Lowy Institute

By Rachael Buckland, an intern with the Migration and Border Policy Project.

  • François Crépeau, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, is scheduled to visit Australia in November. This follows written assurances from the Australian government addressing perceived threats of reprisal for those sharing information with Crépeau under the Border Force Act.
  • The Royal Commission into child abuse has indicated that it will not visit Nauru or Manus Island as part of any expanded investigations in abuse in detention centres.
  • The Australian Federal Government has overhauled the proposed 32.5% tax on earnings up to A$37,000 for temporary working holiday makers. Treasurer Scott Morrison announced the drop to 19%, which many hope will encourage an increased flow of working holidaymakers. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is sceptical.
  • Karen Middleton has unpacked RAND's report assessing the consolidation of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP). 
  • Australian Border Force industrial action at international airports, cruise ship terminals and cargo facilities is expected to continue until 9 October. ASPI's Dr John Coyne has expressed concern that this constitutes a security risk to Australia's borders, weakening capability to combat organised crime and terrorism.
  • Monash University's Andrew Markus has questioned Essential poll findings that a majority of Australians support a ban on Muslim immigration, highlighting methodological issues and poor media reporting.
  • The UN Development Programme and the International Organization for Migration have signed a statement of intent on strengthened cooperation.
  • Since November 2015, seven bills have been introduced in US Congress by GOP members empowering governors to refuse refugee resettlement. In addition, more than 30 bills seeking to increase refugee screening or reduce the number of refugees entering the country have been introduced. According to the Migration Policy Institute, this opposition could limit Obama's resettlement commitment of 110,000 in fiscal year 2017.
  • French President Francois Hollande announced his government's plans to close the Calais 'Jungle Camp'. Calling on British authorities to 'play their part,' Hollande announced plans to relocate asylum seekers living in the camp across the country.
  • Children's Commissioner of England Anne Longfield and her French counterpart Geneviève Avenard have called on the French government to urgently provide protection for children and ensure that they are properly identified, registered and accommodated before the shutdown of the camp.
  • On 2 October, Hungary will vote in a referendum to decide whether the country will accept the EU refugee resettlement quota.
  • Drawing on the Asian Development Outlook 2016 Report, Brookings' Katherine HS Moon has asked why Asia is 'missing in action' on accepting asylum seekers and resettling refugees.
  • Brookings' Sarah Dryden Peterson has published a three-point plan to orientate global action on refugee education.
  • A new report by UNICEF indicates that between 2010 and 2015, child refugee numbers have increased by  77%, from 5 to 8 million:


Tomorrow will be the final official day of the Lowy Institute for International Policy’s G20 Studies Centre. 

Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison will be speaking at the Lowy Institute tomorrow on the themes of trade, investment and immigration, all crucial dimensions to current discussions about globalisation.  

Next Thursday, Dr Martin Parkinson, secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, will talk on Australia’s approach to international governance and to the G20. The closing address of the G20 Studies Centre promises to make a unique and fitting contribution to a debate that the Institute has been hosting in recent months on how Australia should best approach international economic engagement.  

These timely speeches reinforce one of the primary goals of the G20 Studies Centre: to add to the quality and volume of Australian voices on matters of international economic governance and the G20.

On a more personal note, tomorrow also marks my last day at the Institute after two years as an international economic governance scholar. 

In my office I have a photo. It is of one of my favorite memories of the G20. It is of me playing a drive at a cricket match during an ‘Aussie barbeque’-themed lunch during the Australian G20 presidency. 

The game started among Australian officials and support staff, but quickly became a joint participation event as many delegates from around the world experienced their first backyard cricket match. One (prominent) attendee’s contribution sticks in my mind. Holding the cricket bat in a way that would make baseball aficionados proud, he had a tendency to launch bowlers over their head and over a nearby fence. And each time he hit the ball over the fence, it set off an alarm.

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The longer I have spent in a think tank, the more I believe the boundary-hitter had it a bit easy. Sure, this was the first time he was playing the sport, with (by that time) a large crowd watching him. But as Mike Callaghan, the inaugural director of the G20 Studies Centre, described to me before I joined the Lowy Institute, the life of the think tanker is one of lobbing balls over a fence without ever being sure whether targets on the other side are hit. As outsiders attempting to add value to the closed-door G20 process, it is very rare to be able to draw a clear causation between our ideas and the public policy agenda, let alone the sort of on-the-ground outcomes that affect people’s lives. And we are public commentators, with our names attached to everything that we publish (and as I have learnt recently, sometimes things we don’t). We point instead to correlations and aim to be an influential voice in a debate. 

The G20 Studies Centre was established in 2012 with the support of the Australian government and with a mandate to help strengthen the G20 through independent analysis, fresh ideas and constructive, pragmatic recommendations. We coordinated the Think20 process in 2014, bringing ideas from around the world to feed in directly to the 2014 Australia G20 Presidency. We have had an excellent vantage point in Sydney in monitoring the forum’s progress as Russia, Australia, Turkey and China have each stepped up and taken the hosting reins. 

The last four years have certainly been insightful for those interested in international economic governance. It has become clearer where the value of the G20 lies. The G20 remains the premier forum for international economic cooperation, and it provides insurance value as an avenue for policy cooperation during crises. The forum has delivered some success stories for longer-term governance challenges, mainly in the progress made in the realms of cross-border financial regulation and international tax (although both areas can still be described as ‘work in progress’, with much still to be achieved in both areas). It has been the site of broader technical cooperation among G20 governments in a range of areas.

