Lowy Institute

In November of every other year, aviation experts descend on the Chinese city of Zhuhai for a rare look at the future of China's air power. Over the last ten years, the International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition has charted the progress of China's drone fleet from concept art to functioning models. Now, as the country's investment in drone technology helps it catch up to the competition, the technology on display at Zhuhai next week could pose another challenge for the global arms control effort.

The Wing Long UAV, Zhuhai International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, 2012.

Chinese companies have boasted about muscling into the international drone market, and they appear to be making headway. In May, it was revealed that Saudi Arabia purchased an unknown number of Chinese-made Wing Loong drones, a rough equivalent to the US-made Predator. This followed earlier reports of Chinese collaboration with the Algerian military, and suspicion that Uzbekistan, the UAE and Pakistan are operating Chinese drones. And in an August joint military exercise, China conducted a live-fire demonstration of drone strikes for its partners in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

All this comes at a time when American experts are worried about their diminishing lead in unpiloted aerial vehicle (UAV) technology.

Several years after the Predator boom, the US military has scaled back its drone acquisition, to the point where it struggled to cobble together enough vehicles for surveillance of the Islamic State while the fighting season in Afghanistan was also getting underway. The only known future combat drone is being developed by the US Navy, and after being watered down to save on cost it is now the subject of review. In the meantime, with American export licenses for armed drones limited to the UK, there is a gap in the worldwide market which China hopes to plug.

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Aiding China's export strategy are several underlying factors. In a country where central authority often needs to be imposed on wayward local officials, and where privacy restrictions don't really exist, technology which offers persistent surveillance is in high demand. Beijing has already used drones to keep an eye on polluting industries, corrupt officials and drug smugglers, assist the emergency response during earthquakes and support policing operations against Uighur-led violence in Xinjiang. All of these roles are likely to expand in the years ahead.

Drones also have commercial applications for China. Industries that are modernising in the developing world, like agricultural science and environmental mapping, rely on aviation. But the shortage of commercially available flight in China is making otherwise cheap drones a viable substitute.

As the Chinese military pushes ahead with research into next-generation fighters and bombers, improvements in engines and sensors will likely flow over into better equipment for future drones. As a result, China is forecast to become the global hub of drone production over the next decade, with the Chinese Government as the main buyer. But this raises some questions for a country with a patchy record on weapons proliferation. 

China is not a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the major arms control body for regulating the sale and transfer of unmanned technology. This Cold War regime was originally meant to curb the proliferation of launch vehicles for weapons of mass destruction, imposing a 'presumption of denial' against the export of airborne systems able to carry dangerous payloads like nuclear weapons or biological agents. These restrictions also extend to the heavier class of drones, like the Predator. The US has tried to modify the terms of the MTCR to permit the sale of more drones, but faced with resistance from European partners, the Obama Administration is unsure of how far it can push the issue.

China's position is more concerning. It has long promised to adhere to the MTCR rules, but its 2004 request for membership in the arms control body was denied, partly from suspicion over its past violations and partly from doubt about its accountability in any future regime. 

Non-proliferation experts agree that China has been cleaning up its act on weapons sales in recent years, but there have also been some notable lapses. With so little transparency over its drone programs, it is hard to know whether China will abide by its unilateral commitment to the regime. If the Wing Loong resembles the Predator, as China claims it does, then its sale to Saudi Arabia very likely pushed close to the line of the MTCR.

To be sure, China selling drones may not provoke the kind of proliferation disaster which many critics fear. The threat of a precise 'targeted killing' campaign relies on a sophisticated and expensive infrastructure. Satellite bandwidth, guidance software, remote operating terminals, electronic sensors and informants on the ground are all needed for drones to operate far from home with any accuracy. This is difficult for all but a few of the most powerful countries to manage.

But there are many uses for UAVs among countries which struggle with messy, protracted conflicts. With the Hadithi rebels seizing cities in southern Yemen, a Saudi Arabia losing trust in American diplomacy might be tempted to intervene in the neighbouring territory with its own drones; or in a Myanmar criticised for its treatment of the Rohingya Muslims, a quick trade with Beijing for drones may secure the best tool for use against rebellious hill tribes. Like China's small arms exports, drones could further strain the political stability of the developing world. 

As UAV technology improves, this problem will become more acute. Already, the latest vehicles on the market blur the distinction between armed drones and cruise missiles. For instance, the Israeli-made Harop is capable of loitering in the air until it detects the radar signal of an enemy, arms itself and then flies headfirst into a target. If the sale of these advanced drones is not carefully regulated, the guidance and flight technology can be adapted to other missiles, undercutting the MTCR. Drones will offer an ideal vehicle for dispersing other types of prohibited weapons. Already, Russian scientists have warned that slow-flying drones dispersing biological weapons could deliver more damage across a wider area than a standard ballistic missile. 

With massive human and intellectual resources being poured by the Chinese state into combat drones, these problems will at some point make their way onto the agenda in Beijing. The state of drone technology and the potential buyers in the crowd at Zhuhai will shed some light on whether that time has now arrived.

Photo courtesy of chinesedefence.com.

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The debate about whether Australia should join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has gone beyond the realm of economic development and investment to hit at the core of Australia's apparent security dilemma.

The initial concern revolved around the governance arrangements and whether Australia should be part of a new China-led regional development bank. As I argued last month, in this regard Australia would have more influence by being involved than by not.

But Paul Kelly's piece in The Australian today reveals some interesting insights into how the Australian Government views China, and how it sees Australia's position vis-à-vis its allies. It seems to me that the Government has attributed more meaning to the AIIB than need be. Two statements in particular in Kelly's article struck me:

The issue has triggered a core split within cabinet over the classic dilemma for Australia's future — how to decide between China and our US-led alliance partners. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was keen for Australia to remain tied to the existing institutions, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, now dominated by the US and Japan.

