's attempt to reverse that tide questions the wisdom not only of Australians today but of at least the last four generations (I'm counting from World War II, when Australia switched its primary foreign policy allegiance from the UK to the US). In short, it was a highly un-conservative act.

Still, for all the damage this does to Prime Minister Abbott at home, I'm not convinced by the idea advanced by Nick Bryant yesterday that this debacle damages Australia's reputation overseas, particularly in Asia.

For one thing, Nick doesn't really offer evidence for this judgment (although Crikey has a nice collection of overseas media stories one could point to). Secondly, it neglects the fact that many of these Asian societies are much more culturally conservative than Australia. Some of them are themselves monarchies (Japan, Thailand, Brunei, Malaysia [sort of]), and most are more socially hierarchical, less individualist and more reverent towards institutions than is liberal Australia. I doubt it would shock them to see an honour conferred on a social elder, even if he is a foreigner.

But those are really secondary points. As an overseas media story, it's a one-day wonder, a curiosity. I suspect that what's really going on here is a case of projection: republicans who would like to see Australia sever its bonds with the monarchy are projecting their own views onto the governments and people of Asia.

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Here's a test: would we hear the same level of concern for Australia's overseas reputation if some other issue was at stake?

Take marriage equality, for example. I happen to be strongly in favour of gay marriage, and it looks like I'm in the majority in Australia. It seems inevitable that the country will over time move towards marriage equality. Yet in socially and religiously conservative Southeast Asia, we can expect a decision like that to be quite unpopular. If gay couples in Asia began to travel to Australia to get married, it might even cause some tensions in regional relations.

Should we expect critics of Australia's constitutional monarchy to display the same level of concern for our international reputation in that event as they are showing at present? It seems unlikely. The same point could be made about the death penalty, which is in the news at the moment. I'm not hearing many people worry that our opposition to the death penalty is damaging our relations with Indonesia, and nor should there be. We are right to protest this barbarism.

So no, Tony Abbott's 'knightmare' is not a story about Australia's reputation abroad. But, as both Nick and James Curran have argued on The Interpreter, our constitutional arrangements and our attitude to the monarchy do say something about how the nation faces the world. Australia's gradual and halting move toward establishing a republic will, when it happens, reinforce the sense that Australia has evolved into a nation not just in Asia but of Asia.

Nick Bryant cites Tony Abbott's Anglosphere speech as evidence of the Prime Minister's reluctance to grasp this future, but that's a one-dimensional reading. I really can't add much to what I have said before on this topic, which is that Abbott's alleged sense of Western 'superiority' needs to be balanced with other comments he has made about non-Western cultures, and also that Abbott's 'Anglosphere' exists mainly in the realm of ideas — it is a liberal-conservative worldview or, if you like, a personal philosophy. As a cursory glance at the Abbott Government's record will attest, the 'Anglosphere' does not describe this government's foreign policy.

Photo courtesy of @TonyAbbottMHR.


This one is nominated for a best foreign-language Oscar. Gorgeous trailer: 


Not far from Timbuktu, now ruled by the religious fundamentalists, Kidane lives peacefully in the dunes with his wife Satima, his daughter Toya, and Issan, their twelve-year-old shepherd. In town, the people suffer, powerless, from the regime of terror imposed by the Jihadists determined to control their faith. Music, laughter, cigarettes, even soccer have been banned. The women have become shadows but resist with dignity. Every day, the new improvised courts issue tragic and absurd sentences. Kidane and his family are being spared the chaos that prevails in Timbuktu. But their destiny changes when Kidane accidentally kills Amadou, the fisherman who slaughtered “GPS,” his beloved cow. He now has to face the new laws of the foreign occupants. 

(H/t Slashfilm.)


Via The Browser, I find this excellent short essay on US China policy from former US diplomat and Assistant Defense Secretary Chas Freeman. This is powerful, persuasive stuff:

So far, Chinese have been considerably more deferential to international law and opinion than we Americans were at a similar stage of national development.