But one thing that is striking, looking back, is how many of the overarching challenges that were evident in 2012 continue to plague governments across the world. In the overview to the first G20 monitor, Mike Callaghan pointed to a weak, unbalanced and vulnerable global economy, failures of governments to act in a way consistent with their role of providing global economic leadership, worries that the G20’s agenda had expanded too widely and covered too many unrelated issues, and calls for the G20 to get ‘back to basics’. 

It is fair to say these are still prominent issues. The world hasn’t emerged from the long shadow of the ‘great recession’, and the inability to point to significant advances in several key areas has contributed to growing public perception that the G20 is not acting effectively at a time where governments face increasing incentives to focus domestically and lower their sights away from global challenges. 

None of this obviates the need for global cooperation on genuinely global issues. Indeed, Glenn Stevens, former governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, has highlighted how international engagement is an inherent and arguably increasingly worthwhile objective, notwithstanding rising anti-globalisation and protectionist sentiment. Given this, my firm view is that economic engagement in the G20 remains a no-brainer for Australia

To that end, we need to continue to see high-quality public analysis and debate on international economic issues and the best approach to Australia’s international economic relationships and memberships. Being at the Lowy Institute provides a unique blend of insights into attitudes from academia, the media, civil society, business and the general public, both within Australia and internationally. As I move on, I look forward to seeing my wonderful Lowy Institute colleagues continuing to lead the charge in this important public policy space.

US presidential race 2016

It’s hard to imagine either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump made many converts with their performances Monday evening at Hofstra University, despite over 80 million Americans tuning in. But the debate did its job in getting Americans talking about the candidates and the issues. 

By most accounts, Trump won the first half hour of the debate. He was able to hang all the problems of the past decade around Clinton’s neck and set her up as a piñata for those who believe America has been too politically correct at home and too weak abroad for too long. And she had no effective response. 

She is the experienced politician who had her hand in creating many of the policies Trump is shredding. She is not shy about offering her candidacy as an extension of the Obama presidency, a reign mired in negative approval ratings until recently (this spring, when voters started considering the alternatives, Obama’s approval rating finally climbed above 50%).

The remaining hour-plus of the debate belonged to Clinton. She showed a commanding knowledge of the issues and she was wise enough to recognise when Trump was ready to be Trump. In large part, she stepped aside and let Trump strangle himself in tales of his past racism, sexism, birther logic and bankruptcy abuse. Perhaps his greatest sin was revealing that he was proud of not paying any federal tax on his vast income.  

The contrasts were extreme. Clinton demonstrated why she is one of the best qualified candidates in decades (at least, as measured by traditional standards). Trump demonstrated his ‘shoot first, aim later’ style that many feel disqualifies him from getting anywhere near the Oval Office, much less the nuclear football.

The realities here appear clear: America is deeply divided on the direction of the country, perhaps as divided as in the turbulent 1960s. And the choices are not encouraging. These are two deeply flawed presidential candidates. Pro-Clinton and pro-Trump zealots are hard to find. It’s much easier to find the haters, those who would vote for Lucifer rather than vote for Clinton or Trump. Polls suggest about 70% of likely voters think the US is on the wrong course today. The question Americans must answer is which is better: more of the same or a roll of the dice on an unknown new direction?

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The American system of governance is built on checks and balances. Some who make the case for Trump do so knowing that Congress, the Supreme Court and the civil servants who run the day-to-day bureaucracy can keep America from lurching into the ditch. When tested with Franklin Roosevelt’s illness and Ronald Reagan’s final year, this system worked. The counterargument is that none of the checks and balances kept George W Bush from going to war without justification or from crashing the economy.

Character matters here; so does context.

The backdrop of Monday’s debate was a week in which two more black men were fatally shot by police under controversial circumstances. Does that advance Trump’s argument for reviving stop-and-frisk policing practices? Or does it argue for Clinton’s identification with the black community and her views on racial bias? 

There are many such twists throughout this campaign. Every time Trump lets his mouth run ahead of his brain, he prosecutes Clinton’s case that he is unfit to be president. Every time Clinton discusses policy, she prosecutes Trump’s case that it’s just more of the same. 

The race appears to be so close it’s within the margin of polling error. Clinton’s perceived debate win will likely give her a small bump, but not enough to change the trajectory of a photo finish. The pollsters and statisticians continue to rate Clinton’s chance of an electoral college victory. But are they right? 

Whoever wins likely will face a divided congress that will make bridging the national rift impossible in four short years. Trump is 70 years old; Clinton is 68. As they trade jabs about releasing health records, neither has the air of someone who will have sufficient grounding to seek a second term. For some Americans, the good news is we may get a do-over in 2020. It’s been that kind of a political season.

Photo: Getty Images/Spencer Platt


The multilateral trading system has served Australia and our region exceptionally well, and it has delivered a program of trade liberalisation and reform over the years that has been important in underwriting global growth.

But there is no doubt it is now facing multiple strains. The regrettable failure of the Doha Round underscores the need for a change in the way the system is functioning. That failure is a symptom of a bigger issue: the weakening of multilateral processes and institutions. 

The new global reality is the increasing trade and economic significance of large emerging economies such as China, the world’s largest merchandise trading country. Gone are the days of the major developed countries solely determining the direction of the global trading system. With these changes in the global economy has come a debate about the extent of the contributions and leadership that is now needed from the major emerging countries in support of global efforts to open markets and encourage growth in trade and investment. 

At the recent Hangzhou summit, G20 leaders made a commitment to revitalising the WTO’s negotiating function, and talks are now underway in Geneva to explore the way forward. 

Australia has historically been a strong supporter of multilateral deals, reflecting the fact that we have global trade and investment interests. The successful result of the WTO ministerial meeting in Nairobi last December (which resulted in the historic agreement to ban agricultural export subsidies) shows the value of multilateral rules.