Why frame it as a choice? There is nothing in the AIIB proposal that suggests by being involved Australia would loosen its ties to the Asian Development Bank or World Bank. This is not a zero-sum decision. Indeed, this consideration evidently hasn't affected Singapore's decision to join.

Here's the second quote from Kelly, who says the cabinet debated this issue twice, but that the second discussion occurred only among members of cabinet's National Security Committee:

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It is revealing that the second debate was conducted in cabinet's NSC, where strategic rather than financial arguments became paramount. Ms Bishop provided scenarios of how China could convert financial power via investment loans into direct military advantage in vulnerable nations close to Australia.

Again, this tells as a lot about the Government's thinking on China and how it views its development finance in the region. Let's think about this.

There could plausibly be a concern that if countries in the Pacific couldn't pay their debt (owed to the China Eximbank for concessional loans, not investment), China would use this as leverage or a bargaining chip for enhanced military engagement (or access to fisheries, which Pacific countries are more concerned about). The only case where this is a potential concern at the moment is Tonga; others are on track to pay off their Chinese (and ADB) loans.

Another possibility is that China's 'financial power' could be converted into soft power, with 'vulnerable nations' swayed to follow China's demands rather than Australia's. This is more likely than the first possibility. But as I've recently noted in the case of Fiji, the love for China is wearing thin.

China is already providing millions of dollars of development financing in the region and will continue to do so, both through its own financing mechanisms (like China Eximbank loans) and through a range of regional facilities – including the Asian Development Bank, World Bank and now its new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. If you believe these scenarios will eventuate (and I would caution against doing so), they would happen regardless of whether the AIIB exists and certainly regardless of whether Australia is part of it.

By seeing the AIIB as purely 'an instrument of China's national interest' (and therefore not in our national interest) Australia has lost a valuable opportunity to participate alongside other Asian nations and influence the direction China's financial engagement. And the strong overtures from US representatives feeds the Chinese perception that Australia doesn't make independent foreign policy decisions, making it harder to convince China that we're not just America's 'lapdog' when it comes to China's role in the region.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Tony Abbott.

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Zero Motivation is an office comedy set in the Israeli Defense Force, and the trailer is a gem:

Looks like the movie itself measures up too, judging by the reviews. It started showing around Australia yesterday.

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One of the inevitable side effects of Burma's long struggle for democracy has been the demonisation, or canonisation, of its main political actors. This phenomenon has been reflected in countless articles in the media and on the web about figures like Ne Win (who effectively ruled Burma from 1962 to 1988), Than Shwe (who led the country's military council from 1992 to 2011), and of course opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

There are very few books published in English about the country's military leaders. The first full length biography of Than Shwe appeared in 2010, and a scholarly account of Ne Win's career is currently in preparation. Aung San Suu Kyi, by contrast, has been the subject of more than a dozen biographies, ranging from books for children to major studies. She has also published three semi-autobiographical works.

This is not counting director Luc Besson's rather imaginative account of her place in modern Burmese history, as seen in the feature film The Lady, starring Michelle Yeoh and released in 2011.

Given the close attention that has been paid to Aung San Suu Kyi's background and career since she first rose to prominence during Burma's 1988 pro-democracy uprising, it would be surprising to discover anything new about her. However, there remain a few areas of her private life that have still not been thoroughly explored.

These can sometimes be revealed in unlikely ways.

For example, a Griffith Asia Institute research project about the influence of Rudyard Kipling and popular Western music on perceptions of colonial Burma, has unexpectedly thrown new light on Aung San Suu Kyi's affection for both the 'bard of empire' and classical music.

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When Aung San Suu Kyi began to challenge Burma's new military government after 1988, a campaign that saw her awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Kipling's 1890 poem Mandalay was used in state propaganda against her. The generals likened her to the 'unpatriotic' Burma girl who had turned her back on her own race and, by implication, her own country. As David Steinberg has explained:

They cite the marriage of Aung San Suu Kyi to a British academic, Michael Aris, as disqualifying her from leading the country. This colonial issue, as exemplified in Rudyard Kipling's poem 'The Road to Mandalay' (and its paean to Burmese women who had relations with British soldiers) … thus continues today. 

There is no denying that Aung San Suu Kyi is an admirer of Kipling. In 1972, extracts from 'Mandalay', referring to 'a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land', were read out at her wedding. She and her husband named their second son Kim, after the lead character in Kipling's famous novel of the same name, published in 1901. Also, she ended her first Reith Lecture for the BBC in 2011 by quoting her favourite lines from Kipling. They were taken from his poem The Fairies Siege:

I'd not give way for an Emperor

I'd hold my road for a King —

To the Triple Crown I would not bow down —

But this is a different thing. 

I'll not fight with the Powers of Air,

Sentry, pass him through!

Drawbridge let fall, 'tis the Lord of us all,

The Dreamer whose dreams come true!

Despite the views of some postcolonial scholars, Aung San Suu Kyi seems always to have associated Kipling with the idea of freedom. Referring to his poem If, published in 1910, she said 'the poem that in England is often dismissed as the epitome of imperialist bombast is a great poem for dissidents'. The verse most often associated with the opposition leader and her struggle for democracy in Burma is the second:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

Aung San Suu Kyi even distributed a Burmese language version of the poem to inspire her staff and supporters. The report in a recent biography that she translated the poem herself, however, is incorrect.