Around 1875, the United States passed the U.K. to became the world’s biggest economy. Soon thereafter, we pressed the ethnic cleansing of our country to a conclusion, engineered regime change in Hawaii and annexed the place, seized the Philippines and Puerto Rico from the Spanish Empire, forced Cuba to grant us Guantánamo in perpetuity, detached Panama from Colombia, and launched repeated military interventions in Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. To date, by contrast, China has leveraged the upsurge in its power to step up its contributions to U.N. peacekeeping and to use its coast guard, construction companies, and other nonlethal means to buttress century-old claims to islands, rocks, and reefs in its near seas against more recent counterclaims by neighbors.

It says more about us than about China that we have chosen to treat its rise almost entirely as a military challenge and that we have made countering Chinese power and perpetuating our quasi-imperial, post-1945 dominance of the Western Pacific the organizing principles of our Asia policy. China’s capacity to defend its periphery is indeed growing apace with its economy. The military balance off the China coast is therefore inevitably shifting against us. This is certainly a threat to our long-established dominance of China’s periphery. It promises to deprive us of the ability to attack the Chinese homeland from there at will, as Air-Sea Battle envisages. But greater security from foreign attack for China does not imply a greater risk of Chinese or other foreign attack on the United States.

Even more important, the notion that Americans can indefinitely sustain military supremacy along the frontiers of a steadily modernizing and strengthening China is a bad bet no sober analyst would accept. Extrapolating policy from that bet, as we do in the so-called “pivot to Asia,” just invites China to call or raise it. We would be wiser and on safer ground, I think, to study how Britain finessed the challenge of America’s emergence as a counter to its global hegemony. It viewed us with realistic apprehension but accepted, accommodated, and co-opted us.

Read the whole thing.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Thanks for checking in with us, but today is Australia Day, a public holiday around the country. Check out the Weekend Catch-up for links to all the best posts from last week, and see you tomorrow.

Photo by Flickr user Loulse.


President Obama set the theme for this year's State of the Union address early: 'the shadow of crisis has passed', he declared, and throughout the speech he returned repeatedly to the idea that America is a 'strong, tight knit family' that has 'made it through some tough times.'

So although this wasn't much of a foreign policy speech, that renewal theme was no doubt intended to send a message to a global audience: the declinists were wrong; America has recovered and is roaring back, determined to maintain global leadership.

How will it exercise that leadership? There wasn't much of a unifying theme other than a clear enunciation of Obama's Don't Do Stupid Stuff doctrine. Although Obama's predecessor wasn't mentioned by name, Bush's shadow clearly lingers: the President talked in his introduction of America having approached the world 'fearful and reactive, dragged into costly conflicts that strain our military and set back our standing'. Obama mentioned his reluctance to 'getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East'. And there was this (emphasis mine):

My first duty as Commander-in-Chief is to defend the United States of America. In doing so, the question is not whether America leads in the world, but how. When we make rash decisions, reacting to the headlines instead of using our heads; when the first response to a challenge is to send in our military — then we risk getting drawn into unnecessary conflicts, and neglect the broader strategy we need for a safer, more prosperous world. That’s what our enemies want us to do.

In the following paragraph he tried to reinforce the point, but was let down by what looks like some really poor speech drafting (my emphasis):

I believe in a smarter kind of American leadership. We lead best when we combine military power with strong diplomacy; when we leverage our power with coalition building; when we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents. That’s exactly what we’re doing right now — and around the globe, it is making a difference.

You see the point he's trying to make, but it sounds like he's saying that letting fear blind America to opportunities is 'exactly what we're doing right now'.

Speaking of unintended messages, what about this line: 'If you want somebody who’s going to get the job done, hire a veteran.' I wonder if John McCain smiled when he heard that. It would have made a decent campaign slogan in 2008...

Asianists would probably have been disappointed with the speech; the region was mentioned only in passing and mainly to provide a segue to a long section on climate change. There was no mention of the pivot. Asia specialists who are perpetually let down by the lack of presidential attention on their pet issue should read this piece by Robert Kelly. The region just doesn't have as much foreign policy resonance in Washington as terrorism, Iran and Russia.

