The South China Sea issue dominated The Interpreter this week. Here's Rory Medcalf on the strong but subtle American messaging at last weekend's Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore:
...the Shangri La speech was less a ratcheting up of tensions than a narrative that put American expressions of determination on the South China Sea into a context that aligns American involvement with the interests of the wider region in stability and associated prosperity. Thus, in language co-opting China's 'community of common destiny', Secretary Carter emphasised that a stable Asia would need to be one in which 'everyone rises, everyone wins'.
Merriden Varrall was in Singapore too, and wondered if Ashton Carter's speech would be heard in Beijing:
Secretary Carter's speech was widely praised for its balance, including by many Chinese present. Carter noted that America has been in the region for decades ensuring stability, and will continue to do so. China was portrayed as a bemusing trouble-maker, throwing the stability of the region into question...
...For China at least, US responses to its reclamation activities constitutes 'meddling', as was made clear in China's recent Defence White Paper. As such, these US pronouncements fit neatly into China's powerful 'persecution by the hegemon' discourse, the time-honoured response to which is for Beijing to bristle and disregard. Indeed, Sun mentioned several times in his remarks that China would not subjugate itself to hegemony.
We also looked at how China's media covered the Shangri-La Dialogue, and Euan Graham picked up on the recurring Shangri-La Dialogue theme of 'transparency':
...this focus on transparency needs updating, because China's artificial island building over the past year in the South China Sea — the talking point of the dialogue — has clarified things nicely.
Questions remain about exactly how China will employ its artificial islands for defence purposes. But the intention to establish an air and naval presence at several reclaimed features in the Spratlys is clear and would be difficult to reverse given the resources invested. Yes, Admiral Sun's speech repeated China's claims that the facilities will be used for civilian purposes such as search and rescue, and weather watching. But I doubt if many in the audience took this at face value.
The reason the South China Sea and China's reclamation activities garnered so much attention at SLD14 is not because Beijing's intentions are opaque but because they are dazzlingly clear.
The problem of Muslim radicalisation was another prominent theme this week, with Hussain Nadim writing that Australia's strategy was misdirected (later in the week, he wrote a second piece offering an alternative strategy):
The fundamental flaw in the Government's counter-radicalisation policy is that it has relied heavily on Muslim community leaders to understand the roots of radicalisation. Not only are the Muslim community leaders no experts on the subject of radicalisation, but they are are also distant from the younger generation of Muslims who undergo an identity crisis triggered internally by Australian society (which functions contrary to their beliefs) and externally by sophisticated propaganda which they digest over social media.
The result is an obviously misdirected counter-radicalisation strategy focusing on sponsoring 'liberal' Islamic education, training for Imams, and the opening up of Islamic institutes at universities to promote research and dialogue.
Opening up new Islamic institutes and publishing liberal Islamic texts has absolutely no measurable impact on radicalism – thick intellectual texts are not read by majority of the Muslim youth. And there is little evidence that Imams have much to do with growing radicalisation, given that groups like al Qaeda and ISIS tend to bypass structures and hierarchy to reach directly to recruits.
Rodger Shanahan put the case in favour of Government plans to revoke citizenship from dual citizens involved in terrorism:
As part of those military operations, individuals of sufficient importance are placed on a High Value Target List (HVTL), and when actionable intelligence becomes available they may be targeted. Australia faces difficulties, however, because of constraints that prohibit the passage of information on Australian citizens to third parties. Given we are in a coalition, any Australian on a HVTL is therefore protected to a degree by their citizenship. It is reasonable to expect that if he has another citizenship available to him, then his Australian citizenship should be stripped so that Australia can provide intelligence on him to the coalition, thus allowing that individual to be targeted.
It is also appropriate, on rare occasions, that this be an executive decision without reference to the judiciary. Intelligence has a limited shelf-life and the coalition of which we are a part should be given the best opportunity use intelligence against the enemy. Fighting a war only after a court's verdict is arrived at just doesn't work.
One of our most popular pieces was Samir Saran's big-picture review of Narendra Modi's foreign policy:
This Asian focus is decidedly different from previous efforts by Indian leaders to integrate with the neighbourhood. Those efforts were driven by the idea of demonstrating Indian leadership in a particular geography, or they were manifestations of south-south solidarity, or they were necessitated by security concerns emanating from across the border. The current effort is something more. It is primarily aimed at completing two specific national projects, while at the same time positioning India at the helm of global affairs.
Anneliese Mcauliffe looked at tighter media restrictions in Malaysia:
Malaysians have grown accustomed to their television and newspaper reports being toothless and devoid of analysis. Newspapers, radio and TV have been largely controlled by Prime Minister Najib Razak's ruling party, The United Malays National Organisation (UNMO) or those affiliated with it under the Barisan Nasional (BS) coalition, through a combination of political and regulatory controls such as the Printing Presses and Publication Act and the Sedition Act.
Until now, online media has not been subject to such control.
Raoul Heinrichs explains why China's new defence white paper is so historic for Australia:
Last week, China's State Council released a new White Paper on Military Strategy. Although somewhat overshadowed by heightened tensions in the South China, the document has deep long-term implications for Australian defence. For the first time since World War II, a regional state is officially developing the full suite of conventional military capabilities, and now also the doctrine, to pose a direct threat to Australia and its vital interests. This is a big change.
Another popular post this week was Robert Kelly's examination of South Korea's obsession with Japan:
One obvious explanation for the sheer intensity of feeling is that South Korea's disputes with Japan have graduated from politics to identity. As Cha notes, South Korea's nationalism is negative, defined very much against Japan and, importantly, not against North Korea. The reason, I hypothesize, is that North Korea so successfully manipulates Korean nationalist discourse that South Korea cannot define itself against North Korea in the same way West Germany did against East Germany. So South Korea uses a third party against which to prove its nationalist bona fides in its national legitimacy competition with the North.
Photo by Flickr user Ash Carter.