There is no easy segue from Kipling to classical music, other than to say that, thanks to modern technology, the musical settings of his poetry were often better known than the original texts. Aung San Suu Kyi was familiar with both, but it would appear that she preferred the printed versions. Also, if her carefully chosen selection of recordings for the BBC radio program 'Desert Island Discs' in 2013 is any guide, her musical tastes, while mixed, are inclined more to the classical than the popular end of the spectrum.

Because of her public standing, and the challenge she posed to Burma's military regime, Aung San Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest for almost 15 years. During that time, part of her daily regimen was to practise on the piano. Until the instrument was completely out of tune, she played pieces by a range of classical composers, including Pachelbel, Telemann, Scarlatti, Bach, Mozart, Clementi and Bartok. At one stage, she was forced to sell much of her furniture to generate money for food. One of the few items that she refused to let go was her piano.

As Jonathan Webster wrote in 2013, Aung San Suu Kyi's piano playing 'in rebellious isolation' became a powerful symbol of her continuing resistance to military rule:

Concerned supporters reportedly snuck within earshot for assurance that she was still alive. Famous Europeans who publicized her struggle sympathised with her as musicians. U2 called her 'a singing bird in an open cage'. Annie Lennox tried to send her a new piano. The top prize in the Leeds International Piano Competition was recently renamed the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Gold Medal for its fiftieth anniversary.

Aung San Suu Kyi's supporters around the world turned the image of her sitting at the piano in her closely guarded Rangoon home into a symbol of her country's struggle for democracy. Some also equated the military regime's efforts to curb the appreciation of Western music in Burma with their attempts to silence the respected opposition leader. In 2012, the Los Angeles Times even called the piano itself 'a symbol of Myanmar's struggle for democracy'. 

In these, as in other aspects of Burma's struggles over the past few decades, there is a fair degree of exaggeration and myth-making — on both sides of the political divide. That said, Aung San Suu Kyi's devotion to Western music and her determination to make Burma a more respectable international citizen has some interesting historical parallels. Also, rather than denote Aung San Suu Kyi's abandonment of her country, as suggested by her domestic opponents, her affection for Kipling suggests quite the opposite. 

Indeed, one could say that, in several ways, the wheel has come full circle. As Burma gradually emerges from its long period of military dictatorship, economic hardship and international isolation, there are millions of people both inside and outside the country who hope that it keeps turning.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user United Nations Development Programme in Europe.

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The tenacity and resolution with which Modi uses power to combat ground-level strategies will ultimately determine how far communal violence goes. One should expect small disturbances, not big conflagrations, not many in any case. 

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For six weeks, from 3 September to 14 October, Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, disappeared from view. The rumours it triggered became increasingly outlandish. He was dead or dying; body doubles were being prepared (a favorite theory about his father); his sister was running the country (a female leader in North Korea?); factional infighting had broken out in the backrooms of Pyongyang; or he had been pushed aside in a coup.

As if to illustrate just how untethered the commentary had become, The Onion ran its own pretty funny mock story.

Now that the 'Young General' is back, the hangover has kicked in. Increasingly, the noteworthy story of the last two months is not Kim Jong-un's disappearance itself, but the explosion of over-the-top media speculation it unleashed, particularly in the West. In South Korea (where I live), the media coverage was obviously sustained, but not nearly as unhinged. I think we can draw a few conclusions from the speculative fun we all had last month:

1. The Kims get sick too, but the regime can stumble on for awhile.

This seems pretty banal, but everyone seemed to forget that Kim Jong-un's father Kim Jong-il suffered from a stroke and disappeared from view for twice as long back in 2008. At that time too, there was some hysteria, but nothing like this time around even though it was longer. I am not sure why.

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It is worth noting that the Kims, obviously, lead pretty unhealthy lives. All three Kim monarchs were seriously overweight, if not obese, in their prime. All were rumoured to be heavy drinkers and smokers, possibly abusing narcotics. Kim Jong-il's consumption of Hennessey was legend. North Korea even has a semi-formal prostitution service – the 'joy brigade' – for its elites, presumably including the top leader. The Kims are the modern versions of the self-indulgent tyrants of antiquity, like Nero, living a lifestyle of gross over-indulgence. Not surprisingly, they have recurrent health issues.

But the state does not fall apart as a result. Presumably even North Korea, focused as it is on the 'Sun King,' can muddle through on autopilot for at least a few months, a prediction I made before Kim Jong-un resurfaced. The Kims are the focus of global media attention, but there is a whole cluster of family, retainers, flunkeys, high-ranking Korean People's Army and Korean Worker's Party officials deeply vested in the continuation of the Kim monarchy. If these figures did not turn on each other in a factional power struggle after Kim Jong-il unexpectedly died in 2011, it was hard to see them doing so in these circumstances.

I've often thought a good analogy for North Korea is the mafia. North Korea engages in all sorts of illicit activities, from its well-known proliferation efforts to its less well-known meth operations and insurance fraud. The DPRK is what happens when the godfather and his cronies manage to take over a whole country; the Kims are the Korean version of the Corleones.

In such a structure, all the top players are bound to each other by blood, shared knowledge of each other's criminality and desire to keep the lifestyle and money rolling in. In the same way the Corleone family survived the Don's near assassination and semi-retirement, so will the Kim gangster-ocracy. No one (in either family) wants the structure to fall apart because they are all complicit in its awfulness and enjoy its rewards, so the incentives are huge to put the system on autopilot when el hefe is temporarily incapacitated.

2. The media focus too much on the Kims

Part of the problem must be the unique global media focus on the Kims, and specifically on the leader. In my experience with media as a commentator/talking head, I am routinely asked about the Kims themselves, including their personal habits, their mental state and their absurdities (Kim Jong-il's platform shoes and bouffant hair-style were favourites). The working assumption is often that they're just 'bonkers', as a Sky TV reporter asked me once.