But despite the lack of Asia focus, Obama did use the issue of free trade to take a sharp geopolitical jab at Beijing: 

China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. That would put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage. Why would we let that happen? We should write those rules. We should level the playing field.

I don't think he was just talking about Trade Promotion Authority.

Back to climate change: Obama landed some nice rhetorical blows ('I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate') and made a loud public declaration that the US would take the lead in 2015:

I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action. In Beijing, we made an historic announcement — the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions. And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got.

Watch out, Paris. Obama is coming.

Speaking of rhetorical blows, you've got to hand it to Obama for his relaxed and folksy demeanour. No matter what the polls say, the guy remains confident and supremely self-assured. There was the little aside to Republicans who did not clap Obama's list of economic achievements ('this is good news, people'), and there was his devastating ad lib after Republicans applauded his statement that he would have no more campaigns to run: 'I know because I won both of them', then a sly wink.

I'm told Republicans regard Obama's growing informality in his successive State of the Union speeches as unbecoming because it gives the speech a campaign flavour. From an Australian perspective, I would say it gives his remarks a parliamentary tone. It's quite common here for parliamentary speakers to engage with their own side and tease the opposition. The public hates it but good parliamentarians and effective leaders know it is a crucial tool for building morale among your own MPs and undermining the opposition. Maybe Obama sees that too.


The South China Morning Post has published a terrific series on the remarkable story of a near-derelict unfinished Soviet aircraft carrier which was rebuilt by China to become its first carrier, the Liaoning.

Most incredible is the revelation that the ship, which is now the centrepiece of the Chinese fleet, was originally purchased by Chinese businessman Xu Zengping at the private urging of PLA Navy officers but with no official backing from the Government: 

Xu said that when naval officials approached him (in the mid-1990s) to buy the carrier on China's behalf, they also warned him of two major impediments: the navy was severely underfunded and there was no support in Beijing for the carrier project. If Xu took on the job, he would be taking a gamble on government policy.

"I was chosen to do the deal. I realised it was a mission impossible because buying something like a carrier should be a national commitment, not one by a company or an individual," Xu said. "But my passion pushed me to take on the mission because it was a now-or-never chance for China to buy a new carrier from a nearly insolvent state-owned Ukrainian shipbuilder."

So in sum, a group of freelancing  military officers effectively made policy without approval from the central government, and the nationalism and entrepreneurship of a Chinese businessman eventually pushed Beijing into a more militarily assertive posture. Students of Chinese governance may recognise some of these themes.

The policy implications of this anecdote are alarming, but as a yarn, the South China Morning Post's story just gets better:

The deal-making was not for the faint-hearted. Apart from the stacks of US dollars he handed over to the shipyard's management, Xu plied the Ukrainian sellers with fiery, 62-per-cent-proof Chinese liquor called erguotou.

"I felt that I was soaking in liquor back then when I was negotiating with the management of the carrier builder," Xu said. "At every meal I needed to drink two to three litres of erguotou. In the critical four days, I brought them more than 50 bottles. But I still felt I had the energy to do it and was always able to keep a sober mind because my drinking was goal-directed; the Ukrainians were drinking to get drunk."

It all paid off. After several alcohol-drenched days, the shipbuilder and government agreed to sell Xu the carrier - and the ship's all-important blueprints - for the bargain-basement price of US$20 million. They shook hands and arrangements were made to transfer the money.

But what had seemed like a done deal wasn't. In mid-February, Ukrainian officials told him the carrier would be sold through an open auction. Other countries were interested in the ship and he had just three days to put in his bid. The sudden change in the negotiations worked to Xu's advantage - with the help of his Ukrainian friends, he was the only bidder to get his documents ready on time and meet all the key requirements. On March 19, 1998, Xu outbid opponents from the US, Australia, South Korea and Japan and won the ship.

