Lowy Institute

In the New York Review of Books, Orville Schell describes a disturbing trend towards tighter suppression of opinion by Chinese authorities, who are not stopping at the border:

...what has been perhaps most unexpected about this trend is the way that Beijing has begun to extend its claim to control people and organizations beyond its borders. Despite its stubborn defense of the sanctity of sovereignty, its agents have begun reaching overseas to manipulate the foreign dialogue by setting up hundreds of Confucius Institutes, newspapers, magazines, and even TV networks that answer to the Central Propaganda Department and the CCP.

 Chinese state influence over foreign media outlets is an under-appreciated topic, one we've tried to shed light on at The Interpreter. Here's Vaughan Winterbottom writing in July 2014:

A geographic sampling of overseas Chinese media outlets to have been either acquired in full or financially supported by mainland media over the past decade includes the UK's Propeller TV, Thailand's Singsian Daily, Arab Asia Business TV, Italy's Europe Times and France's own Europe Times, content from which is circulated in Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Greece and Portugal.

And more recently, Eva O'Dea wrote in January:

Most Australians pay little attention to Chinese language media in Australia. Therefore, they do not recognise the extent to which coverage of issues relating to China differs from that in the mainstream Australian media.

The Australian Government allows the content of the Chinese language media in Australia to be heavily influenced and increasingly controlled by agencies of the People's Republic of China (PRC). In turn this enables a foreign government to shape the outlook of Chinese language media consumers in Australia on global issues and, particularly, those relating to the PRC...

...The net effect of this increasing control by the PRC over Australia's Chinese language media is that Chinese speakers in Australia — be they Australian citizens or temporary residents such as students — hear few competing perspectives. As I have pointed out in The Sydney Morning Herald, the PRC's influence over Chinese students has additional significance given many students have little engagement with broader Australian society. 

The PRC itself would never contemplate allowing this level of influence in its own media. Australia's Chinese language media needs greater attention from the Australian Government and regulators.

Do read Orville Schell's piece for more on China's crackdown.

Photo by Flickr user James Yeo.

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US presidential race 2016

The US president is seemingly everywhere as a fictional character these days, but let's bring together some more recent developments in the sub-genre. First, a trailer for Bryan Cranston's depiction of LBJ in All The Way:

The latest season of House of Cards started screening on Netflix this month:

And here's a NSFW trailer for the new season of Veep (although the central character is no longer vice-president but president): 

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Speaking of veeps, it's also worth mentioning the soon-to-be-released superhero blockbuster, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Here's a clip from the film in which Batman/Bruce Wayne, played by Ben Affleck, justifies his rage against Superman with a near-word-perfect quotation of Dick Cheney's 'One percent doctrine'. I might add, it's not the first time the Batman character has flirted with neo-conservatism:  

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The mood was pretty sombre at last night's annual Lowy Lecture delivered by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, with events in Brussels on everyone's mind. The presence of Belgium's ambassador to Australia, Jean-Luc Bodson, was acknowledged with a warm round of applause, and the Prime Minister seemed to sum up the feelings of the audience when he promised Belgium Australia's 'love and solidarity'.

Inevitably, then, the PM's speech began on the issue of terrorism, and he continued his reasonably tough rhetoric from earlier in the day with regard to Europe's security failings, saying that 'violent Islamist extremism appears to have reached a crisis point in Europe'. Turnbull also made the rather bold claim that ISIS's terrorist capabilities would be 'eliminated' when it is defeated in Syria and Iraq ('ISIL’s ability to inspire, let alone direct, terrorism around the world will be largely eliminated if its so called caliphate is decisively defeated in the field.')

In response to terrorist incidents, Turnbull now regularly reassures Australians that our surveillance and border controls put us in a stronger position against the terrorist threat than many other countries. 'We have confidence that we know who is coming' into the country, Turnbull said, which does rather imply that the threat is from terrorists arriving from outside Australia, rather than those radicalised at home.