But clearly no country with a large population can function without some manner of institutions tying the society together. And North Korea, in its own unique, gangster-ish way, has those. The most important are the Army and the Party (probably, as we don't really know), soldered together by the personal relationships of the extended Kim clan. It is a curiously feudal or patrimonial structure, especially for a state that, in its ideology, formally condemns feudalism as backward and reactionary. It is not 'Weberian' or rational. It is massively economically dysfunctional; it led, for example, to the famine of the 1990s. For this reason political scientists often define the DPRK as fragile or brittle and it is regularly near the top of the Fund for Peace' annual Failed State Index

But North Korea has managed to survive far greater challenges and hurdles than many thought it could overcome. Despite the death of Kim Il-sung, the cut-off of Soviet subsidies, the famines, the extreme isolation following the nuclear tests, the sudden death of Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un's disturbing desire to party with Dennis Rodman, the regime lurches on. Clearly there is much more going on that just a sun-king monarchy, however relentless the media focus on the top leadership.

3. The media enjoys the sheer lunacy and freedom to wildly speculate that North Korea opens up

Perhaps I watch too much media coverage of North Korea, but I am always struck by how 'unplugged' North Korea allows otherwise bland media networks and reporters to be. A year ago, wild unsubstantiated rumours circulated that Kim Jong-un's uncle (Jang Song-thaek) had been executed by wild dogs tearing him apart. This 'story' originated in some obscure Chinese paper but was quickly picked up by Western media with little fact-checking. Almost certainly, the sheer luridness of it was appealing: North Korea is a black hole, the boy-king is probably bonkers anyway, so sure, why not run that story?

Similar media hype of North Korean kitschy ridiculousness can be seen in the stories about its discovery of a unicorn. Once again, the story went viral (Google it and see), probably for the sheer lunatic fun of reporting on North Korea. It's almost like you can say anything. That must be fun in a way. Consider all those 'Kim looking at things' tumblrs. At some point, this is not really news anymore. It's comedy. But they are actually really serious ethical issues about laughing over North Korea, a place where hundreds of thousands are executed or imprisoned in appalling conditions. Remember that next time you hear some gratuitously parodic depiction of North Korea.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Prachatai.

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A recent paper in Nature says that 'no other country is investing so much money or generating so much renewable energy' as China. 'Its build-up of renewable energy systems at serious scale is driving cost reductions that will make them accessible to all.'

The International Energy Agency reckons China accounts for 56% of the US$250 billion in annual global renewables investment, and that solar could become the world's leading primary energy source by 2050. Beijing has recently rejuvenated its nuclear program too. China's Vice Premier, Zhang Gaoli, proclaimed at the UN Climate Summit that his country would strive to peak absolute CO2 emissions 'as soon as possible.' Apparently China is shifting its stance on climate change, and backing its words with manufacturing muscle.

A field-trip across China reveals a more nuanced reality on the ground.

A wind farm in Tianjin, China.

For a start, as the Nature essay notes, today the vast majority of China's non-fossil electricity generation is from hydro-power, and the country's gigantic dam projects are controversial. One problem with all renewables is 'intermittency'; they need rain, wind and sun, which are capricious, so backup thermal plants must stand by. Another problem is 'curtailment'. By 2020, there could be well over 300 GW of wind and solar capacity installed, representing almost 20% of China's total nameplate capacity, but actual generation might be only 8% of the total.

Coal supplies three-quarters of China's electricity and 67% of its total primary energy (although 16% of this is exported in manufactures). A Xinjiang official boasted his province might have one trillion tonnes of coal reserves: 'our black treasure will supply China's needs for a century.' I have noted before that coal underpins China's growth model; Inner Mongolia achieved a 159% energy efficiency gain between 2002 and 2009 but exploited this to make fourteen times more cement and steel.

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The much-touted UHV lines, transporting power from west to east, all originate at coal-fired complexes, not wind and solar farms. Although coal's trajectory has moderated and will eventually peak, a coal glut is the immediate concern. Recent regulations (a sales taxsupply consolidation, import bans) appear intended to support the mining sector's profitability. 

A power utility explained that a large (1000 MW) modern ultra-supercritical thermal plant earns 25-30% return on equity, compared to 8-12% for renewables, even with subsidies from one to the other. Coal is a third cheaper than wind power. The reason is simple: coal is superabundant. Global prices have halved since 2011. A manager at a power equipment maker says that coal power is seeing a resurgence in orders, spurred by the fuel's competitiveness. He disclosed that President Xi Jinping, heading China's leading small group for energy security, has 're-emphasized the importance of coal.'

China's real objective is not so much low carbon as 'clean carbon.' China's emissions already exceed the US and EU combined, it emits more per capita than Europe and could overtake America by 2017. A Rolling Stone essay portends that 'what China decides to do in the next decade will likely determine whether or not mankind can halt — or at least ameliorate — global warming.' James Fallows, quoted in Mother Jones, describes Beijing's attempt to (using climate change argot) 'bend down its curve.' He continues: 'The Chinese government is pushing harder on more fronts than any other...to develop energy sources other than coal. The question is, will they catch up? Who will win that race between how bad things are and how they're trying to deal with them?'

But pollution is the real issue driving Chinese policy today, not climate change. This winter is off to a dreadful start. Sulphur and nitrogen emissions standards in wealthy cities have been greatly tightened, and 'scrubbing' is (in theory) compulsory. The coal import restrictions target dirty high-ash and sulphur coals. However, the  National Energy Administration's Action Plan actually permits a 4.8% annual coal-fired power generation growth until 2020, according to analysts at Bernstein Research. China does require that its generators become more efficient (310g/kWh by 2020) but the CO2 emissions benchmark that regulators target is American shale gas, a fuel the Nature paper disparages.