Excuse me, but does that say there were bidders on the aircraft carrier from Australia? Scrap-metal dealers, presumably, though I would love to know more. You can read the three-part series here (though you will need a free registration with SCMP first): part 1; part 2; part 3.


The AFR's John Kerin yesterday had the inside mail on the upcoming Defence White Paper, and his headline judgment is this:

Notwithstanding having to mention the current anxiety about resolving maritime disputes in the South and East China Seas, this is a document that will view China as more friend than foe. But it is a paper that will also emphasise safety in numbers and the need to expand relationships with regional powers such as India and Indonesia as insurance against China's rising power.

According to Kerin, the White Paper will offer a twist on the old John Howard formula that Australia does not have to choose between the US and China:

Essentially, Howard said Australia could balance its economic relationship with China and its security guarantor the US, and did not have to make a choice. In fact Abbott will go further: suggesting Australia should strengthen security ties with China too...

As Hugh White has said, that formula works so long as Washington and Beijing are getting along. But what if they aren't? It goes without saying that international cooperation, particularly with great powers who may not share your interests and values, is an important way to ameliorate the struggles and tensions of the anarchical international system. But international cooperation can't make those struggles and tensions go away. In the present case, no amount of cooperation can overcome the fact that China is a growing power which would like to see its own regional influence increase at the expense of the US, our major ally. US and Chinese interests are incompatible, which means they are likely to clash. Everything hangs on how they manage such disagreements.

So I really do wonder if anyone in the Government is actually convinced by this formula, particularly since we have just come through two years of Chinese foreign-policy assertiveness marked by the ADIZ announcement, the Vietnam oil rig incident, island-building in the South China Sea and other incidents, all of which has been counter-balanced by the Obama Administration's pivot. In fact, I strongly suspect neither side of politics really believes that the geopolitical implications of China's rise can simply be set aside if we just get close enough to Beijing. The ABC's Chris Uhlmann, who observes Canberra's politicians as closely as anybody, told me last September that the strategic implications of China's rise was a cause for private worry on both sides of politics.

Granted, as the first quote indicates, the White Paper will also recognise the need for a 'hedge' against China's rising power, but it is telling that this is reported to come in the form of expanded relationships with regional powers rather than by spending more on defence. This Government promised to return defence spending to 2% of GDP by 2023. Is it looking for ways to back out of that commitment?


The Economist has a special feature on energy this week, and it is resolutely optimistic about renewables:

Measuring progress is tricky: the cost of electricity from new solar systems can vary from $90 to $300 per megawatt hour (MWh). But it is clearly plummeting. In Japan the cost of power produced by residential photovoltaic systems fell by 21% in 2013. As a study for the United Nations Environment Programme notes, a record 39GW of solar photovoltaic capacity was constructed in 2013 at a lesser cost than the 2012 total of 31GW. In the European Union (EU), renewables, despite a 44% fall in investment, made up the largest portion (72%) of new electric generating capacity for the sixth year running.

The clearest sign of health in the renewables market is smoke-clogged China, which in 2013 invested over $56 billion, more than all of Europe, as part of a hurried shift towards clean energy. China’s investment included 16GW of wind power and 13GW of solar. The renewable-power capacity China installed in that year was bigger than its new fossil-fuel and nuclear capacity put together.

And note this:

The IEA (International Energy Agency) expects the cost of solar panels to halve in the next 20 years. By 2050, it predicts, solar will provide 16% of the world’s electric power, well up from the 11% it forecast in 2010.

So it is now remarkably cheap to generate renewable energy, but what about storing it? That relies on building better, and cheaper, batteries, and here The Economist's optimism is less well grounded in statistics. Instead it points to government subsidies (which can be and often are withdrawn at short notice) and promises by entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk to cut the cost of storing energy in batteries from US$250 per kWh to US$100.

All of this is of course excellent news for our warming planet, but the implications of a world in which 'solar power will become so cheap that energy will no longer be seen as scarce' are more far-reaching even than that. What would a world of cheap, clean and limitless energy mean for our economies and societies?

Photo by Flickr user Oregon Department of Transportation.