Turnbull's emphasis on resilience as an important facet of our response to terrorism is welcome and overdue. He praised President Jokowi for returning Jakarta's streets to normal within hours of its recent terrorist atrocity. This reflects a view that terrorism experts have been putting for years but which has only recently entered the rhetoric of leaders like Turnbull and Obama, and it sends an important message: though we cannot prevent every attack, through our actions to quickly restore normalcy after a strike, terrorists will know that we will endure and overcome, and that their actions cannot do sustained harm to our societies and economies.

Turnbull soon turned to Asia, where his tone was mostly optimistic. He admitted that the blush had gone off China's boom, but said that the rest of Asia, including India and Southeast Asia, was just getting started. That set Turnbull off on a longer reflection on the special place of India in the region, which got me wondering if his speechwriters had read Melissa Conley-Tyler's post of last week, which pointed out that India had been somewhat overlooked in the PM's rhetoric thus far. Turnbull also spoke at length about Indonesia, saying that strengthening Jakarta relations was a personal foreign policy priority of his. He spoke warmly of his relationship with Jokowi, and I'm sure Indonesia watchers wondered if Turnbull was placing too much hope on an imperfect vessel.

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The Prime Minister also looked at the geopolitical dangers of the Asian century, and in a speech that contained few surprises, here he said something that piqued my interest. Speaking of the US-led order that had helped maintain stability and drive economic growth, Turnbull admitted that the shift of economic power to countries such as China was a challenge to that order. A bit later on, Turnbull seemed to go further than merely acknowledging the rise of China when he said Australia had 'embraced the multipolar reality', a sentiment he said was embedded in the recent Defence White Paper.

At face value that is rather startling, because it suggests that Australia is ready to accept China as one pole in a regional system with several great powers (the others presumably being the US, India, Russia and perhaps Japan), all of them of roughly equal standing, which maintain peace and stability in the region through a balance of power. Yet to my mind it is far from clear that the White Paper really does say that. In fact, as others have pointed out, the repeated references to the 'rules-based order' suggest the opposite conclusion. Far from accepting a multipolar order, it implies that Australia is dedicated to defending the existing US-led order.

This continues to be a point of ambiguity and tension in Australian foreign policy, one that is apparent in the speeches of several recent prime ministers and no doubt a few more in future.

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This, from pilot and respected American aviation blogger Patrick Smith, is both sensible and inspirational:

There’s talk from supposed security experts asking if perhaps terminals need to be closed off to everybody except ticketed passengers and employees, with security checkpoints moved literally onto the sidewalk...As, if by moving the fences, they can’t get us. The only thing moving security curbside would actually do, of course, is shift the perimeter — and the busy choke point of passengers — to a new location. This means nothing to an attacker, whose so-called “soft target” has simply been relocated from one spot to another, no less convenient one. But it would mean immense amounts of hassle for everybody else.

Thus, it’s precisely the wrong line of thinking. It’s reactionary in the purest sense, and it plays directly into the terrorist’s strategy — a strategy that encourages a response that is based on fear instead of reason, and that is ultimately self-defeating.

The reality is, we can never make our airports, or any other crowded places, impervious to attack. And while maybe you wouldn’t mind living in a society in which every terminal, shopping mall, sports venue and subway station has been militarized and strung with surveillance equipment, count me among those who would.

Me too.

Remember that bikie-gang brawl at Sydney airport in 2009? There were Chicken Littles at the time who warned that it could have been a terrorist attack, and that we would have been powerless to stop it. But as I pointed out then, terrorists have an almost endless list of crowded, high-profile targets to choose from. Granted, terrorists seem to disproportionately target aviation, but that's hardly an exclusive thing. As the Brussels, Madrid and London attacks amply demonstrate, other forms of mass transport are on the target list too, as are all sorts of other iconic buildings and venues.

The proper response here is not to amplify the threat through our rhetoric and our security measures, but to adopt a low-key stoicism that says we won't be cowed into eroding our own freedoms. And in our security measures at airports and other important venues, let's focus a little less on security theatre and strike a balance between prevention and resilience. We cannot protect every target and prevent every attack, but we can make sure that, if an attack does happen, we show the terrorists through words and actions that we will bounce back.

