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

The debate around Peter Hartcher's Lowy Institute Paper The Adolescent Country continued this week on The Interpreter. Peter Hartcher wrote a wrap-up of the Abbott Governments performance at the Brisbane G20 Summit and argued that it demonstrated the arguments he made in the Lowy paper:

Yet on the surface, it looked like a triumph for Obama. And it is surface looks like that usually decide opinion. 'It's been a good week for American leadership,' said Obama. It looked to be an embarrassment for Abbott. And it seemed the Australian leader was smarting. A string of Abbott proxies — two ministers and The Australian's Greg Sheridan — went public to grumble and gripe about Obama's speech. This went on for a week. But the simple fact is that Abbot had been caught indulging the provincial reflex in the middle of a global gathering.

The result? The economic agenda that Abbott most wanted to discuss was largely overshadowed by an artificial argument on climate change, the very subject he wanted to avoid.

Sam Roggeveen published his response to Hartcher's paper and questioned if provincialism matters:

But it's worth remembering that the media and political parties also punish our political leaders when they becometoo provincial.

Julia Gillard, after all, was roundly criticised for admitting, while at a conference in Europe during the early months of her prime ministership, that 'I'd probably be more (comfortable) in a school watching kids learn to read in Australia than here in Brussels at international meetings.' More recently, the Opposition has made the Abbott Government's allegedly slow response to the Ebola epidemic into an effective line of criticism. In this case, it seems the Opposition has tapped a well of feeling in the community that Australia needs to be more internationally engaged, not less. In fact, when Australian governments do make major decisions about involvement in a foreign crisis, the provincial reflex rarely kicks in. If anything, the media and Opposition tend to be too eager to rally around the flag when governments decide to send our military forces abroad.

Perhaps the provincial reflex might be better described as a tabloid reflex. It is an easy and time-tested way for the media and opposition parties to generate short-term public outrage, but its not clear that it has any lasting policy consequences.

The Lowy Institute also published a research report by Nonresident Fellow Linda Jakobson on China's maritime actors. Linda wrote on the propaganda aspects of the disputes in the South and East China Seas:

As I argue in a new Lowy Institute Report about China's maritime security actors, each government with a claim tries to manipulate perceptions, apply psychological pressure and publicise 'legal' arguments to assert its claims to resources and territory. A key aim is to convince domestic and foreign audiences that rival claimants are acting unlawfully. Governments are aware that 'Twenty-first century warfare — where hearts, minds and opinion are, perhaps, more important than kinetic force projection — is guided by a new and vital dimension, namely the belief that whose story wins may be more important than whose army wins.'

The former First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy, Sir Mark Stanhope, wrote on lessons from the Cold War in our continuing debate on SSBNs and strategic stability in the Indo-Pacific: 

Deterrence is about perception and an understanding by each side that there is a certainty of catastrophic retaliation. This certainty, when provided by the SSBN, is made up of a number of separate elements. The first consists of the technological capabilities of both the weapon system and the submarine supporting it. These include design, manufacture and build, engineering readiness, maintenance, sustainability, reliability and a continual need to demonstrate that it all works.

Morris Jones on Asia's space race:

Asian space programs have been fueled by these developments for decades, although it largely escaped the attention of the wider world. The programs were relatively modest in comparison to their superpower rivals, and were focused on practical outcomes. Asia needed satellites to map farmland and connect dispersed peoples through telecommunications. There would be no robots to Mars, at least initially.

Thus, China, India and Japan ran world-class space programs for a long period without arousing much interest in the West. Japan's strategic and political ties to America made it a partner in the International Space Station. Otherwise, there was only a modest degree of interaction beyond Asia itself. The turn of the millennium has escalated Asian spaceflight to fever pitch. Analysts can no longer deny that an Asian 'space race' is in full swing.

Last weekend saw former Politburo Standing Committeee member Zhou Yongkang expelled from the Chinese Communist Party. He is now awaiting trail as part of Xi Jinping's continuing anti-corruption drive. Merriden Varrall on how the drive is strengthening the relationship between the state, the Party and the people of China:

Yet the acknowledgement by Chinese state media of the damage to the image of the Party and the losses for the people suggests that the revelations of egregious corruption among Party officials do not lead the Chinese people to become disillusioned with the system.

Rather, the narrative is of the people and the Party co-existing as one symbiotic entity. The Party, state, country, and people are not rival forces but facets of the whole. What is bad for one element is bad for the others, and for the system overall. As Frank Pieke has argued, in China it is not helpful to see the Party and the people separately; in fact, the people are the state. Therefore it is not really 'thinkable' for the Chinese people to see these cases of corruption as symptomatic of fundamental systemic problems. In the Chinese common sense, the cancer of corruption is invading the pure body of the Party-state, the cancer must be cured, and the Party-state can and will recover.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his annual 'State of the Nation' address late last week. Matthew Sussex thinks that the time is now for the West to change its policy towards Russia:

Presidential systems of government often feature an annual speech by the chief executive. In general they are carefully choreographed affairs that are less about governance than grandstanding. They tend to reflect a list of outstanding achievements, punctuated by vigorous applause, while carefully skirting over the past year's policy missteps.