China's cheap coal has become both a blessing and a curse. As long as it is cheap, it will be used plentifully. About as quickly as China installs solar panels and wind turbines, it will build the giant ultra-supercriticals alongside, currently at a rate of one every two weeks. And we may reach 'peak coal' demand only to find that supply has barely responded and coal is more affordable than ever. Fundamentally changing coal's economics is necessary. Burying CO2 is fancifully expensive, so burning coal in the first place must be made more costly. 

The most promising solution is a carbon price determined through an emissions trading scheme. To date, progress has been sketchy, but last Friday Europe pledged to revive its flagging carbon market, and to cut its 1990-level CO2 emissions 40% by 2030. China's energy intensity/GDP today is twice OECD levels, suggesting room for improvement. But GDP might expand four times by 2030. China's renewable energy manufacturing machine is racing against cheap 'clean' coal.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Nick Cross.

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By Anna Kirk, an intern in the Lowy Institute's Melanesia program.

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Police in Malaysia arrested 14 people in October suspected of planning to join ISIS, including three 'key players'. These arrests bring to 36 the number apprehended in Malaysia on suspicion of trying to join ISIS. Earlier this year, police foiled ISIS-inspired Bali-style attacks on pubs, nightclubs and a Carlsberg brewery.

An estimated 20-30 Malaysians are known to have joined ISIS in Syria, though the real figure could be higher — the deputy chief of the police CT division admitted as much in August. A Malay-speaking unit was set up to fight in Syria, and Malaysians have been fighting for rebel groups in the country since the onset of the civil war. In May, a 26 year-old Selangor man, identified as Ahmad Tarmimi Maliki,  killed 25 elite Iraqi soldiers in a ISIS suicide car-bomb attack. 

In the past months there appears to be a significant uptick on ISIS's campaign for Southeast Asian recruits. Social media, particularly Facebook, continues to be a key tool for ISIS's networking and recruitment. In July,  direct recruitment appeals were made through a YouTube video.  This month, an advert-style back-page photo in ISIS's  glossy English-language magazine 'Dabiq' appeared with a photo showing three stoic-looking Southeast Asian men and a child.

The latest arrests, however, are no cause for panic. For one thing, they demonstrate Malaysia's functioning counter-terrorism capability. They have also prompted the country's defence minister to lobby for greater regional cooperation on the ISIS threat. Moreover, the current recruitment figures may be manageable. In fact, according to public estimates, Malaysia fares better than Belgium, Denmark or Australia on a per capita recruits basis

But what remains worrying is how the Government responds. An ill-fitted response could stir greater support for ISIS in conservative enclaves of the country, where debate on the role of Islam in society and a louder lobby for  stricter adherence of sharia law and hudud has increased recently. Several new ISIS-inspired Malaysian militant groups (ADI, Dimzia, BAJ and BKAW) have expressed their intent to establish a Southeast Asian caliphate and have sent fighters to Syria.

The Government must draw a strong but careful line in the sand on ISIS. This is complicated by domestic politics.

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Fifty percent of Malaysia's 30 million people are non-Malay minorities and almost 40% are non-Muslim. Malaysia has in the past managed to navigate through potential ethnic and religious conflict (far better than its neighbours Thailand and Indonesia) but it has often done so by appeasing Muslim conservatives and jettisoning the interests of minorities. Stability is similarly challenged by a youthful population. With 48% of the population under the age of 24 (of which 29% are under 14), employment growth and social inclusion will apply pressure on government for years to come.

With Muslim-dominated parties and pro-Muslim policies disproportionately dominating the political realm,  the role of Islam in the country has for decades been debated. These public debates have been spurred to appease conservatives but have also provoked wider debate in society.

In Malaysia's illiberal democracy, the United Malay National Organization is first and foremost a party that governs for the Muslim majority, with policies that reflect the influence that conservative groups and the strong Muslim business lobby have over it. Prime Minister Najib has since 2010 tried to dilute some of this influence and win more of the non-Muslim vote through his '1Malaysia' policy, a policy that has been under consistent pressure.

The authority of Najib's UMNO party is further challenged by conservatives, including in Sabah and Sarawak, attempting to install strict sharia law (following the footsteps of neighbours Aceh or Brunei). These conservative groups, including some in the opposition Parti Islam Se-Malaysia, are forcing Najib to walk a difficult line between appeasing conservatives and combating extremists.

A failed policy could push more youth to the extremes.

Thankfully, Najib's popularity received a boost on the back of his proactive response to the MH17 disaster. This may improve his ability to push through difficult policy. Similarly, Malaysia's new seat on the UN Security Council will appeal to the pride of Malaysians, particularly as it will pursue the worthy issue of child casualties in war as a UN Security Council member. It will also allow the Government to continue its strong peace-building image  that was successful in negotiating the southern Philippines conflict.

But perhaps the strongest arrow in Najib's quiver will be proactive and inclusive domestic policies supported by Malaysia's 2015 budget. At the unveiling in October, Najib noted that 'the government gives importance to the development and improving the welfare of the rakyat (population) in Sabah and Sarawak' . With these words (both Sabah and Sarawak were mentioned over a dozen times each in the address) has come sizeable infrastructure money for development in the country's two eastern states, where the threat of extremism is perhaps largest. While a considerable portion of this cash will go to hard security ($200 million will go to bolstering security in Sabah), the long overdue infrastructure development of the eastern regions will do more to stem extremism than any number of boots and bullets.