Prime Minister Turnbull's National Security Statement in November 2015 suggested he is broadly sympathetic to this approach. No doubt he will address the terrorist threat again in his Lowy Lecture tonight; we will see if he maintains that tone.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user danjo paluska

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Last week while I was in Japan I shared a few thoughts about what I heard locally regarding the submarine project ('What the Submarine Contract Means to Japan'). This contract obviously means a great deal to the Japanese Government, and that judgment goes well beyond its economic value. As I said last week, the Japanese side sees this as an opportunity to strengthen ties with a major US ally in an era in which its interests are being threatened by a rising China.

This strategic subtext to the submarine deal was underlined again yesterday when Germany's ambassador to Australia said in a speech that choosing the German design would allow Australia to avoid inflaming tensions with Beijing, which would be the natural outcome if Canberra chose the Japanese design.

As I said last week, the Japanese defence and foreign policy officials I spoke with did not seem to see this strategic dimension as a weakness in their bid, but as a strength. They think Australia shares Japan's anxieties about China (and judging by the Defence White Paper, they are right), and they are betting that Canberra will be prepared to wear some blowback from Beijing in exchange for getting its submarines from Japan, and along with it a much closer, even ally-like, relationship.

Australian observers will be aware that Professor Hugh White has been among the most prominent voices warning against the Japan option, arguing that 'Tokyo expects that in return for its help to build our submarines, it would receive not just many of billions of dollars, but clear understandings that Australia will support Japan politically, strategically and even militarily against China.' White says Australia would be foolish to make such commitments because we are unlikely to honour them, for good national-interest reasons.

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White's take on the submarines is tied to a much broader argument about the future strategic order in Asia. He says that a US-led alliance to contain China's rise is not likely to work and that the region needs to create some strategic space for Beijing. Instead of the major powers combining to resist China's rise, all the big Asian states ought to come together as independent powers (Japan included) in a 19th century Europe-style concert of powers, to manage their relations and avoid war among them. It's important to emphasise that, in this schema, Japan would be a much more 'normal' great power, with larger defence forces and more independence from the US. In fact, on The Interpreter Hugh White has argued that Japan may need an independent nuclear deterrent.

So, to be clear, White does not make an argument for pre-emptively caving in to China's demands for more say in the regional order*, but he also argues strongly against the idea of openly resisting China's rise by forming a closer countervailing alliance. White offers a third option.

Why do I explain all this? Because I was told in Tokyo that there is no such 'third option' in the Japanese security debate. Yes, Japan has its old-school multilateralists, generally found on the left and loyal to Japan's post-war peace principles, who would like to strengthen regional institutions, increase cooperation and institute confidence-building measures as ways to defuse tensions between the major powers. Then there is the school which wants to make Japan more muscular, more activist and more assertive on the regional stage. But they don't want to make Japan more independent. In fact, as illustrated by Japan's thinking on the submarine deal, this school is intent on embedding itself more closely with friendly states, most importantly the US but also Australia, India, the Philippines and others. According to my interlocutors, there is no prominent advocacy in Japan for a stronger and more independent national security posture.

That may be because, for reasons laid out by CSIS's Brad Glosserman on this site in 2014, that third option is simply not realistic for Japan:

My study of Japan after the triple disaster of 11 March 2011 reveals a country fatigued by such ambitions. Japanese are tired of competing, and see little reward from the struggle to catch up or keep up. Japanese are comfortable with their place in the world and profoundly sceptical about the changes required for them to re-energise their economy, the essential first step in the process of (re)assuming a higher international profile.

These attitudinal constraints to a renewed and re-vitalised Japan are the most compelling and least understood, but they are only part of the problem Abe and fellow internationalists face. Japan's demographic profile and its growing debt also profoundly constrict Japanese choices. Most acutely, an aging population is unlikely to choose to devote increasingly scarce resources to the military, a prerequisite to the claim of 'great power status.'

* His critics would argue with that summation, but keep in mind, White recommends not only an independent nuclear-armed Japan, but also a substantially beefed up Australian Defence Force.

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There would be few observers of the Pacific Islands region who do not respect and admire the work of the Lowy Institute’s Melanesia Program Director Jenny Hayward-Jones. Actually, she may have a few detractors among those whose noses she has put out of joint with her commentary, but that’s to Jenny’s credit too.