The Fairfax papers have splashed big this morning on the latest tranche of Snowden leaks released by Der Spiegel. Specifically, Fairfax reports that China has engaged in industrial-scale cyber-espionage in order to learn the secrets of Australia's next front-line fighter aircraft, the US-built F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

I say 'news', but as the article notes, Chinese spying on the F-35 program has been known about for some years. What's interesting from the NSA Powerpoint slides released by Spiegel is the sheer scale of the operation (China gathered data 'equivalent [to] five Libraries of Congress') and the focus of China's efforts: radar design and engine technology. China is thought to be well behind Western technology in both those fields.

But there's one line in the NSA slides that the Fairfax report does not comment on, which is the reference to China spying on the air refueling schedules for US Pacific Command.

There are various reasons why this might interest China. One is that such schedules may give China clues about when it can expect to face American combat aircraft patrols or exercise in its region. Another is that it could influence how China operates its own aerial refueling fleet in future (its current aerial tanker capability is modest, at best). A third possibility is that China recognises the strategic value of America's tanker fleet, and sees it as a target in any future conflict.

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Although aerial refueling is not the most glamorous aspect of air warfare, a Brookings Institution report from last October emphasises how central it is to America's ability to project power over long distances: 

...fuel logistics are a strategic criticality, effectively making the aerial refueling tanker force a strategic asset and potentially a strategic vulnerability.

China understands this vulnerability too. Beijing's adoption of an A2/AD strategy (anti-access/area-denial) is well documented. Simply defined, the strategy is designed to deter and delay US intervention in regional conflicts (for instance, over Taiwan or disputed territory in the South China Sea) by making it too dangerous for the US armed forces to operate around those areas. In particular, China has focused on building up its anti-ship capabilities, which would make it difficult for the US Navy to operate surface ships within range of any conflict.

The US would need to rely heavily on its stealthy combat aircraft to overcome such a strategy, but these aircraft need support from aerial refueling tankers if they are to have the range and staying power to really influence a conflict. That's especially true for the US Navy, which would have to operate its aircraft carriers from greater distances to avoid China's battery of anti-ship missiles.

But its also true of the refueling tankers themselves, which in years to come will face the threat of China's new stealth fighter, the J-20, a large fighter with the sort of range that will make it a direct threat to America's aerial fuel trucks. No wonder the Brookings study concludes that the US must 'plan for the defense of tanker aircraft in the same manner as other high value airborne assets.'

Photo by Flickr user US Air Force.


Joshua Kurlantzick from the Council on Foreign Relations looks at the year ahead and predicts that Thailand's military rulers will delay elections, Jokowi will face internal and external opposition to his new maritime doctrine, Aung San Suu Kyi will not become president of Myanmar, and Thai economic growth will fall.

And he drops this bombshell:

In the cutthroat world of Australian politics, where prime ministers can be dumped a few weeks before an election, expect other leading Liberals to try to oust Abbott in an internal party vote in 2015.

Good luck with that prediction, Joshua!

(Thanks Michael.)


Although it's a few weeks old now, it is definitely worth drawing your attention to this John Garnaut column, especially since it appeared in the media dead-zone between Christmas and New Year. The piece features quotes from former Lowy Institute Executive Director Allan Gyngell, who reviews the Abbott Government's foreign policy performance in 2014, a year punctuated by two Malaysian Airlines downings and the advance of ISIS in Iraq, this way:

"In all of our lives it's easier to process the stuff in the in-tray than think about longer-term strategic aims," says Allan Gyngell, who was Australia's top intelligence analyst until last year, when he stepped down as director-general of the Office of National Assessments. "I think there's been a bit of that...There's been an awful lot of meetings, it's been essentially reactive, and it means that the government's most precious commodity - the Prime Minister's time - has been spent in lengthy meetings reviewing responses to events to which the policy dimensions are not especially complex."