But the Doha experience underscores the need to be realistic. If we are faced with the choice of making progress with a sub-set of WTO members (those with a shared interest in liberalisation and reform) or no progress at all, we will choose to move forward.

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Rule-making is a key value-add of the WTO. While FTAs are primarily focused on opening up access to markets for goods, services and investment, they have only limited capacity to introduce disciplines on actions by governments that distort trade, most notably subsidies.

Australia is playing an active role in the talks on future WTO negotiations. Those discussions are looking at new issues for negotiation as well as new ways of moving forward. These efforts are being informed by the experiences of many countries, including Australia, in tackling new issues in bilateral and regional FTAs. The stalemate in the Doha round has resulted in the proliferation of new rules on a number of issues not covered by the WTO. 

Developing these new rules has made sense as a response to the realities of the global marketplace and the needs of the business community. But there are some risks that multiple rules could increase the complexity of trade, which in turn could introduce restrictions and distortions. ‘Multilateralising’ these rules (getting broad adoption and adherence) would help to minimise some of these risks.

So-called plurilateral negotiations, involving a sub set of WTO members and often on an MFN basis, are one option being explored. Current examples of such an approach are the negotiations for the Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA), which Australia is chairing, and the Information Technology Agreement (ITA). Efforts are underway to conclude the EGA this year. In both cases, the benefits of the deal are extended to the entire WTO membership, an important feature in ensuring these deals strengthen the WTO system. Australia’s involvement in the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) negotiations is also premised on using that plurilateral platform as a basis for making future multilateral progress through the WTO.

Possible future candidates for new or expanded plurilateral negotiations include digital trade, investment, government procurement, fish subsidies, competition policy and good regulatory practices. All of these have been incorporated in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).   

In discussing possible new issues, we have not lost sight of the fact that many of the issues that were on the Doha agenda remain critically important for Australia, notably domestic agriculture subsidies and services regulation. We are continuing to push for these issues to be addressed in the WTO’s forward negotiating agenda. 

We are hopeful that agreements can be reached on this new agenda at the next WTO ministerial meeting at the end of 2017. Progress will be challenging; even achieving incremental movement will be tough, but equally, any progress on the WTO agenda can be a positive factor in improving the conditions facing Australian exporters and businesses operating internationally.

Photo: Getty Images/Bloomberg


It was announced earlier this month that Apprentice (note: no definite article, so no Trump) will be Singapore's entry to next year's Academy Awards:

In my occasional visits to Singapore over the last decade, my observation is that while the country remains politically closed, it has liberalised a lot culturally, an impression reinforced by the trailer for this film, which seems to take a confronting look at Singapore's harsh capital punishment laws.


It is rarely acknowledged that the list of Australian journalists working on China in recent times is pretty stellar. Just off the top of my head I can think of Jane Perlez (New York Times), John Garnaut (formerly Fairfax), Stephen McDonell (BBC), Chris Buckley (New York Times) and of course Richard McGregor, former China bureau chief for the Financial Times and author of the widely praised ‘The Party: The Secret Life of China’s Communist Rulers’. (Sorry if I’ve left any worthy names out; please let me know in the comments.)

I was proud to introduce Richard last night at a Lowy Institute event at the National Press Club in Canberra, and afterwards we talked about the big theme of his speech, which was Xi Jinping. In this podcast Richard talks about Xi’s record as China’s leader, his reputation both at home and abroad, and how much control he really exercises over foreign policy decision-making.

Apologies for the below-standard audio, but it is definitely listenable.


By Harriet Smith, an intern with the Lowy Institute's Melanesia Program.

  • The Prime Minister of Fiji delivered a keynote address to the UN General Assembly, during which he stated Fiji will be 'more discerning' in its choice of friends, a marked change in rhetoric.
  • The work behind the Lowy Institute’s mapping project ‘Chinese Aid in the Pacific’ is examined here, including the utility of social media.
  • The Solomon Islands has called for Indonesia to allow UN Special Rapporteurs into West Papua to prove Indonesia’s claims that there are no abuses of human rights occurring in the province.
  • The significance of West Papua’s presence on the Pacific Islands Forum agenda is examined in this post by Nic Maclellan on The Interpreter.
  • Vanuatu has started public consultations about an income  tax.
  • Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, has outlined a potential new visa that would allow overseas-born citizens and permanent residents to bring their parents over to Australia.
  • Crowd-funded lawyers representing the former MPs who were arrested following an anti-government protest have arrived in Nauru.
  • The initial eight months of the presidency of the first woman to be elected head of government of a Pacific independent state, Dr Hilda Heine, President of the Marshall Islands, is examined here.
  • American Samoa is seeking to follow the French territories to Pacific Islands Forum membership.
  • The Asaro Mud Men from the highlands of Papua New Guinea are in residence at the Australian Museum in Sydney this week, showcasing their work and contributing to cultural exchange between neighbours.
  • Peter King, a long-time Australian supporter and campaigner for West Papuan self-determination, has passed away.
  • After a warm welcome, the Prime Minister’s XIII defeated PNG 58-0. 
  • The upcoming Disney film 'Moana' will be the second set in the Pacific Islands (after ‘Lilo and Stitch’ in 2002). It tells the story of Moana, a Polynesian girl, who teams up with the demi-god Maui. The film has sparked discussion about the representation of Pacific Islanders, with some raising concerns about cultural appropriation.