Unfortunately, after eight years at the Lowy Institute, Jenny is moving on. In this interview we talk about her final research paper about Papua New Guinea’s next generation of leaders, released today, and we reflect on the last eight years in the region: what has changed in the Pacific Islands since Jenny joined the Lowy Institute? 

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There is a lot of fascinating reading in Jeffrey Goldberg's cover story for the latest issue of The Atlantic, which is centred on a long interview with President Obama about his foreign policy. After you've finished it, be sure to also read this companion piece by NY Times commentator David Brooks. 

In particular, I think Obama's comments on China are worth noting. The President says 'In terms of traditional great-state relations, I do believe that the relationship between the United States and China is going to be the most critical', which will encourage those who believe the 'pivot' has lost momentum. In fact, according to Goldberg:

For years, the “pivot to Asia” has been a paramount priority of his. America’s economic future lies in Asia, he believes, and the challenge posed by China’s rise requires constant attention. From his earliest days in office, Obama has been focused on rebuilding the sometimes-threadbare ties between the U.S. and its Asian treaty partners...

But there is room to quibble with Goldberg's interpretation that Obama thinks 'the challenge posed by China’s rise requires constant attention'. After all, elsewhere in the article, Obama seems to say that his main concern is not China's rise but its potential failure: 'we have more to fear from a weakened, threatened China than a successful, rising China'. Moreover:

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If China fails; if it is not able to maintain a trajectory that satisfies its population and has to resort to nationalism as an organizing principle; if it feels so overwhelmed that it never takes on the responsibilities of a country its size in maintaining the international order; if it views the world only in terms of regional spheres of influence—then not only do we see the potential for conflict with China, but we will find ourselves having more difficulty dealing with these other challenges that are going to come.

It's possible Obama is eliding his true feelings here. Obama may not actually believe that 'we have more to fear from a weakened, threatened China than a successful, rising China', but he may calculate that it would be impolite to say otherwise. An admission that China's rise, which has lifted so many millions out of poverty and is a boon to US exporters, has a strategic downside would be like saying that it is in America's interest for China to remain poor and therefore weak.

If he does believe it, then perhaps Obama is not the master strategist I took him for. Yes, a flailing, weakened China could lash out and destabilise the region in a desperate resort to aggressive nationalism. But is that really a greater concern to America than a country which challenges long-held US dominance and is potentially seeking to redraw the strategic geography of the Asia Pacific with Beijing at its centre?

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Today, the Lowy Institute is releasing its Global Diplomacy Index, an interactive map that plots and ranks the diplomatic network of all 42 G20 and OECD nations. For the first time, the diplomatic posts of the most significant nations — their embassies, consulates, multilateral missions and other representations — have been put on a world map, displaying and comparing their extent and global reach.

The Index is the result of a major research project led by Alex Oliver over the past year, building on earlier studies in 2009 and 2011, to identify and map the diplomatic networks of the 42 OECD and G20 nations. 

In all, the Index maps around 6000 diplomatic posts in almost 700 cities. It incorporates and summarises data gathered from ministry directories, official reports and secondary sources, combined with direct communications with ministries, their embassies and consulates-general in Australia.

The Index finds that the top five global diplomatic networks are those of the Security Council Permanent Five: the US, France, China, Russia and the UK (just ahead of Brazil). In the Lowy Institute's earlier studies, France ranked ahead of the US, but this year it has dropped into second place. Propelled by booming economic growth in the last decade, China’s network has grown, and it now outranks Russia and the UK.

Some of the Index's other results confirm the surprising scale of investment in diplomatic infrastructure by some smaller, mainly European, nations.

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The diplomatic networks of small nations such as Switzerland, the Netherlands and Greece are more extensive than those of Australia, despite having far smaller economies and populations. Canada has more than twice the population and GDP of the Netherlands, but the two countries have the same sized diplomatic networks. Spain has 40 more diplomatic missions than India, despite an economy two-thirds the size and a fraction of the population. Belgium, a tiny nation that can rely on its membership of NATO and the EU for security as well as diplomatic and economic ballast, has a larger network than Australia, which has no such backing.

