Bringing together the best longer Interpreter articles you were too busy to read this week.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott conducted his first overseas trip this week, visiting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta. Lowy Institute Indonesia expert Dave McRae surveyed the Indonesian-language press:

Coverage of the visit focused on its first day, perhaps in part because local reporters were reportedly excluded from Abbott's press conference on Tuesday.

The visit received reasonable if not saturation coverage: Kompas ran a front page photo with the story on the international page, Media Indonesia went front-page for story and photo, while Jawa Pos ran a large photo on p.16 but with little text. In the four papers surveyed, no editorial or opinion piece covered the visit.

Also on Indonesia, I noted Prime Minister Abbott's reference to the growing strength of the Indonesian economy relative to Australia's:

Prime Minister Abbott delivered a short speech at a business breakfast in Jakarta this morning which contained these striking words: "At present, Indonesia’s annual GDP per person is less than $4000 – or a tenth of Australia’s – but it’s growing at about 6 per cent a year. It may be many years before individual Indonesians’ standard of living equals that of Australians but it probably won’t be very long before Indonesia’s total GDP dwarfs ours."

Yes, 'dwarfs' is what he said. And just to reinforce the point: 'on present trends, Indonesia will be the number four economy in the world by mid-century.'

I don't think Australians are in any way prepared for this reality. If they think about Indonesia at all, it is in relation to illegal immigration, natural disasters, terrorism or as a holiday destination (that is, unless you belong to the 30% of Australianswho don't know that Bali is part of Indonesia). We haven't, as a nation, given much thought to what it will be like to have a friendly but not allied and occasionally prickly global economic power as our near neighbour.

Stephen Grenville kicked off the week with a popular post on the prevalence of gloom when discussing the global economy:

...in the emerging economies, the gloomsters’ debate is about whether fast-growth convergencewill run into the ‘middle-income trap’. There are enough examples of full convergence to say confidently that sustained rapid growth is feasible if policies and politics are supportive. In the first decade of this century the exceptional performance of the emerging economies added an extra full percentage point onto annual world growth. Now, with emerging economies having additional heft from larger GDP, even a more modest pace of expansion would maintain their contribution to global growth.

Sticking with economics, Mike Callaghan commented on the impact of the US government shutdown on the global economy:

As the Washington Post reported, ‘A prolonged government shutdown – followed by a potential default on the federal debt – would have economic ripple effects far beyond Washington, upending financial markets, sending the unemployment rate higher and slowing already tepid growth.’

A chapter in the IMF’s forthcoming World Economic Outlook report, called Dancing Together? Spillovers, Common Shocks, and the Role of Financial and Trade Linkages, provides a timely backdrop for ministers when they contemplate the implications of recent developments, particularly in the US. For example, the IMF points out that the global financial crisis triggered lock-step movements from the world's economies, with growth rates at their most synchronised since the end of World War II. And as the Fund goes on to note, when a crisis occurs in a global financial hub like the US, the effects on global output are disproportionately large.

Hence all G20 ministers should worry about the brinkmanship being played out between US politicians, the fourth such ‘crisis' in the past two years. Hopefully, those involved will recognise the implications of not getting an agreement on the budget and debt ceiling and sanity will win the day, although the most likely result will be a short-term fix.

Brinkmanship over US fiscal policy will probably continue until the end of President Obama’s term in January 2017. Not only is this bad for confidence and a reason for business to delay long-term commitments, there remains the threat of ‘political miscalculation’, which would result in investors acting on concern that the US will default on its debt.

Yesterday, Mike Green argued that the US shutdown was putting the Obama Administration's Asia pivot at risk:

President Obama has cut Malaysia and the Philippines from his itinerary for his upcoming Asia trip, but still appears ready to make the APEC and EAS meetings in Indonesia and Brunei. However, with the US government still shut down and the Republican Congress and White House at loggerheads, the entire trip could still be cancelled at the last minute.