I'm sure those who worked on the diplomacy surrounding the MH17 disaster would quibble with the claim that the policy dimensions were 'not especially complex', but I think Gyngell is basically right. The MH17 shootdown was a humanitarian tragedy and a consular crisis, but it did not pose fundamental foreign policy questions for Australia or impose long-term costs to our national interests.

As Garnaut goes on to argue, this focus on the 'in-tray' has pushed aside larger strategic questions such as the rise of China, instability in the Pacific and Australia's place in Asia, all of which are being 'dangerously neglected'.

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Perhaps all of this is to be expected, given the Prime Minister's inexperience with foreign affairs and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's strengths. During the 2013 election, we ran a profile of the then Shadow Foreign Minister by the Perth-based security analyst Andrew Pickford, who made this judgment:

Bishop's time in the legal profession has given her an ability to forensically study a brief and an excellent memory for essential facts. This will probably translate into a stable and linear approach to foreign policy. Among those who have spoken about Bishop's skill-set, it was commonly claimed that she is capable of getting a brief, but will be unlikely initiate radical change. In other words, Bishop will be best arguing a position as opposed to crafting or developing new policies.

It's also worth noting one aside in Garnaut's piece: 'What does the Australian government think about Chinese government control or influence over Chinese-language-community media in Australia?' This is an issue we highlighted on The Interpreter last year and which got some subsequent media attention. But as far as I am aware, the Government has not uttered a word on this topic.

Photo by Flickr user Richard Blakemore.


Yesterday I had a brief chat with Monash University terrorism specialist Andrew Zammit. For anyone interested in this topic, Andrew's blog is a must-read, and he is regularly sought out for comment and analysis by our major newspapers.

As you will hear, I talked to Andrew about ISIS and al Qaeda involvement in the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket attacks in Paris; Andrew stresses that the two groups are not collaborating. I also ask Andrew about the claim that ISIS tends to be more focused on the Middle East while al Qaeda has stronger ambitions to attack the West (see Ahmed Rashid's latest essay for a deeper treatment of this issue) and the broader problem of fighters returning from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Andrew says that experience from Afghanistan suggests returning fighters are a long-term threat.


The Obama Administration has taken some heat for sending a mere ambassador to last weekend's march in Paris in solidarity with the victims of the  Charlie Hebdo massacre, and commendably, it has fessed up to the error.

The whole episode prompted security analyst Dhruva Jaishankar to wonder why the same standard is not being applied to the world's other superpower:

It's true that this little vignette illustrates something about the vast difference between US and Chinese standing in world affairs. China is focused overwhelmingly on itself and its region, and rarely takes a leading role. Unlike the US, nobody looks to China for global leadership.

But an otherwise unrelated piece of writing got me thinking about this topic in a different way. Here's The Atlantic's David Frum reviewing a new book about World War I by Adam Tooze. Frum argues that President Woodrow Wilson was the first US statesman to see, in the aftermath of the Great War, that the US had grown into a world power that could suppress Europe's rivalries. But his opponents and successors did not share that vision. So what went wrong in the post-war settlement that it led directly to the still greater carnage of World War II?:

“When all is said and done,” Tooze writes, “the answer must be sought in the failure of the United States to cooperate with the efforts of the French, British, Germans and the Japanese [leaders of the early 1920s] to stabilize a viable world economy and to establish new institutions of collective security. … Given the violence they had already experienced and the risk of even greater future devastation, France, Germany, Japan, and Britain could all see this. But what was no less obvious was that only the US could anchor such a new order.” And that was what Americans of the 1920s and 1930s declined to do—because doing so implied too much change at home for them: “At the hub of the rapidly evolving, American-centered world system there was a polity wedded to a conservative vision of its own future.”

We shouldn't stretch the parallels too far. The extremist violence witnessed in France and other parts of the world is nothing like World War I and China's place in the world today is not equivalent to America's in 1918. But there is something familiar about that description of an emerging world power reluctant to really grasp leadership. Eventually of course, America did do so, and the same may be true of China in several decades' time. As Jaishankar implies in his tweet, it seems faintly ridiculous at this point in history to wonder about China's position on a domestic crisis in France. But these things change.