Still, difficult times are ahead. In the very near future, as Najib tackles ISIS and domestic extremist groups, he will likely be drawn into a larger and far more perilous debate on religion and Islam in Malaysia. That debate risks waking a sleeping giant at a volatile time.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user shafraz.nasser

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By David Schaefer, an intern in the Lowy Institute's International Security program. 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.

  • India's latest military technology purchase was announced over the weekend, with New Delhi opting for an Israeli-made anti-tank missile over a rival system pushed by the US.
  • Carl Thayer makes the case that Vietnam is skilled at manipulating strategic rivalry in the Indo-Pacific.
  • A new Adelphi paper by William Choong warns that more effort will be needed to stabilise relations between China and Japan.
  • With the proposed transfer of more missile-defence hardware in North Asia, Clint Richards argues that the substance of trilateral cooperation between Japan, the US and South Korea validates Chinese fears of encirclement.
  • US and South Korean military forces have once again delayed the transfer of wartime command authority on the peninsula.
  • The Philippines recently conducted its first trilateral naval drill with the US and Japan. Among other things, the exercise practiced the new protocol for unplanned encounters at sea, which was ratified earlier this year at a meeting of regional countries in China.
  • Why Narendra Modi should begin to invest serious effort in building relations with Indonesia.
  • The Heritage Foundation has published a handy series of charts which depict recent economic, political, and military trends in Asia – as well as illustrating the stake which the US has in the region. Here is one on regional naval configuration:

The Lowy Institute International Security Program's work on Indo-Pacific security is supported by two grants from the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation.

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America's second-most senior diplomat, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, is retiring, and this week he penned some parting words of advice for his colleagues. While his wisdom is worth reading in its entirety, one point is particularly germane to Australia's foreign policy choices: 'connect leverage to strategy'. This means 'effective strategy requires leverage, connecting concepts and goals to available instruments of national power'.

The Australian Government is facing a tricky strategic decision: whether or not to sign up as a founding member of the recently launched Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The economic demand for such an institution is widely recognised and reform of existing architecture is stalled in the US Congress. But as an initiative of the Chinese Government, it is opposed by the US on the basis that there is no guarantee the new institution will adhere to international lending norms.

Washington's strategic concerns are obvious: the new institution will give China an added mechanism to advance its broader interests, likely at the expense of the US.

Canberra is caught in the middle. China is Australia's largest trading partner and the Abbott Government is trying to conclude a free trade agreement with Beijing. Snubbing the AIIB risks harming those delicate negotiations. Moreover, the creation of the bank is an inevitability and, as argued here recently by Philippa Brant, without a seat at the negotiating table Australia has no hope of ensuring that the bank will be designed according to best practices.

On the other hand, the US is Australia's closest ally, and Secretary of State John Kerry allegedly made a personal request to Prime Minister Abbott not to join. Thus, whatever its decision, Australia is going to disappoint one of its major partners.

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Cabinet is reportedly divided on the issue, and no Australian representative attended the launch ceremony last week, a move criticised by former Ambassador Geoff Raby. Beijing responded with flexibility, its Ministry of Finance stating that any country ratifying the (still to be drafted) Articles of Agreement before the end of 2015 can still officially become a 'founding' member. 

What is the optimal strategy? Burns' dictum prompts a question: where can Australia achieve the greatest leverage? Consider three scenarios.

In Scenario 1, Australia declines to join the AIIB. The Bank will be established anyway, but Australia will have zero leverage over its structure and operations. Moreover, if the refusal is interpreted as evidence of Canberra simply doing Washington's bidding, it will reduce perceptions that Australia can offer an independent voice on regional issues.

In Scenario 2, Australia expresses a willingness to be involved in (or at least observe) negotiations for the AIIB's Articles of Agreement over the next 12 months. Let's assume these Articles of Agreement offer weak protections on matters like environmental protection, procurement and governance, or it is clear from the drafting that Beijing will be unconstrained in using the Bank to pursue its strategic interests. In this situation Australia would have some leverage: it could refuse to ratify the final agreement, making a statement such as 'having witnessed the drafting process, we conclude that the AIIB fails to meet international norms'. Such a public withdrawal would undermine the Bank's credibility before it even began, and thus is a scenario Beijing would want to avoid. The threat of withdrawal would accordingly provide Australia with leverage during the drafting process.

In Scenario 3, the Articles of Agreement are sufficiently robust and Australia officially becomes a founding member. But what if, over the succeeding years, China uses its outsized voting power (or some other tactic) to circumvent the rules, and AIIB-sponsored projects end up falling well short of international standards, or are used perversely to advance Chinese interests?

Even then, Canberra would retain some leverage. Participating in the Bank's operations would give Australian officials insight into how decisions are made, as well as the capacity to monitor projects on the ground. If the creation or running of a project sparked grave concern, Australia could again threaten to withdraw from the Bank. After all, no international agreement is permanent; countries always retain the ability to pull out. But again, an Australian withdrawal would undermine the Bank's credibility, especially if Australia chose to make its knowledge of impropriety public. As in Scenario 2, the potential for withdrawal offers Australia ongoing leverage in the Bank's operations.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that China (or any other country) will necessarily seek to use the AIIB for nakedly strategic purposes. Rather, this post is a thought experiment to determine where Australia's leverage is greatest. As William Burns counsels, Canberra should connect that leverage to strategy. In this case, leverage comes from participation. Strategy should accordingly follow.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Pedro Moura Pinheiro.

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It is certainly fitting to examine Gough Whitlam's foreign policy record and considerable achievements. However, in seeking to whitewash the controversy over Whitlam's role leading up to Indonesia's brutal invasion of East Timor in December 1975, Gary Hogan's piece does us all a great disservice.