Mapping China’s opaque aid program in the Pacific Islands was more complicated and time-consuming than I had anticipated. I made peace with this fact when I found myself building a makeshift 270-degree visual cocoon out of every electronic device in my apartment so that I could cross-check the various colour-drenched excel spreadsheets feeding into the Lowy Institute’s updated Chinese aid in the Pacific map.

Earlier this month, the Lowy Institute’s Melanesia program launched a major update to the Institute’s flagship research mapping project on Chinese Aid in the Pacific.  The map now contains a decade of Chinese government aid activities in the Pacific Islands region, making it a valuable resource for anyone working on and interested in the region's shifting geopolitical landscape. Kudos to the map’s original architect, Dr Phillippa Brant, who set incredibly high standards for the project and left big shoes to fill. Here's how we did it.

A Chinese-language researcher was hired to help crawl through Chinese Government budget documents, embassy pages and media articles. With the odd exception, Chinese translations helped confirm what we already knew and provided another source to underpin project classifications. Pacific Government budget documents were a necessary input to extract information for large projects, particularly those which have received little media attention. However, these figures were often optimistic estimates and weren’t always a reflection of what was (or wasn’t) occurring on the ground.

More than 660 sources fed into the updated map, but thousands more potential sources were searched and discounted along the way.

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I encountered the usual combination of obstacles when trying to map even the smallest of grants: incorrect figures cited by the media, overlapping projects and announcements, missing budget documents and confusion about the true origin of the funds. Hours could be spent on research, only to discover that while a particular grant may have been publicly handed over by the Chinese embassy, the funds actually originated from a Chinese community association, a business association (see 'Olympus donation') or a provincial government.

Other reported flows of funds, including an A$99,500 ‘One China’ grant to Vanuatu and an A$332,500 donation to Fiji (to compensate for the cost of President Xi Jinping’s 2014 state visit) were tracked but considered outside the scope of development assistance.

Follow the trail of money online (especially via Facebook)

There is no substitute for in-field research. But when the budget doesn’t allow for hundreds of site visits across dozens of islands and when many official websites haven’t been updated in years (and are often coated in malware), social media becomes invaluable.  

Thanks to continued mobile broadband growth, Facebook is now a vital source of information for understanding political and social developments in the Pacific Islands region. Public profiles, discussion groups, images and videos posted on the platform provide a window into how capital citiesrural towns and even local debates are impacted and shaped by China’s development assistance and expanding engagement. Analysing images and extracting metadata from Facebook (ie. dates, locations, media type) often provided crucial missing pieces and final confirmation that a project has indeed entered the construction phase

There are plenty of Chinese aid projects (potentially) around the corner

It is worth noting what is not on the map. There are a lot of projects we researched but could not include for a variety of reasons. Some seem to have permanently stalled. Others have been announced but haven’t actually started. For example, Samoa has lined up funding for a police and overseas peacekeeping facility, a US$50 million China Exim Bank loan is in the pipeline to upgrade Dili’s drainage system in Timor-Leste (although there are setbacks), and maintenance repairs are planned for China-constructed buildings in the Cook Islands.

Another project in the works is PNG’s proposed National Broadband Network (NBN) which is majority funded by a $US59 million China EximBank loan. Huawei signed on to be the NBN technology partner in 2013 and Prime Minister O’Neill touted the project back in 2014. But since then information has been scant and with little concrete proof the project has begun, it was decided to omit it from the map.

Project run-off: Who else is settling into the region?

One of the interesting parts of working on a project like this, especially one with a heavy online component, is keeping an eye on what else and who else pops up on the fringes. Like China, most of the region’s newer and re-emerging partners are concentrating their resources in PNG and Fiji.


As previously covered by The Interpreter earlier in the year, Fiji has been on the receiving end of $A11.5 million worth of military ‘donations’ from Russia. This relationship is one to watch. It's hard to imagine Fiji-Russia relations taking off, but newly established bilateral mechanisms offer plenty of opportunities for the security-heavy relationship to expand.

Israel, via its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its development agency, has started providing aid to PNG and the Marshall Islands in the form of humanitarian assistance and professional training support. In a strange development, Israel also provides defence and intelligence support to PNG. Taiwan’s overseas development program is small but continues to have a surprisingly broad presence in the region, including in Pacific Island states that recognise China. It was surprising to find a fair bit of activity in Bougainville, where Taiwan has funded IT centres and computers, donated solar panels and provided agriculture training.

It was recently announced that South Korea is setting up a regional foreign aid office in Fiji.  South Korean ICT experts will be spending more time in PNG and the the country's navy is now also a regular regional visitor. But it's a $US300 million PNG-South Korea port agreement that signals South Korea's clear fisheries interests in the Pacific Islands.

One of the most interesting developments is India’s increased aid engagement in the region, particularly in PNG. A string of rare high-level visits culminated in an announcement this year that the Indian Government, through the Exim Bank of India, offered and signed a US$100 million credit line with PNG for infrastructure financing and HIV/AIDs medication. Also in the pipeline in PNG is a 'centre of excellence' for information and technology. Earlier in the year India provided assistance when Cyclone Winston devastated Fiji and has offered to help the Fjiian Government (as has China) with a proposed new naval base and officer training.

China Exim Bank funding and money laundering 

While social media content helped flesh out details of new Chinese aid projects, a lack of visible media and social media coverage also prompted questions, particularly when sizeable amounts of development money were budgeted and allegedly being spent.

For example, it’s hard to tell whether PNG’s 'distance education network community college' — which is being funded with a US$35 million EximBank loan — ever eventuated. The mysterious project was recently caught up in a high-profile money laundering case in Singapore after authorities detected suspicious transactions that led to the bank account of former PNG Prime Minister Michael Somare (of which he denies knowledge). PNG Government budget documents report the project funds are currently in a trust managed by law firm Young & Williams Lawyers (who were the subject of 2015 investigations by SBS  and Fairfax). 