Vladimir Putin's recent state of the nation address was no exception. But instead of celebrating a glorious triumph – reintegrating Crimea into the motherland while thumbing his nose at NATO – Putin instead faced an urgent economic crisis that has given even his most ardent supporters pause.

Putin's speech was typically bombastic. He claimed the West had been attempting to 'destroy' Russia for the last decade, if not for centuries. He announced Crimea was as sacred to Russians as Jerusalem's Temple Mount for Muslims and Jews. Calling his armed forces 'polite but menacing', he reminded outside powers that Russia had once stopped Hitler from obliterating it.

Julian Snelder on the internet in China:

Lu reminds foreign firms they are guests in his realm. These firms have struggled in China, though whether that is due to regulatory interference or better local competitors is debatable. Meanwhile, China has sprung a highly active and dynamic indigenous internet sector. For every American web outfit there is at least one Chinese equivalent, and some have progressed from being copycats to being multi-vertical innovators in their own right. Chinese internet companies account for four of the world's ten most valuable. Foreign software firms have struggled mightily. Beijing charges the likes of Microsoft for monopoly and other transgressions, even as most Chinese use pirated Windows software (to be fair, the state itself uses authorised licenses). Fearing potential cybersecurity breaches, Beijing has campaigned against the 'IOE' (IBM, Oracle, and EM) tripartite and other multinationals, and seeks to replace them with domestic products and services.

In a response to a post by Sam Roggeveen last week, Stephen Grenville argues that Peter Theil's comments on the benefits of monopolies are misplaced:

The argument that monopoly enhances innovation doesn't fit with Thiel's own experience. Three decades ago, the payments system in just about every country was a heavily regulated monopoly. To make a payment you either had to use cash or deal with a bank. The rationale was to protect consumer transactions from fraud. With financial deregulation, these restrictions to competition were removed, producing a torrent of innovation, including PayPal.

Who could argue that this competition has not been beneficial? Should the pace of future innovation now be placed, once again, in the hands of incumbent monopolies?

East Asia Program intern Jessica Tang wrote an excellent legal analysis on two recent position papers from China and the US State Department on the legalities surrounding the South China Sea territorial claims:

The upshot of the Chinese position paper and US report is that while China casts broad historic claims in relation to the nine-dashed-line, it knows these claims are unlikely to withstand the scrutiny of international law. As such, China will continue to avoid legal disputes and pursue 'direct negotiations and friendly consultations', where at least it will have the option to assert its political clout.

Philippa Brant also had a take:

The most interesting part of the report, for me at least, was the third interpretation, the use of the dashed line to indicate a historic claim. If this is indeed the nature of China's claim, then under international law, China has not actually made a cognizable claim. As the report explains, if you are making a historic claim then you must give international notoriety to the claim. This is usually done through formal notification. China's various maps depicting the nine-dashed line are not precise or consistent enough to fulfill this. 

This last week has seen an outbreak of violence in Papua New Guinea, with clashes between the police and military occurring on the streets of Port Moresby. Karl Claxton argued that Australia has a continuing interest in the situation:

So why does Australia keep trying to strengthen two such troubled organisations? Well, mainly because it's in our direct interest to do so. With around three-quarters of all Pacific Islanders coming from PNG, the country'sproximity across our direct approaches, and given Australia's regional security responsibilities, promoting stability across this part of our inner arc will remain 'non-discretionary'. This is irrespective of how next year's Defence White Paper balances our regional and global priorities. So it will remain important to improve the professionalism of both forces, maximise the degree to which they are strategic assets rather than a liabilities for PNG, and ensure they are potentially effective regional partners for the ADF (as both were in RAMSI).

Melensia Program Director Jenny Hayward-Jones and Research Associate Mark Tamsitt interviewed former PNGDF commander Brigadier General (Rtd) Jerry Singirok on the violence:

Rather than see this incident as the inevitable result of youthful drunkenness and an early start the to annual Christmas looting season, policy makers should use it to restart a serious debate about addressing law and order in PNG. There are a number of risk factors which make this urgent. The most pressing is the growing youth bulge, particularly in urban areas. Forty percent of PNG's population is aged under 15 years and there are few prospects of employment for a generation with limited skills but high expectations brought about by the resource boom.

Papua New Guinea will be in the international spotlight next year as it celebrates 40 years of independence, registers record GDP growth and plans to host major regional and international events. It is time the PNG Government and its partner Australia address the country's most crippling challenge, law and order.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jürg Stuker.