I concede that it would have been a difficult task to dissuade Indonesia from this course by mid-1975, and that a more principled policy may have led to some cooling in bilateral relations. But what Hogan offers us is bad history and an even worse ethics.

In my most recent book, Ethics and Global SecurityI and my co-authors argue that ethics is not an optional add-on to questions of international security. Rather, bad ethical choices will cause more insecurity, for more people, and create lasting damage that future generations are forced to repair. This is surely true of East Timor.

In my ANU doctoral research, published as In Fear of Security: Australia's Invasion Anxiety, I wondered what might have been different had key policymakers, including Whitlam, worried more about this. To their lasting credit, some, like former Foreign Affairs head Alan Renouf and former Secretary of the Department of Defence Bill Pritchett, did so.

Here I will simply address two of Hogan's most misleading claims, then consider — using the historical record — what might have been done to avert the tragedy. How it reflects on Whitlam, readers can decide for themselves.

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First, Hogan's claim that: 'Armchair strategists have accused Whitlam of giving Suharto a sly wink during their meetings, virtually assuring him of Australia's acquiescence in the event of East Timor's annexation by force. The written record does not support this.'

I assure readers that the record does in fact confirm this. There is an official record of the meeting published by DFAT in its collection of documents about the Indonesian incorporation of East Timor, along with statements Whitlam made to parliament after the civil war and a private message he sent to Soeharto saying that 'nothing he had said earlier should be interpreted as a veto on Indonesian action in the changed circumstances'.

Hogan continues: 'But if it did, there were understandable contemporary factors at play...Early indications were that Fretilin would kill more East Timorese than Indonesia ever might.'

This is the first time in almost 30 years of study that I have heard such a claim, which is grossly misleading. What we have is the evidence of the fighting during the August civil war and Fretilin's conduct after they won, which showed no evidence of widespread repression or reprisals. The brief war was brutal and some crimes were certainly committed, leaving a bitter legacy with the Timorese Democratic Union (UDT). 

Yet apparently, Indonesia would not kill large numbers, says Hogan: 'Neither Whitlam nor Ford, perhaps not even Suharto, had any way of predicting how stubborn Falantil's resistance would be, or how brutally oppressive Indonesia would become as a colonising power.'

What everyone knew is that Indonesia's military and Suharto initiated the massacres of Indonesian communists and leftists in 1965 (I have read Keith Shann's cables sent from our Jakarta embassy in October-November of that year), and drove and directed the violence. It was widely predicted during 1975 that similar violence would be visited on the Timorese if Indonesia invaded, as the war crime at Balibo and the massacres in Dili during the invasion would attest. Prior to the invasion, The Age even published a cartoon by Bruce Petty: a line of Indonesian tanks labelled '1966 massacre of PKI' headed in the direction of a sign saying 'East Timor'. Earlier that year our Lisbon ambassador, Frank Cooper, cabled Canberra about Portugal's concerns about Indonesian intervention because 'they foresee a bloodbath in Timor unless there can be some supervision of Indonesian actions on the ground'. And Bill Pritchett's briefs for the Defence Minister certainly warned of a long guerrilla war.

Hogan's other misleading claim is this: 'In addition to the threat of chaos under Fretilin, the active support of communist regimes around Asia was an article of Chinese Communist Party policy in 1975. At the height of the Cold War, communist rule in Dili was as inimical to Australia's interests as it was intolerable to Jakarta.'

It was well known that Fretilin was split between social democrats and a small group of Marxists, and that the moderates were far more dominant, charismatic and effective. The historical record shows that Fretilin's leadership made many efforts to reach out to the Australians and the Indonesians (as did the UDT, something its leader Joao Carrascalao confirmed to me personally many years later, when I asked him about his meetings with Indonesia's intelligence chief Ali Moertopo). 

Could things have been different? What we know is that Alan Renouf first drafted a policy for Whitlam prior to the Prime Minister's 1974 visit to Indonesia that supported East Timor's self-determination, yet promised we would work with Indonesia to prevent the new state from threatening its stability. Whitlam changed the policy on the run. The next year, Renouf tried to raise the same points privately with Indonesia, but Whitlam had already cut the ground from under him. How much bloodshed and horror, and how much damage to Indonesia's international reputation, may have been averted had Renouf's policy worked?

Let the words of Nobel Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta highlight the tragedy here. In February 1975, UDT and Fretilin had jointly cabled Canberra begging for Australia to support talks between themselves, Australia and Indonesia 'for cooperation towards peace stability SEA (Southeast Asia)'. This request was ignored by Whitlam. Years later , in his book Funu, Horta despaired at how 'all our assurances of friendship, co-operation, membership of ASEAN, a foreign policy that was tantamount to Finlandisation of East Timor—all fell on deaf ears. In retrospect, I cannot see what assurances and concessions we could have offered to buy our own survival.'

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Bobby Graham.

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A Soviet Backfire bomber escorted by a Norwegian F-16, 1988. (Wikipedia.)

My thanks to colleague Anthony Bubalo for alerting me to this extraordinary 2013 paper published by the US Naval War College all about how the Soviet Union planned to hit America's aircraft carrier fleet in the event of war (h/t also to Information Dissemination, where Anthony found the paper).

The article is written by former Soviet naval officer Maksim Tokarev, and contains a depth of detail about Soviet military operations that I have never seen before. So there's plenty of red meat for the military wonks, including the fact that the Soviets planned to send a fleet of 100 bombers armed with anti-ship missiles against a US aircraft-carrier battle group, fully expecting to lose half of them to enemy action.