This development,  which may unravel further and is gathering steam across PNG's online discussion forums, should spook Chinese Government officials working in the region. An opaque aid program is already a tough sell in the Pacific Islands where mistrust, misinformation, frustrations and resentment about China's regional intentions abound.

Foreign aid programs are important tools of soft power and therefore linkages between aid and corruption, whether concrete, alleged or completely unfounded, equates to terrible PR for any donor. This is particularly true for China, which is already undergoing its own anti-corruption crackdown and dealing with domestic debates that charity should begin at home. PNG, a country marred by its own corruption issues, is wasting no time in lining up more Chinese concessional loans. The Chinese Government needs to make sure it steers well clear of any future allegations of corruption. Providing greater transparency around development assistance is the crucial first step. 

US presidential race 2016

The first of three presidential debates offered a lot of fireworks, but little to change the state of the race.

Trump trounced Clinton during the first third of the debate when discussing the economy and trade. Had this continued it would have become a rout. As it was, Clinton's preparation clearly paid off and she turned the tables admirably, especially with her ready-made retort to the accusation she had no stamina to be president. As many have noted, Clinton improved as the debate wore on: she was increasingly assured, polished, and on-point, while Trump was loose and at times rattled, squandering opportunities to hit Clinton by quarreling with moderator Lester Holt.

Overall, aided by some favourable moderation, Clinton won on points. But there was no knockout - few minds were changed by the performances, and even fewer were inspired to turn out who were likely to stay home before.

And this is Clinton's real problem. Her imperative is to get supporters to the polls on election day. On this, the debate was a failure for her campaign: Clinton's vision sounded focus-grouped and demotivating to voters, while Trump was not sufficiently outrageous to prove him unelectable.

This is no small problem. Much of the debate was about litigating personal issues — financial statements, emails, past positions — with not enough spent on real challenges facing Americans. For the average voter, there wasn't the substance on either side to inspire support or motivate turnout. Every time there is an increase in cynicism enhancing the general disgust towards politics, the candidate with the stronger base of enthusiasm wins, and that's Trump.

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It remains to be seen how the polls will react to the debate, but even if Clinton's numbers marginally improve this will likely be counteracted by the multitudes of people who won't bother to vote or who go third-party. This is going to be a turnout election, and unless Clinton is able to show herself to be an inspiration and not just a steady hand, she will struggle in the swing states come 8 November.

Nevertheless, Clinton's professional performance clearly demonstrated the benefits of preparation and may stimey Trump's momentum. If the polls show a larger than expected bounce for Clinton (say, much greater than 2% average), or if the Democratic base becomes sufficiently energised with former Bernie supporters signing up as volunteers, then the Clinton camp should consider itself very satisfied with the outcome. If not, they will be morose, because it means that even with a debate win, the mood for change throughout the country is simply overwhelming.

The result is probably somewhere in between. As Tom Switzer has noted, Trump successfully spoke to the punter and this keeps him competitive, yet Trump will still need to match Clinton's discipline and professionalism in the second and third debates if the American people are ultimately to entrust him with the presidency.

So much is happening in this campaign that it's very unlikely the headlines from it will last more than a couple of days, while an 'October surprise' is still likely to impact the race. Clinton won round one, but despite it being a widely viewed spectacle, the impact on the race seems surprisingly minimal. After all, it was very nearly a tie and, for Clinton, that may not be good enough.

Photo: Getty Images/Bloomberg


Hammering out an international agreement on limiting carbon emissions is hard enough, as anyone who has attended the succession of conferences on such a treaty since the Copenhagen meeting in 2009 can testify. But as the subsequent history of both the extended Kyoto Protocol agreed at a meeting in Doha in 2012 and the more comprehensive climate agreement signed in Paris late last year have shown, the conference itself is only the start of the political saga for these treaties.

International treaties do not come into effect simply because they have been signed by representatives of the governments involved. They have to be ratified (that is, given formal assent) by these governments.

The Paris agreement contains a specific clause that the treaty will not come into effect until at least 55 governments (out of the 190 which signed the treaty) representing 55% of emissions have ratified it. This target has yet to be met; as matters stand, it is expected that these conditions will be fulfilled perhaps by the end of the year, but the process is not straightforward.

In early September, in a bilateral meeting before the G20 summit, US President Barack Obama and the Chinese President Xi Jinping ratified the Paris treaty. The Chinese side is straightforward, but US part of the deal is not strictly ratification, which requires two-thirds majority assent by the US Senate. Ratification is a tough requirement for any treaty, but particularly for a climate treaty in a US Senate dominated by Republicans.

Instead President Obama gave presidential assent to an agreement. The wording of the Paris treaty was changed at the last moment, at the insistence of the US delegation, so that it be classified as an agreement rather than as an international treaty (a 'shall' was changed to a 'should' ). The major difference is that subsequent presidents can simply repudiate the agreement. Presidential candidate Donald Trump has already pledged to do so.

However, Obama's signature still counts as ratification as far as the treaty is concerned, and on 23 September the agreement took another huge step towards realisation when 23 countries ratified it in one session of the UN general assembly.

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That adds up to 60 countries on board representing 48% of emissions. But the EU remains a stumbling block, due to Poland. All 28 members of the EU (including the UK) have to agree before the treaty can be signed, but the Bratislava Declaration (issued after an informal meeting of government heads in mid-September) does not mention the issue at all. Instead it concentrates on the problem of refugee flows.