How bad would that be for US influence in the region? Pretty bad, is the answer, though the Administration could recover with intense diplomacy in the early part of next year.

Andrew O'Neil argued that, while most of us weren't looking, things got a whole lot more tense on the Korean peninsula this week:

...evidence that South Korea is becoming increasingly nervous about North Korea's evolving strategic capabilities — particularly its nuclear weapons delivery capabilities — underscores the growing risks of a major conflict erupting in Northeast Asia as a result of miscalculation or inadvertent escalation. Comments by President Park Geun-hye that the situation on the peninsula is 'very grave' were accompanied by South Korea's biggest parade of its military strength in decades, including showing off newly acquired Hyeonmu missiles which, in the words of one South Korean official, have the capability of 'striking the office window of the North's command headquarters'.

Australia finished up as UN Security Council president at the end of September. Former BBC Australia correspondent (now BBC New York and UN correspondent) Nick Bryant offered some comment on Security Council activities while Australia was in the top job:

When the Security Council met on Friday night to pass the resolution enshrining the chemical weapons handover deal, the voice of Gary Quinlan announcing an historic 15-0 vote was broadcast around the world. While it was her prerogative to chair the Security Council, Ms Bishop had to catch a flight back to Australia so that she could prepare for the trip to Indonesia. With all fifteen members of the Security Council co-sponsoring the resolution, it became a 'president’s text', something of a rarity on a body where the P5 are often at loggerheads.

Australia’s role was largely procedural. The detailed negotiations on the draft resolution involved the P5 powers, while the final agreement on the text involved another face-to-face meeting between Kerry and Lavrov. But Gary Quinlan and his team are now trying to harness the diplomatic momentum from this unexpected moment of unity by pushing for a presidential statement allowing for greater humanitarian access in Syria.

Our cyber warfare debate also continued to attract attention. Alexander Mack chimed in with this:

The four types of threat within cyberspace (cybercrime, cyberterror, cyberespionage and cyberwar) share very similar characteristics. Their difference is ultimately found in the intent of the action. Cybercrime is driven by the desire to profit financially from an illicit activity. Cyberterror is about causing fear (whether through the threat of violence or the projection of words and images) in the pursuit of a political goal. Cyberespionage is the collection of information for either military or financial advantage in the long term, while cyberwar is an action where a state intentionally seeks to inflict harm on the information systems of another state.

Establishing intent is the first step in determining an adequate course of action in response to a malicious cyber act.

Milton Osborne reported on the latest Mekong dam-building news:

Further evidence of the Lao Government's intention to press ahead with the dam at Don Sahong is provided by information from AECOM, engineering consultants to the lead construction firm, Mega First Corporation Berhad (MFCB) of Malaysia, and by the news that SMEC New Zealand is involved in consulting to MFCB...SMEC NZ is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Australian-based engineering and development consultancy SMEC, which has its origins in the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme.

So far as I am aware, this is the first instance in the post-Vietnam War period that an organisation with links to Australia has become directly involved in activities associated with the construction of dams on the lower Mekong.

And software engineer Tony Healy gave us an excellent summary of the the cyber challenges defence planners are facing:

As a new field, cyber poses a range of challenges:

  1. The ability of information systems to conduct millions of operations and respond within milliseconds creates new classes of threat that would once have been seen as impractical.
  2. Where cyber operations are used by deployed formations (to locate enemy leaders, for example) there is still debate as to whether teams should sit within Signals or have direct input to tactical planning and intelligence.
  3. Personal devices carried by military staff during travel and in protected base areas can disclose location via numerous commercial apps and services.
  4. Upgrades of monitoring and control systems to modern software and internet access are often not subject to the strict reviews of corporate networks, leaving them vulnerable to external attacks.
  5. Systems can be compromised at the semiconductor level before they're even built. There is no convenient way to detect or protect against such tampering. That's one reason the US and Australian governments might prohibit the use of one brand of networking equipment.

Photo by Flickr user in the bag solutions.