The Index also reflects the rise of the BRICS and other emerging powers: as well as China, Brazil, Turkey, India, Korea, Mexico, Argentina and Indonesia are in the top 20 networks. South Africa comes in 23rd.  

The challenges of the 21st century are no doubt producing significant changes in the way nations practice diplomacy. The increasing influence and importance of non-state actors, the transformations in technology and communications, the 24/7 news media phenomenon, and the escalation of terrorism and security threats mean that traditional forms of diplomacy, and the roles of embassies and other diplomatic missions, are changing. Some have gone so far as to suggest that diplomacy is 'dead,' or that there is no longer any useful role played by embassies. Alex puts the question herself in a Foreign Affairs piece today

That's a longstanding debate, and one we should continue to test. But the 5900 or so posts identified in the Index indicate that nations are continuing to make substantial investments in maintaining worldwide diplomatic networks. They are evidence that most of the world's global powers still think their networks of embassies, consulates and other missions play an important role in their nations' diplomacy.

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I'm on a short visit to Japan this week courtesy of Japan's Foreign Ministry, and it will not shock you to hear that submarines have been a prominent topic in my discussions with Foreign Ministry and Defence Ministry officials.

It has been interesting to note that these officials are not at all shy about touting what they see as the strategic benefits of a Japanese submarine design. This has been a point of controversy in Australia, with some analysts arguing that picking the Japanese design would be a political statement that ties Australia more closely to Japan and signals hostility or at least wariness to China. In the briefings I have received here, those closer strategic ties are seen very much as a feature of the Japanese bid, not a bug.

The standard of the briefings I have received has been high. Japanese MoD officials told me they are well aware that, early in the bid process, the Japanese bid was criticised in Australia for its marketing efforts compared to the German and French bidders, who have much more experience selling submarines to foreign customers. The Japanese seem to have learned fast in recent months, though they evidently find the process of dealing with federal and state governments a challenge. They are intensely interested in the domestic political angle to the submarine decision, and I had to disappoint them with my non-committal answers to their questions about election timing.

I would not say that the Japanese are exactly confident of winning this contract against the German and French bids (certainly I've heard nothing like the tone of this recent Japan Times headline), but I do get the impression that the bid means a great deal to the Japanese side, and that the implications for Australia of not choosing the Japanese design are far from trivial.

On one level, this is counter-intuitive. Japan-Australia ties have been on an upward trajectory for a few years now, so why would that not continue even if Australia brought its submarines from someone else? Maybe it will, and sentiment on this point was not universal among my interlocutors in Tokyo. But some officials did tell me that Australia-Japan ties would be set back if the submarine announcement did not go Japan's way.

It was also interesting to hear that Tony Abbott's recent intervention in the submarine debate was read rather differently here. Abbott delivered a speech in Tokyo just a few weeks ago strongly endorsing the Japanese bid, which was read back home by analysts such as the Lowy Institute's Euan Graham as clumsy and counter-productive, in that rather than helping the Japanese it actually called into question the integrity of the bidding process which Abbot himself had put in place. Here in Tokyo, Abbott's remarks were read as simple politeness — he was speaking to a Japanese audience, and he tailored his remarks to suit.

Photo courtesy of Australian Defence Image Library

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International Women's Day is a good opportunity to reiterate a call I put out last year at this time for more female contributors to The Interpreter.

That piece got a lot of reaction, and some terrific pieces came out of it. I hope we can do the same this year, and we're particularly on the look-out for regular contributors, people who will develop a voice and a profile over time in their area of expertise. Writing regularly on this site can help you develop a relationship with an influential readership, and can help you develop your ideas through regular engagement with the public debate and feedback from our readers.

Of course, our standards are high. As I said last year, the perfect Interpreter writer is someone with deep expertise and a journalistic sensibility. So we're looking for women who can write with authority in their area of expertise but who can communicate with a non-expert audience.

As for subject matter, as an Interpreter reader you already know that the site ranges wide — if it has an international dimension, we will consider covering it. So please send your pitches to myself (sroggeveen@lowyinstitute.org) and managing editor Emma Connors (econnors@lowyinstitute.org). We look forward to hearing from you.