Poland has indicated that it will agree to the EU (which accounts for about 12% of the world’s emissions) ratifying the treaty, but first all of the EU countries have to agree to Brussels giving financial guarantees for three new coal-fired stations, which the country says its needs for energy security. The European Investment Bank, the EU’s lending arm, has a policy preventing funding for new coal plants. The Polish government has also noted that the coal plants will not be profitable if the price of emission permits (which the plants must have under EU rules) become too high.

More than 80% of Poland’s electricity is generated by coal, and the Law & Justice Party of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, which came to power last year, has vowed to defend the power industry. This hardline attitude also means that Poland has so far refused to ratify the extended Kyoto protocol (also known as the Doha amendment or second extension period) which was hammered out back in 2012. After repeated international meetings, and for want of anything better, the developed countries that signed the original Kyoto protocol agreed to extend it to 2020. When it comes into force that year, the Paris agreement is meant to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

However, that earlier agreement has yet to come into effect. In July a UN statement noted that 66 of the 144 countries required by the original deal have ratified it.  The extended Kyoto deal is no great loss, as it covered only developed countries, and not the big emitters China and India. The US never signed and other developed countries such as Japan, Canada and New Zealand stayed away.

Instead, hopes for effective international emission control system is pinned on the Paris agreement, which may well come into legal force before the start date of 2020. But the treaty does not put any effective limits on emissions from China or India. Instead, those countries have agreed to reduce energy intensity for their economies, which observers have noted is happening anyway.

But even those not very onerous conditions have caused problems. After talks with President Obama, Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi expressed support for ratifying the Paris deal (support which stopped short of a commitment) but indicated that India wanted assistance with financing alternative energy projects and nuclear power plants.

The Paris deal was signed with considerable fanfare, but turning this limited deal into reality has proved a grim and difficult business. 

Photo: Getty Images/Anadolu Agency

US presidential race 2016

The first thing to note is that, despite the avalanche of media coverage and articles such as this one, presidential debates may not matter very much. At the very least, the evidence is mixed. The second thing is that what the candidates say is probably secondary to how they look, and how they react in an unscripted way. As James Fallows points out, one reliable way to pick tonight's winner might be to hit the 'mute' button.

That said, some initial thoughts which I jotted down as I watched:

  • If in fact this debate really is being decided on visuals and the 'human moments' rather than policy substance, then on the first 30 minutes in particular, Clinton wins. Trump was incredibly rude; constantly interrupting, talking over his opponent, and pointing at her aggressively.
  • According to Trump, America is being fleeced by other countries, but his framing is fascinating. He praises the 'opposition': China is the 'best'; Mexico has a smart tax system; America is being ripped off by every country in the world; other countries have incredible airports. Trump is telling Americans that they are being overtaken, and that America may not be as exceptional as it thinks. That's kind of extraordinary, but certainly reflects the historical moment.
  • Incredible: Trump says America has spent $6 trillion in the Middle East when it could have been spending on infrastructure at home. Not long ago, you would have been hounded out of the Republican Party with pitchforks for a sentiment like that. Now the GOP's nominee says it. The Republican Party is being transformed before our eyes.
  • Clinton got into a slanging match over NAFTA, which was weak territory for her and strong for Trump. But Trump spent much of this period badgering Clinton, which looked really unattractive.
  • Let's not blind ourselves to how extraordinary Trump is; how many 'rules' (norms, really) he has broken in US presidential politics. Tonight he directly talks down the US economy, saying that the economy is in a bubble and that the Fed is being more political than Clinton. Unprecedented.
  • Clinton jabbed early by saying Trump was born with a silver spoon. Trump took up the point but in a fairly reserved way. Later Clinton launches her strongest attack, on Trump's refusal to release his tax returns (again, unprecedented) and his record as a businessman. A lot of pre-debate commentary suggested Trump could be baited into self-destructive counter-attacks, and Clinton has tried. But it has to be said this tactic failed.
  • On race relations, Clinton casts herself as the optimist against Trump's vision of lawless inner cities. Optimism is usually a winning strategy for US presidential candidates, but then again, these are not normal times.
  • Clinton pivots to Trump's right on the question of cyber-security, arguing that America needs to be more assertive and more capable. Trump is too close to Russia, she says, and incredibly...Trump defends the Russians! He says it might not have been Moscow which hacked the DNC. Why didn't Clinton point this out in her response?
  • On national security and counter-terrorism, Clinton sounds too much like the type of foreign-policy establishment figure against whom Americans are clearly rebelling. She praises NATO and implies that she wants more surveillance, and at the end of the debate she sends a message to America's allies that it will continue its historical world role. It seems out of touch with the times. By contrast, Trump doubles down on his 'heresy' that America's allies don't pay their way, and says America cannot be the policeman of the world.
  • 'Wooh, OK'. That's Clinton's smiling and ever-so slightly condescending put-down in reaction to Trump's spray about his winning temperament and Clinton being 'out of control'. That's going to become a meme.
  • On nuclear weapons, Trump says 'We should certainly not do first strike'. Did Trump just announce a no-first use policy?
  • Clinton's late attack on Trump's sexism was strong, and Trump's riposte incredibly weak.

 Photo: Getty Images/Joe Raedle


Two weeks on from the worst attack on Indian soldiers in Kashmir for decades, the dust is starting to settle. Many Indian politicians, press, and analysts had struck a relentlessly hostile note, demanding that New Delhi take (in their view) long overdue military action against the Pakistani terrorists who routinely conduct cross-border attacks, and the Pakistan Army's intelligence service, which has for decades aided and abetted them. There had also been unprecedented levels of interest in alternatives to military action, ranging from covert warfare to abrogation of the historic Indus Waters Treaty. But it is now clear that this government, like both its two immediate predecessors, is aiming to lower expectations of an overt strike, while focusing instead on a coordinated campaign to isolate Pakistan diplomatically. 

