The 2015 Lowy Institute Poll launched this week, revealing some interesting results of Australian attitudes on foreign policy. Check out the Polls' accompanying interactive feature here, where you can look at the data over the last 11 years. Alex Oliver, the Lowy Institute's polling director wrote on this year's major findings:
One doesn't need to look too far in our other results this year for the probable cause of this bleak outlook. It appears the threat of terrorism is being keenly felt here, after the Martin Place siege late last year and the gruesome scenes and confronting news coming out of Iraq and Syria. Terrorism-related risks rank first, second and third out of eight potential risks to Australia's security in the next ten years, with 69% of Australians rating 'the emergence of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria' as a high risk to our security (the highest-ranked risk), and majorities seeing 'terrorist attacks on Australians overseas' and 'home-grown terrorism in Australia' as high risk. By comparison, risks of conflict in our region rank far lower in Australians' threat perceptions, with 'maritime disputes between China and its neighbours in Asian territorial seas' seen as high risk by only 26% of Australians.
Experts here at the Lowy Institute analysed the rest of the Poll's results. First, Leon Berkelmans on Australian attitudes towards free-trade agreements:
But a different picture emerges when people were asked about the economic benefits of these agreements: 48% think the agreements are good for the Australian economy, versus 30% who think they are bad. A 55-point margin is cut to 18 percentage points.
These numbers tell us there is a significant fraction of the population which thinks the economic benefits of the agreements may be negative, but they are beneficial for our external relationships.
Euan Graham wrote about the very intriguing results on energy security:
Asked to identify Australia's primary source of electricity ten years from now, 43% identified solar and only 17% said coal. This contrasts sharply with the actual figure of just 2% of electricity generation currently from solar, whereas coal presently accounts for 64%. Only 10% saw gas as the leading candidate for power generation, although it is already the second-largest component in the energy mix, behind coal. Most surprisingly, a significant proportion of Lowy poll respondents, 13%, believe that nuclear will provide most of Australia's electricity in 2025, despite the fact that there are no nuclear power-generation plants in the country and none planned.
From the Melanesia Program, Anna Kirk on Australian feelings towards Papua New Guinea:
Results from the Lowy Institute's 2015 Poll back up Bishop's reference to a special relationship. The very high number of Australians (82%) who agree that 'stability in PNG is important to Australia's national interest' and who say 'Australia has a moral obligation to help Papua New Guinea' (77%) clearly indicate that there is a unique connection between our two countries. To put this into perspective, 80% of Australians say the US alliance is only 'very' or 'fairly' important for Australian security.
And here is Merriden Varrall with an analysis of what the results said about China and values:
However, despite, or perhaps because of these uncertainties, Australians are keen to hedge their bets and play it safe with China. While around half feel that we shouldn't try to limit China's influence, 73% agree that 'Australia should develop closer relations with China as it grows in influence'. It is now the majority view (although only just, at 52%) that Australia should not join with other countries to limit China's influence.
The Interpreter is hosting a seven-part series on Papua and West Papua from former Fairfax Media Indonesia correspondent Michael Bachelard. Here is the introductory post. More next week:
What I found in Papua was grief at dispossession and anger at Indonesia's repressive colonial occupation. I found an independence movement fueled by a strong belief in religious and cultural differences. But I also found ordinary people sick, impoverished and frustrated by the public sector dysfunction and local corruption that is mostly driven by ethnic Papuan elites. And I found fear – not only of Indonesia, but fear that an independent Papuan state, which all said they fervently hoped for, may descend into tribalism and chaos.
Danielle Cave with an excellent post on Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's recent speech at the Lowy Institute on Australian soft-power. But where's digital diplomacy?:
Bishop missed a huge opportunity. In a major speech on soft power, digital diplomacy wasn't discussed and digital diplomacy didn't occur.
This oversight is particularly worrying for two reasons. Firstly, it renders the Foreign Minister's vision for Australian soft power incomplete, because the options available to the Government to influence key stakeholders, including on initiatives raised in Bishop's speech, are entirely inadequate. For example, how can the Government'seconomic diplomacy policy reach its full potential when the Government is not yet effectively using the internet to promote and discuss the policy, or to identify and engage with potential beneficiaries of the policy.
I wrote on the liberal 'techno-idealism' of the 1990s and China:
An independent, free, and global internet like that which the liberal idealists of the 1990s imagined never really existed. More or less from the beginning, states have exerted a complex array of regulation, oversight and censorship over the internet, 'balkanising' it from its original inception as a modern scientific communication utility.