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Well, you can't say we couldn't have seen this coming. Early last week former PM Tony Abbott wrote an op-ed for The Australian basically saying that his support of the Turnbull Government's defence white paper, due to be released later that week, was conditional on the Government maintaining the commitment Abbott had made to raise defence spending to 2% of GDP.

Abbott followed this with a trip to Japan, where he delivered a speech in which he strongly backed the Japanese bid for the Australian submarine contract — Euan Graham wrote eloquently on why that move was so incendiary.

Then yesterday came the most astonishing move of all: Abbott contributed quotes to a Greg Sheridan story which also contained extracts from a leaked draft of the Defence White Paper. Abbott pronounced himself flabbergasted that the final White Paper apparently delays the acquisition of new submarines by up to a decade (this has been denied by Turnbull and the Defence Department).

A number of commentators have interpreted this stoush as a proxy war: on Radio National this morning, for instance, journalist Paul Bongiorno said (I'm paraphrasing; the podcast is not up on the site yet) that the best retrospective judgment the electorate could offer on Abbott's short term as prime minister would be for it to throw the Turnbull Government out at the next election. Bongiorno also said Abbott was looking to burnish his legacy in anticipation of the release of a highly critical book about the Abbott Government by journalist Nikki Savva, due for release next week.

But let's not forget that there are real differences in worldview between Abbott and Turnbull at play too, helpfully summarised by Shadow Defence Minister Stephen Conroy in an important Interpreter piece last week

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Mr Turnbull displays a starkly different worldview from Mr Abbott. Mr Turnbull warns of the perils of Australian governments having a 'doe-eyed fascination with the leader of the free world'. He talks of Americans 'developing an inferiority complex', and of the 'risk that a combination of fear, envy and resentment will lead America into treating China as an enemy'.

Mr Turnbull has said that 'China has shown no interest in territorial expansion beyond, at some future date, reuniting Taiwan' and, on the South China Sea, that 'China is hardly alone in claiming islands and rocks far from its shores'. He also states that the 'best and most realistic strategic outcome for East Asia must be one in which the powers are in balance, with each side effectively able to deny the domination of the other'.

That last quote gets to the heart of the matter. What divides Abbott and Turnbull is the idea that American primacy in the Pacific can be maintained indefinitely, and that China's rise to the status of America's strategic equal can be resisted. If Turnbull maintains the view he put in that last quote, then he clearly believes this is not possible. Abbott (and Conroy, it seems — this is an issue that divides parties internally and crosses party lines) believes it is possible. To do it, he wants Australia to tie itself more closely to the US and Japan, and increase defence spending.

The problem with this view is that it doesn't come to terms with the scale of the challenge presented by China and other rapidly growing Asian states. Look at this graph from the 2016 Defence White Paper:

The Defence Department's own analysis is telling us that Chinese defence spending will be roughly equal to that of the US by 2035, and that Indonesian defence spending will match ours by that same year. If these forecasts are accurate, we're facing economic trends which we simply cannot resist; the issue of whether we get our new submarines in ten years' time or fifteen is beside the point. A much more substantial boost in defence spending would be needed to counteract those larger trends, something closer to the historical levels Hugh White talked about in his op-ed in the Fairfax papers on Monday. But defence hawks such as Abbott show no sign of wanting to face this reality.

Photo by Stefan Postles/Getty Images

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The Government is set to finally release its Defence White Paper later this week, with the document having been delayed a few times under former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and then set back several months when he was replaced by Malcolm Turnbull.

Abbott has written an op-ed on the White Paper for The Australian today which will no doubt feed perceptions of him as the Liberal Party’s internal opposition leader.

The theme of the piece is spending: how his government and the Howard Government increased it, and how Labor under Rudd and Gillard messed things up in between by failing to maintain defence spending as a percentage of GDP and not placing orders on major pieces of naval kit. The subtext is clear: this White Paper will determine whether Turnbull’s government follows the path set by Howard and Abbott, or whether it will offer Labor-like defence spending levels.

Abbott is drawing a clear line when he says, near the close of the piece, that ‘Almost certainly, the defence white paper will reiterate the Abbott government’s commitment to lift defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP’.