Immediately after the Uri attack on 16 September, a senior leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded severe retaliation: 'for one tooth, the complete jaw'. 'Pakistan is a terrorist state', tweeted the home minister, 'and it should be identified and isolated as such'. 'Every Pakistan post through which infiltration takes place should be reduced to rubble by artillery fire', argued the retired Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal. 'Action against Pakistan is an imperative for national morale', echoed retired Lieutenant General HS Panag, urging a '(Kashmir)-centric limited war'. An intelligent debate unfolded in sections of the print media, with more cautious voices like Pratap Mehta, Sushant Singh, Ajai Shukla, Suhasini Haidar, Arun Pakash and Manoj Joshi expressing doubts over both the feasibility and desirability of punishing Pakistan with force. 

On 24 September, after a three-day party conclave in the southern city of Kozhikode, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a nuanced speech that indicated where the government stood. He made no reference to retaliation or punishment, challenged Pakistan to a thousand-year war to eradicate poverty, and sharply distinguished between ordinary Pakistanis and the government 'making you fools in the name of Kashmir'. Yet he also promised that India would 'leave no stone unturned to isolate Pakistan in the world' and that 'we will ramp it up and force you to live alone in the world'. Indeed, India has already ramped it up, with aggressive speeches at the UN General Assembly by a junior diplomat, who called Pakistan the 'Ivy League of terrorism', and then the foreign minister herself on Monday.

Modi also hinted at his reasons for restraint: 'the whole world recognises India to be the world's fastest growing major economy'.

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Even if India could strike at Pakistan, doing so would place at risk its wider economic and diplomatic objectives, including rapid development and heightened integration into key global institutions like the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the UN Security Council. It is crucial to understand that this restraint is not itself a fixed policy, but a function of several factors. Some are broadly static, such as the economic and diplomatic stakes that might be threatened by a regional war. Others, however, are more contingent. One of these factors is the state of Indian military and intelligence capabilities, which are likely to adapt over time in line with funding and political attention. Such deep-seated reform (which the Economist discussed briefly last week) will take years.

Another factor, however, is the trigger itself. The Uri attack killed 18 soldiers, but this has to be understood in the context of the death of 135 members of Indian security forces this year alone, including 64 in Kashmir. It may be harsh to say so, but Uri is not an attack on the scale of Mumbai in 2008, and so the serious risks that accompany air strikes or ground warfare are not realistically on the table. What this does suggest is that Modi's homilies on economic growth and war on poverty could well be set aside when (not if) we see the next mass casualty attack, political assassination, or similar provocation from Pakistan-backed actors. Restraint now does not guarantee restraint in the future; it may even make it less likely, as public pressure accumulates. 

More broadly, the Uri attack has catalysed Indian debate over non-military deterrence and coercive options. On Monday, Modi chaired a meeting, attended by both his foreign secretary and national security advisor, on the Indus Waters Treaty, a landmark 1960 agreement that governs how India (the upper riparian state) shares river water with Pakistan. The IWT has endured through several wars and crises, and the government is claiming that the treaty itself isn't under review. But it has suspended talks in the Permanent Indus Commission, the treaty's joint dispute resolution body, and declared that it will go from using 11,000 to 18,000 megawatts of power from the western rivers, which will have an impact on Pakistan. All this is a clear signal that even the most durable of India-Pakistan agreements is at risk should attacks recur. Indian critics have, however, pointed out that India is the lower riparian with respect to China and is seeking similar agreements with other neighbours like Bangladesh and Nepal, so abrogation could set a dangerous precedent for New Delhi.

Elsewhere, India's former national security advisor (2005-11) MK 'Mike' Narayanan argued in The Hindu that restraint in the past had 'greatly added to India's prestige', and that Indian forces were anyway incapable of 'spectacular raids' using special forces. 'India's best option', he suggested instead, 'would be to engage in cyber sabotage and cyberwarfare, hiding behind the plausible deniability available in such attacks. Our capacity in this area is considerable, and it should be possible to...bring Pakistan to its knees'.

This seems unduly confident. As Arun Sukumar explains in an excellent brief, India has fairly limited offensive cyber-capabilities and has more to lose from any change to the 'stability of cyberspace in South Asia'. Moreover, it seems highly unlikely that Pakistan, a nation that lost 1000 civilians to terrorism last year, would be crippled by virtual damage. Indian hackers 'once took down Pakistan Railways' website', noted one Pakistani on Twitter, wryly. 'Nobody brought it back up for at least a year'. 

This curious ferment of ideas, some more coherent than others, is a reflection of Indians' growing frustration at their apparent impotence in the face of major attacks in 2001-02, 2008, and now 2016. This problem is intractable. Pakistan's relationship to non-state armed groups is a fundamental part of its security strategy, linked both to Pakistan's revisionist aims in Kashmir and its broader insecurity around a rapidly rising India. This strategy has contributed both to the ravaging of Pakistan in militant violence for over a decade and to growing alienation from the US. If these costs have not altered Pakistan's calculus, India would have to impose one larger still.