The best example is China.
Amanda Watson also continued our Digital Disruption series with a post on app usage in Melanesia:
Many in Melanesia and elsewhere in the Pacific won't be using mobile phone apps any time soon. Typically, they live in an area with only 2G coverage, which is not sufficient to be able to use apps, access the internet and email, or log in to social media. They usually own or have access to only a basic mobile phone handset. They do not have easy, regular access to electricity, so re-charging is a chore. The cost of re-charging is an additional burden when many already find it difficult to afford mobile phones. For these reasons and others (technological literacy, English proficiency, the cultural appropriateness and relevance of available apps), daily use of apps is likely to be a long way off for most Melanesians. One exception is the small number of Facebook users – Facebook is primarily accessed through an app or icon on a mobile phone rather than using a computer.
With a new angle, Malcolm Cook on the possibility of China borrowing from the AIIB:
China, befitting its huge size and developing-economy status, could be a major AIIB borrower. China's own infrastructure needs alone account for over half of the total for Asia, according to the 2009 ADB estimate. In 2014, China was second-largest recipient of ADB loans after India. This was also the case in 2013. Likewise, China has the second-largest present borrowing obligations with the World Bank (at US$17.2 billion) after India (at US$36.4 billion).
Is the TPP dead? Hugh White argued this week that the Obama Administration set itself up for failure:
What we might call 'the balance of resolve' is central to the contest between America and China for leadership in Asia today, and it already leans China's way. As they become more evenly matched in other forms of power, China's most important asset in that contest is the perception — in China itself, in the region and in America — that it is more committed to overturning Asia's US-led status quo than America is to preserving it.
That perception will grow stronger if Congress wrecks the TPP, pushing the balance of resolve further in China's favour, and further weakening US leadership in Asia. If that happens Obama himself will be in large measure to blame, because he is the one who has turned the TPP into a test which will not help America if it is passed, but will hurt it badly if it is failed.
Rodger Shanahan with a piece on the regional dynamics around Jabhat al-Nusra:
The Qataris assisted with the rehabilitation project by airing an exclusive interview with the group's leader, Muhammad al-Joulani, last month. It isn't the first time he has graced Al Jazeera, appearing first in December 2013 to proclaim that the war was nearly over and that the group would achieve victory soon. Confidence certainly isn't what al-Joulani is lacking; a sense of reality perhaps, but not confidence.
Stephen Grenville reviewed the ANU's latest Indonesian Update, which focused on SBY's presidency:
This volume sets out SBY's own answer to the charge. He saw himself as a moderator 'leading a polity and a society characterized by deep divisions...he believed that his most important role was to moderate these divisions by mediating between the conflicting forces and interests to which they gave rise'. He was also a president with a multi-party parliament, an inherently difficult arrangement. In response, he maintained over-sized government coalitions whose internal differences he fuzzed over rather than resolved. This is what enabled him to maintain stability. It also explains the stagnation.
Aung San Suu Kyi went to China this week, where Beijing rolled out the red carpet. Elliot Brennan on why:
It is highly unusual for opposition leaders to get such treatment in Beijing. For Sino-Myanmar relations, Suu Kyi's visit demonstrates two things: Beijing sees the importance of the Myanmar relationship but, at the same time, frets about growing competition from foreign diplomats lining up to ink new deals in the country. They probably fear that an NLD win could turn Myanmar away from China and further dilute Beijing's influence. For Suu Kyi, new and powerful friends is what she needs right now.
Have our expectations of Burma been too high? Andrew Selth:
It does not help that, over the past 25 years, Burma has been held to a higher standard of behaviour than any other regional country, including North Korea. Despite the scarcity of ASEAN examples, a liberal Western-style democracy and a socially responsible capitalist economy were adopted long ago as goals by many inside and outside Burma. Inspired by these ideals, personified by charismatic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, popular expectations were raised to levels that were always difficult to justify when measured against objective criteria.
Finally, Julian Snelder with a great post on state interest, conflict and 'blunders':
Is it possible that China and America could understand each other perfectly, and still clash? What if the problem is not one of information or imagination, but of pure stubborn interest? RAND would argue that calamity still arises from those three informational failures. But with the recent passing of John Nash, we are reminded that even enlightened, rational actors making 'maximising' decisions can end up in lose-lose outcomes.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Urban Gazelle.