Pay careful attention to that ‘Almost certainly’. The 2% figure became a mantra for Abbott when he was PM, but rumours have circulated in Canberra for some months now that under Turnbull, it was no longer inviolable. Abbott is signalling that this, along with big decisions on naval shipbuilding, will be the measure by which he and his supporters judge the new White Paper.

Image courtesy of Australian Defence Image Library

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I don't mean to downplay Fox News' exclusive that China has deployed advanced HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles to Woody Island in the South China Sea. It is another escalatory move by Beijing and does raise the stakes in the increasingly tense game being played around various disputed territories in the region.

But to add a bit of context, this is not the first time China has deployed advanced military equipment to Woody Island — last November it was J-11 fighter jets. So as Mira Rapp-Hooper from the Center for a New American Security says, this deployment is not totally unprecedented.

It's also worth noting that the satellite imagery which Fox News has published shows that the vehicles which make up the two HQ-9 batteries are parked on a beach rather than in any purpose-built facility. The HQ-9 is a mobile system; its missiles, radars and command systems are all mounted on heavy vehicles which allow them to not only deploy away from bases but also off-road. But these batteries do have home bases where the missiles, radars and other systems are maintained, and where the crews are housed. The Chinese also build permanent launch sites for their HQ-9s, large concrete structures which are easy to spot on satellite.

As far as I am aware, there are no indications that such permanent launch sites have been built on Woody Island. We would know it if they did. Perhaps slightly harder to identify from satellite imagery would be the maintenance buildings, which would look more generic from above. We do know that China has long had ambitions to expand its military presence on Woody Island, so it's possible such facilities exist.

The need for such facilities would likely be particularly acute given the local environment. When J-11 fighters deployed to Woody Island in November, experts noted that corrosion from sea air would be a major problem for these aircraft if they stayed for long on the tiny outpost. We could surmise that the same is true for the HQ-9.

The facts are far from clear, but for now it seems possible that this is a temporary deployment similar to the J-11 show of force from last November, and not a permanent basing measure.

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US presidential race 2016

I confess I didn't sit through the whole 20 minutes of this film, all filmed with shaky phone cameras, though nicely edited. But I did find parts of it revealing:

You sense from his supporters that Trump's campaign is almost pure emotion. Most of those interviewed in this film cite not a single policy issue among their reasons for supporting Trump. They talk about saving the country, taking the country back ('from whom?', I wanted to ask), bringing America back together and restoring respect. Other than building a wall between the US and Mexico, they don't mention any specific things they want to see achieved. Nor do they cite self-interest. Most of these middle-income voters have gone backwards in recent years, yet they are evidently not motivated by the hip-pocket.

Clearly, Trump rallies don't attract a lot of people who are still making up their minds; everyone has strongly held beliefs. Not too surprising, I suppose, but can you picture a scene of equal fervour in Australia? It's hard to imagine Australians being this politically motivated. Then again, maybe we just haven't been pushed as hard as Americans have.

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For those interested in the themes raised by Michael Fullilove in his Boyer Lectures on A Larger Australia last year, I would recommend George Megalogenis' latest book, Australia's Second Chance, which makes the case that the periods of greatest Australian prosperity are linked directly to high immigration levels, and that when the country has turned its back on the outside world, it has suffered as a society and an economy.

I was reminded of this argument over the weekend while reading an interview with Ian Goldin, Professor of Globalisation and Development and Director of the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford. Goldin argues passionately that immigration is overwhelmingly a social and economic good. But more, he says the importance of immigration to world history and to our future is deeply under-appreciated:

One of the reasons I wrote my book, Exceptional People — which has the subtitle ‘How Migration Shaped our World and Will Define Our Future ’ — is because, as an economist, I felt this profoundly positive story is just not getting out there. It’s also a deep story. None of us would be where we are today without it, civilizations wouldn’t exist. And it continues to be a fact. If you’re trying to think about where the UK is going to be, or where the US is going to be in the future, and how we’re going to meet big challenges, it’s the key explanatory factor. That’s not getting across.

Read the whole thing.

Photo by Flickr user slgckgc.

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