Yet any steps that do so, such as the seizure of Pakistani territory or the degradation of the Pakistani army, would catalyse support for Pakistan's army and anti-Indian jihadist groups, generate costs for India in excess of the original terrorist provocations, and eventually bring nuclear weapons into play. Slow-burning, non-kinetic options (like weaponising water, or supporting Pakistani separatists) might limit the third of these risks, but not necessarily the first two. And yet, although smaller steps that reduce the likelihood of escalation (from angry speeches all the way up to symbolic air strikes in disputed territory) may mollify Modi's restive domestic constituents, they won't make a dent on Pakistan's calculus. Addressing state sponsorship of terrorism is a fiendishly difficult problem, as Israel has found with respect to Iran, and only coercion and diplomacy in parallel are likely to work over the longer term.

 Photo: Getty Images/Hindustan Times.


This is a new series which has just started airing in the US and is available on Netflix here in Australia.

It's a compelling premise for a series, and the reviews are generally positive.

(H/t JG.)

  • The Clinton Foundation has been under the microscope over the last few months. Dylan Matthews takes a look at its record and details how it has undoubtedly had an impact in saving millions of live through playing a critical role in pushing down the cost of HIV/AIDS drugs in developing countries.
  • Foreign aid supporters in the UK are pushing the government for more detail on recent figures showing that the proportion of foreign aid to be spent by departments other than its foreign aid ministry (DFID) will rise from 18% this year to 26% in 2019/20.
  • The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria held its Fifth Replenishment Conference in Montreal last week, with $12.9 billion pledged for 2017-2019, $1 billion more than the last replenishment. Australia provided a nominal increase of 10% over its last pledge, which should be considered a win in the context of a massively cut-back aid program.
  • Six candidates will compete to be the next head of the World Health Organisation, as Margaret Chan steps down after a decade at the helm. The WHO is currently facing questions about its relevancy after its failure to effectively and rapidly respond to the Ebola outbreak.  
  • Angus Deaton and Nancy Cartwright have produced a working paper considering the use and limitations of randomised control trials.  
  • Speaking of which, an RCT evaluation of the effect of TOMS shoes in El Salvador has found that the overall impact of the shoe donation program appears to be negligible, since most children already own at least one pair of shoes.
  • Dani Rodrik discusses how and why globalisation should be rolled back and made to work better for democracies. Chris Blattman provides his thoughts here



The issue of human rights in West Papua was high on the agenda at the recent Pacific Islands Forum in the Federated States of Micronesia. Despite the sensitivities for member countries like Australia and Papua New Guinea, leaders at the forum also agreed the issue should stay on the agenda for next year's meeting in Samoa.

Forum Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor of Papua New Guinea went on the record to say: 'It's an issue that needs to be pursued and it's not going to go away. Our bigger countries in the region like Australia and New Zealand realise that this issue is just not going to go to sleep – and it shouldn't go to sleep, because it is very important for our region.'

This line is a rebuttal to Indonesian authorities who would prefer that Forum leaders avoid discussion of human rights and self-determination in West Papua. Speaking after a ministerial meeting in Australia last December, Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu (a former army chief of staff) said West Papua should not be an issue for regional discussion:

There are countries that are getting involved in the issue of Papua. For us, Papua is in the United Republic of Indonesia. The United Republic of Indonesia extends from Sabang to Papua. There is no other solution to talk about it, that's it, that's the way it is. So this is so that everyone will know that that doesn't need to be spoken about.

Pacific civil society has ensured that island leaders continue to address the issue. First adopted in 2014, the Framework for Pacific Regionalism is a new policy mechanism for business and community organisations to put forward submissions for regional action by forum leaders. In both 2015 and this year, the largest number of submissions called for action on West Papua.

In Pohnpei, civil society representatives met over breakfast with a troika of island leaders, lobbying for the Forum to take the West Papuan issue to the international community.

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Non-self-governing territories like New Caledonia and French Polynesia are now gaining full membership in the Forum, yet countries like Australia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji are reluctant to grant membership to the United Liberation Movement of West Papua, which is lobbying for regional support. The Forum's final communique simply stated that 'leaders recognised the political sensitivities of the issue of West Papua (Papua) and agreed the issue of alleged human rights violations in West Papua should remain on their agenda. Leaders also agreed on the importance of an open and constructive dialogue with Indonesia on the issue'.

The reference to 'alleged' human rights violations is much weaker language than used in other regional statements, such as the 2013 Melanesian Spearhead Group Summit, which supported 'the inalienable rights of the people of West Papua towards self-determination' and condemned 'human rights violations and other forms of atrocities relating to the West Papuan people'.

After the meeting, Emele Duituturaga, executive director of the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisations (PIANGO), said: 'We know that the draft text reflected their intention to take West Papua to the United Nations, but when the final communiqué was released, it had been watered down.' As a journalist who reported on the Forum in Pohnpei, a number of sources from the leaders' retreat confirmed that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull personally weakened the language on West Papua in the communiqué.

After the summit, Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi (who will host the 2017 Forum in Apia) said: 'It must be understood that West Papua is part of Indonesia and any other way of handling it is interfering with Indonesia's national interests. That is why the only way to do this is through the United Nations under the right to self-determination.'

Given the lack of agreement at the Pacific Islands Forum , individual countries will now work through the Pacific Coalition on West Papua to lobby at the United Nations Human Rights Council and other UN structures. Under the coalition umbrella, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia's FLNKS independence movement are now joined by Nauru, Tuvalu and Marshall Islands, as well as churches and civil society groups like PIANGO.

The Forum summit received poor coverage in Australia because the Australian media failed to take it seriously. The press pack arrived with Turnbull on his plane after the Forum meeting had begun, and left on Saturday night before the official communique was released. I encourage readers of The Interpreter to look beyond Australia's mainstream media, and go to Pacific media organisations that gave extensive coverage to what island leaders are actually saying.

Photo: Getty Images/Ulet Ifansasti