On Tuesday, the BBC revealed that an Australian P-3C Orion aircraft (above) conducted a freedom of navigation patrol in the South China Sea in early December. Defence Minister Payne was quick to point out that the patrol was routine and part of the ADF's continuing Operation Gateway, a regional security mission that has been in place since 1980. 

However, the media attention around the patrol prompted an editorial in the Chinese-language version of The Global Times that castigated 'Australian involvement' in the South China Sea. Nick Bisley wrote on the incident:

Although we lack operational detail, it seems reasonable to infer that the exercise was a typical freedom of navigation operation (FONOP), not provocative but not entirely peaceable, and not an unnecessary 'test of resolve' that would carry greater risk. It is notable that Australia acted separately from the US. No doubt the US was aware of what Australia was doing, but it seems Canberra was making clear that this was not a coordinated action, and that it was acting at its own behest because of its own perception of its interests.

Merriden Varrall thinks Chinese worldviews have significant influence over Beijing's actions in the South China Sea:

A call to understand these worldviews is not an argument for appeasement. In some cases policymakers will need to respond firmly to Chinese actions, even if this may have longer-term costs. In the East China Sea, the strong reaction of the US and some of its allies to China’s ADIZ may well have reinforced narratives of persecution and humiliation.

Controversy erupted this week over comments made by ASIO Director General Duncan Lewis and a subsequent article in The Australian by foreign editor Greg Sheridan. Former defence official Allan Behm weighed in:

Those of us who have been professionally involved in counter-terrorism over an extended period of time understand that recognition of the social dynamics of both terrorism and measures to counter it goes to the heart of a sound counter-terrorism strategy. Intelligence and law enforcement are necessary tools. But 'nipping trouble in the bud' is both more effective and less expensive than mopping up after the event. And this, essentially, was the gravamen of Duncan Lewis's remarks. His comments reinforce the view that the entire community, not just government agencies, has a part to play in addressing the problems affecting alienated and socially dislocated youth who happen to be Muslims.

What makes Vladimir so popular in Russia? Matthew Dal Santo:

Even today, Western commentators often give the impression that they've 'seen the future and the future is not Putin'. But surveys by Russia's independent Levada Centre provide little evidence of a brewing people's rebellion. On the contrary, the Kremlin is one of only three institutions that more Russians trust than distrust (the army is at 64%, and the Church and other religious organisations are at 53%). Fully 80% of respondents said they 'completely trust' Putin.

This week in her regular column on Indonesia, Catriona Croft-Cusworth wrote about one of the country's largest ever corruption scandals:

In the final hours of a two-week-long trial, Indonesia's House Speaker this week dodged severe sanctions by quitting his post right before a verdict was to be announced in his case before the House ethics council. Speaker Setya Novanto was accused of an ethics breach for allegedly attempting to extort $4 billion in shares from US miner Freeport. The case has been described by the ABC as 'one of the biggest' corruption scandals in Indonesia's history.

The Paris climate negotiations are over and now the assessments are coming in. Frank Jotzo says the agreement is a turning point:

A key feature of the agreement is that it encompasses all countries. The notion of differentiated responsibilities remains, but the separation of developed and developing countries into two groups is gone. For a long time, this distinction was an obstacle to domestic action to cut emissions in both groups of countries. Now, all are part of the same regime of putting forward nationally based targets for emissions that will be reviewed and strengthened over time.

Many aspects of the Paris deal will need to be fleshed out in negotiations over the next few years, and thorny issues like financing for climate change action in developing countries remain a bone of contention. But the foundation and structure are now in place.

Erwin Jackson made a case that the agreement has some weight: 

The Paris agreement is not perfect, but to judge it by whether or not it is legally binding misses the point. Post Paris, the test of any nation's commitment to climate change is now two-fold. First, do its pollution-reduction targets help achieve the net-zero-emissions goals of the Paris agreement? By assessing one another on this every five years, international pressure will result in action. Second and most importantly, do its domestic laws make major emitters responsible for the pollution they cause?

John Connor also wrote on the deal and the discrepancies between Australia's international commitments and its domestic action:

Australian politicians, business and community groups have a choice: we can continue to stay in the partisan, policy or technology trenches that have left us lagging after six years of squander and division since the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks, or can we find a way out of those trenches to join the boosted momentum and investment flows that will come out of Paris.

A detailed piece from Geoffrey Wade lays out a convincing case of the Chinese company State Grid's connections to the PLA:

When a Chinese state-owned company with intimate links to the military and to China's intelligence activities gets the all-clear from the Foreign Investment Review Board to control major national infrastructure, and even to buy into the NSW electricity transmission network that carries optical-fibre communications between Australian government departments, the question must be asked: Are the processes of foreign investment consideration and approval in this country in need of revision?  At the same time, the urgent need for a public database of Chinese investment in Australia has never been more clear. 

How can Australia better use its economic diplomacy tools? Stephen Grenville has some good suggestions:

We have made much progress with lower-profile bilateral relations between our politicians, businesspeople and bureaucrats. Australian police, our Treasury and others should be given credit for establishing close ties with their Indonesian counterparts. Much more could be done. We could, for instance, build relationships with SEACEN,AMRO, ERIA and CMIM. It ought to be part of an Australian economic bureaucrat's optimal career path to spend a few years at one of these institutions. We need to accept the glacial pace of progress on operational issues and recognise this is not the only purpose of these groupings.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to India was portrayed as a success and significant ratcheting up of relations between the two countries. Shashank Joshi wrote a detailed analysis:

In this broader context, Modi's Act East policy — of which the India-Japan relationship is a core strand — is important not just for boosting investment and signaling to China. It is also to strengthen India's voice in regional debates, whether on economic or security issues, such that India will be in a position to shape emerging economic and security architectures as they form, rather than accommodate to them afterwards. The dilemma is that this will pull India in directions it may not wish to go, at least not yet. As a recent RAND study noted, 'Southeast Asia sees India primarily as a security partner, while India primarily sees Southeast Asia as a trade partner'. This is exaggerated, but it gets the point across. The more that India accepts the garb of security partner, the more pivotal its role in Asia and its voice in debates. But greater, also, are the demands that will be made of it when crises erupt and countries expect solidarity from their partners.

Also, Sam Roggeveen with a short post on Australia's new Air Warfare Destroyers:

Perhaps Raytheon disclosed some new information to Nicholson, but on the basis of public information, it seems most unlikely that the AWD will be able to protect Australian territory from intercontinental ballistic missiles. It is true that the government has a decision to make about whether to fit the AWDs with ballistic-missile defence capability, but even if they do go down that path, such a capability will only be useful against short-range ballistic missiles, and maybe against intermediate-range weapons.

Photo courtesy of Australian Defence Image Library.