But there's also wit and drama, which you rarely find in these types of papers. Here's an account of an air-crew briefing for a mock raid by Soviet Backfire bombers (pictured) on a US carrier fleet somewhere in the Pacific:

...a young second lieutenant...fresh from the air college, asked the senior navigator of the regiment, an old major: “Sir, tell me why we have a detailed flight plan to the target over the vast ocean, but only a rough dot-and-dash line across Hokkaido Island on way back?”

“Son,” answered the major calmly, “if your crew manages to get the plane back out of the sky over the carrier by any means, on half a wing broken by a Phoenix (ed. note: the name of a missile carried by the US Navy's F-14 fighters) and a screaming prayer, no matter whether it’s somewhere over Hokkaido or directly through the moon, it’ll be the greatest possible thing in your entire life!”

Tokarev also writes that the naval air force, tasked with sending its bombers against US carrier fleets, did not trust the targeting information they got from satellites or other intelligence methods. 'The most reliable source of targeting of carriers at sea was the direct-tracking ship' or 'd-tracker', a destroyer or other ship that shadows the US fleet constantly in peacetime, sending back coordinates just in case war breaks out. And when it does?

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It was extremely clear that if a war started, these ships would be sent to the bottom immediately. Given that, the commanding officer of each had orders to behave like a rat caught in a corner: at the moment of war declaration or when specifically ordered, after sending the carrier's position by radio, he would shell the carrier's flight deck with gunfire...He could even ram the carrier, and some trained their ship's companies to do so; the image of a “near miss,” of the bow of a Soviet destroyer passing just clear of their own ship's quarter, is deeply impressed in the memory of some people who served on board US aircraft carriers in those years.

One other incredible detail about the targeting of US carrier battle groups:

...if you see a carrier in plain sight, the only problem to solve is how to radio reliably the reports and targeting data against the US electronic countermeasures. Ironically, since the time lag of Soviet military communication systems compared to the NATO ones is quite clear, the old Morse wireless telegraph used by the Soviet ships was the long-established way to solve that problem...While obsolete, strictly speaking, and very limited in information flow, Morse wireless communication was long the most serviceable for the Soviet Navy, owing to its simplicity and reliability.

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Sam Roggeveen recently pointed to an article by Peter Gumble which asked whether Germany will ever escape its past. Gumble pointed to one of the first rationales for the European project: the formation of the  EU as a bulwark against a German-caused conflict in Europe. He argues that this is still used as a justification for the EU, but that it won't be enough for future generations of Europeans.

This line of reasoning ultimately falls short in two important aspects. First, Germany has atoned for the worst ever state-led crime in history, the Holocaust, and continues to do so. Contrary to other countries under the banner of fascism until 1945, there is not even a trace of an official German excuse or justification for its Nazi past. Whether this also applies to the collective memory of the Germans is another question.

The eminent historian and philosopher of the Holocaust, Saul Friedländer, has in a recent publication examined the ebb and flow of the formation of the collective memory surrounding the Holocaust, both in Germany and globally. This collective memory is in part reflected by the tremendous echo generated by Holocaust (NBC TV miniseries, 1977), Shoa (directed by Claude Lanzmann, 1985) and Schindler's List (directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the book by Thomas Kennealy, 1993). Friedländer's conclusion is ultimately pessimistic. He believes that the historically correct memory ('Hitler's willing executioners') will fade when the grandchildren of the Germans seduced by Nazi ideology reach adulthood.

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I am not sure whether I can follow him all the way there. My anecdotal experience points to an ongoing no-go zone of Nazism and Hitlerism respected by most Germans, young and old. The exception, in form of a right-wing fringe, continues to be relatively small, and their motives are as much conditioned by 'traditional' xenophobia as by Nazi nostalgia. 

Also, prominent and formerly respected German writers such as Martin Walser, Günther Grass and Botho Strauss, connected in some form with Germany's Nazi past, have all suffered serious blows to their reputation.

Thus, it can be said that Die EU als friedensprojekt ('The EU as peace project') continues to resonate with young people in Germany and throughout Europe. More so, as the peace rationale not only covers Europe's 70 year-old past but also includes more recent sorry chapters of the continent's history, such as the violent implosion of the former Yugoslavia.

Second, the peace narrative has been supplemented by two more compelling reasons for the growing relevance of European unity. In the Asian Century, with the Indo-Pacific replacing the North-Atlantic as global fulcrum, only the EU, not individual European countries, will be entitled to take a seat at the global high table. The change from the G-8 to the G-20 is the first step in this direction and will be followed by more reductions of European over-representation in international governance bodies. 

The third and often overlooked pillar of growing European unity is the EU as a cooperative platform to tackle the big challenges. Anybody who has worked or traveled within the Schengen area realises the tremendous advantages of this transnational area of free movement. The correlative to free movement within is of course the management of a common European border, highlighted by the wave of illegal immigrants stemming from the south. Nobody in their right mind would suggest that this monumental challenge could be better managed country by country. Mayhem, mistrust and tit-for-tat policies by individual countries would ensue if UKIP and other Le Pens were put in charge and able to apply their misguided isolationist credo. Notwithstanding the recent ballyhoo about one seat in the UK House of Commons (of how many hundreds again?), this is definitely not about to happen. 

European unity is here to stay. It will grow in fits and starts, as is to be expected for such an ambitious undertaking. But it will grow, partly because of the uniquely dark European past in the first half of the 20th century (for its Western part) and through to 1990s (for its Eastern part). But more and more, it will grow because it is the only imaginable way for the continent to stay relevant and prosperous in the world at the dawn of the 21st century.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Malik_Braun.

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