Bringing together the best longer Interpreter articles you were too busy to read this week.
A distinct Asia focus to our output this week. But let's kick off with a piece we published last week, which was posted too late to make the cut for last Saturday's Weekend Catch-Up.
Rory Medcalf's post on China's naval exercise in the Indian Ocean somewhere between Australia and Indonesia was easily our biggest of the year, picking up over 400 tweets and as many Facebook likes. Rory has this week made a number of media appearances after publication of that post. For Australia's government and preceding ones, there was a sting in the tail of the piece:
...it is a safe bet that the voyage of the three Chinese warships Changbaishan, Wuhan and Haikou will prove far more consequential to Australia's strategic future than any number of those certain other vessels in the waters off Indonesia that have so dominated our media and political attention of late.
We also had a thoughtful piece on Western aid to Afghanistan. Former Australian Financial Review journalist Claire Stewart asked whether donors have unwittingly fostered a welfare state and irreversibly altered cultural practices in that country:
After twelve years of Western aid and more than US$100 billion poured over the country from America alone (with promises of $US16 billion more until 2017), some locals worry that donors have unwittingly fostered a welfare state, one which may not have the collective will, either at government or the individual level, to weather the withdrawal of troops and aid come December.
More than that, there are concerns aid delivery here has irreversibly altered certain cultural practices, although as many expat Afghans lament, the general work ethic hasn't been much to brag about since the civil war enshrined corruption and bureaucracy as the method du jour.
This week we asked readers to ponder Singapore's success. Here's Milton Osborne's take:
Remarkable leadership is certainly part of the answer, but that leadership has involved more than Lee Kuan Yew, vitally important as his contribution was. Far too little attention is given by outside observers to others in the PAP leadership team in the early years of Singapore's independence, a team that included Goh Keng Swee and many others whose names are now forgotten outside Singapore. And at the very least, the younger generation of politicians who followed have been dedicated and capable, even if the challenges they have faced have not, perhaps, been so great.
As usual, we had some great posts on China by Vaughan Winterbottom. One, on China's plan for the Antarctic, was picked up by Joshua Keating over at Slate:
China has been keen to stress the scientific orientation of its Antarctic operations. On the opening of the new base,Xinhua stressed that the country's Antarctic explorations were 'peacefully intended' and 'cooperative', and that its stations are platforms for scientific exchanges with other countries.
In the same article, however, State Oceanic Administration deputy director Chen Lianzeng was a little more ambiguous on the resource question. 'Peaceful use of Antarctica in the future will be a blessing for all humankind', he was quoted as saying. What this use will be was left unsaid.
The 'future' Chen mentioned could be 2048, when the current prohibition on mining under the environmental protocol of the Antarctic Treaty is up for review. A convention on the regulation of mining looked likely in the 1980s, until negotiations were scuttled by Australia and France. These two insisted on a total ban. Come mid-century, however, increasing resource scarcity may trigger a rethink on the policy. Fogarty comes to a similar conclusion in her policy brief, adding that 'these developments pose a potential threat...to Australia's dormant claim to 42 percent of the continent.'
In this context, China is probably increasing its presence on the continent now to ensure itself a bargaining position come 2048.
Another post looked at the amendments being made to China's state secrecy laws. Vaughan argued that the amendments might make it harder for state officials to cover up malpractice:
The exact scope of China’s state secrecy laws are, rather fittingly, something of a mystery. They came into effect on 1 May 1989. State secrets are defined as 'matters related to state security and national interests.' Article 9 of the law stipulates seven types of state secrets, including 'national economic and social development' and 'other secret matters', a catch-all caveat used to justify many a cover-up and arrest in the following years.
Occasionally, unwitting saboteurs are caught out by the law.
In 2004, for instance, university administrator Shi Xiaolong received three years imprisonment for leaking state secrets. His crime was passing on a college English examination to a teacher. In 2006 Tan Kai, a computer technician, received an 18 month sentence for backing up files while repairing the computer of an employee of the Zhejiang provincial party committee. The NGO Human Rights in China asserts that the secrecy laws were used as a pretext for his arrest; the real reason was his involvement in an environmental watchdog. Reports on environmental pollution have at other times also been classified as 'state secrets.'
Our Indonesia-based contributor, Catriona Croft-Cusworth, reported on the increasing personalisation of campaigning in Indonesia:
Political campaigning in Indonesia has changed in character since the introduction of an open-party list system in 2009. The system is designed to even the playing field for candidates from smaller parties, ensuring better representation across the diverse archipelago, and increase competition between candidates within the same party.
For campaigning, this has meant an increased emphasis on the candidate over the party name and increased personal spending to finance campaigns. Notice on the posters how party logos, which once dominated campaign material, have taken a back seat to superhero symbols, questionable catchphrases and attractive daughters (Australians are no strangers to such campaign techniques).
A second post by Catriona looked a the relationship between the media and minority religions in Indonesia's upcoming elections:
Ethnically, Indonesia is highly diverse, but in terms of religion it is relatively homogenous, with around 90% of the population identifying as Muslim. The other five state-recognised faiths are Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism. Other minority sects such as Ahmadiyyah have also received media attention in recent years after suffering persecution.
In a paper for the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, researcher Geoffrey Macdonald explains that Indonesian voters are not easily split along religious lines (since the majority holds the same religion) or along ethnic lines (due to a shared religious and national identity). The electoral system also prevents ethnic-based politics from taking hold by forcing parties to foster broad appeal and a nationwide following.
However, religion and ethnicity can factor into elections when a candidate is not from the mainstream. One example is the campaign of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, now Joko Widodo's deputy governor of Jakarta. An ethnically Chinese Christian, Basuki faced ethnic and religious slurs from opponents who labeled him an 'infidel'.
Elliot Brennan, writing from Bangkok, followed one of the demonstrations currently afflicting the city:
As a result, the protesters were on alert for an ambush by law enforcement and opposition forces alike. Those tasked with security for the protest group were visibly tense as Suthep Thaungsuban, leader of the anti-government protests, led a march across the city to Asok, a city centre surrounded by iconic hotels and the famous red-light street Soi Cowboy.
Despite the heightened tension, that morning the Asok protest site perimeter was porous and avoiding the newly fortified and guarded gate controls was easy, perhaps suggesting that with the heightened security around the protest leaders, the protesters' security was stretched. The multi-lane Asok Montri Rd was being used as a makeshift square, with a tent city constructed at one end and under the Asok station walkway, the main stage.
Notably, there was no mesh covering the stage where Suthep was due to speak. The mesh nets have become increasingly important, one protester told me as he rotated his arm in a cricketer's bowling action, to fend off projectiles. 'Grenades?' I asked. He nodded.
Photo by Flickr user Brandice Schnabel.