On Wednesday this week, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull delivered the 2016 Lowy Lecture. The speech covered everything from the recent terrorist attack in Brussels, to the future of Australia's economy in Asia, and our bilateral relationships with Indonesia, India and Japan. We had some initial reactions on The Interpreter, first from Euan Graham on Turnbull's comments regarding the US and China:
He is known to be mindful of the challenges that the US faces in managing its side of the shifting strategic dynamic with China, notwithstanding last night’s backing for the 'continuing vital presence of the United States'. Perhaps that is why, to my mind at least, there was such emphasis on Australia’s thickening defence ties with Japan, India and a 'personal policy objective' to broaden Australia’s ties with Indonesia. It appears Mr Turnbull measures Australia’s diplomatic agility across these vectors, as much as on managing the US alliance relationship, or Australia’s ties with Beijing.
Sam Roggeveen talked about the hints of a multipolar world order in Turnbull's speech:
Speaking of the US-led order that had helped maintain stability and drive economic growth, Turnbull admitted that the shift of economic power to countries such as China was a challenge to that order. A bit later on, Turnbull seemed to go further than merely acknowledging the rise of China when he said Australia had 'embraced the multipolar reality', a sentiment he said was embedded in the recent Defence White Paper.
At face value that is rather startling, because it suggests that Australia is ready to accept China as one pole in a regional system with several great powers (the others presumably being the US, India, Russia and perhaps Japan), all of them of roughly equal standing, which maintain peace and stability in the region through a balance of power. Yet to my mind it is far from clear that the White Paper really does say that. In fact, as others have pointed out, the repeated references to the 'rules-based order' suggest the opposite conclusion. Far from accepting a multipolar order, it implies that Australia is dedicated to defending the existing US-led order.
Earlier in the week, Melissa Conley Tyler and Genevieve Lai talked about the first six months of Turnbull's foreign policy:
However, in at least one area — foreign policy — there are discernible differences between the two. Malcolm Turnbull has brought a number of changes in tone in dealing with the wider world. While these could be dismissed as differences in style more than substance, in international relations such changes matter: they signal intentions and can significantly alter relationships.
The bombings in Brussels shadowed the Lowy Lecture, with Turnbull making lengthy comments on the incident at the beginning of the speech, saying that terrorism 'is designed to make us turn on each other.' Regarding the Brussels bombings, here's Belgian journalist Julien Oeuillet on the state of Belgian governance and society:
However, Francophone politicians are not blameless. Philippe Moureaux is now known worldwide as the long-serving mayor of Molenbeek. The Francophone socialist is accused of an exchange of electoral favours that gave such free reign to the Muslim community that it allowed the radicalised fringe to grow without any fear of control. But even Moreaux's most serious opponents acknowledge that one man cannot be held responsible for the situation in Molenbeek. In any other country, some national authority would have taken action there.
And also of historical note, President Obama made a trip to Cuba, the first by sitting US president in 88 years. Helen Mitchell wrote:
The shape of Cuba's future is as yet unclear. Winds of change are breezing, if not blowing, through the Americas with new leadership in some parts — Canada, Argentina — and the deterioration of old Latin anti-imperialists in others such as Venezuela and Bolivia. Where Cuba will take its new relationship with the US will depend on how the voice of young Cubans makes itself heard and how economic progress plays out post-Castro brothers.
Catriona Croft-Cusworth examined recent remarks from President Obama on Islam in Indonesia:
Indonesia is a Muslim-majority state, but not an Islamic state. It's not entirely secular, but is a leader of democratisation in the Asia-Pacific region. It's got all the things that Obama likes about Asia — like 'striving, ambitious, energetic people' building businesses and infrastructure — but is also somehow entangled in the terrorism agenda that he laments is delaying the pivot to Asia.
So where does Indonesia fit in the global schema of the Obama Doctrine? I suppose the answer might be that it's complicated.
As North Korea makes increasing progress on a nuclear ballistic missile capability, all eyes are on China, writes Michael Cohen:
Beijing has thus far decided that the benefits of a nuclear North Korea outweigh these costs. But as Pyongyang pushes closer to its ultimate goal of being able to target the mainland US with strategic nuclear missiles, these calculations will become harder. The regime's two obstacles have long been miniaturising a warhead to fit on an ICBM and developing the synthetic materials to ensure that it can re-enter Earth's atmosphere from its ballistic trajectory. But, while there seems good reason to assume that North Korea's fourth nuclear test was not a hydrogen bomb, more and more voices are concluding that Pyongyang is getting closer to its strategic goal.
Japan is asserting itself in the Philippines and extending its capacity building there, says Tom Holcombe:
'Capacity building assistance' has allowed Japan to present itself as a relevant power in the region with strategic interests that it will act to promote. In response, China is sensitive to what it sees as a challenge to its sovereignty and security interests. Any strategic maneuvering by Japan or country seeking 'capacity building assistance' from Japan will risk disapproval from China. Indeed, China has already criticised Manila's intent to lease the five TC-90 aircraft from Tokyo, and the upcoming visit to the Philippines by the Japanese submarine and two destroyers.
Does the international refugee system need to be updated? Marie McAuliffe on the recent EU-Turkey migration deal:
Deeper analysis, however, shows us that more systemic issues are involved. When viewed in an historical context these issues highlight that, while some aspects of managing large-scale human displacement have remained more or less constant over time, radical shifts in global connectivity are forcing us to question fundamental aspects of the international refugee system and its implementation.
Will China pull off the economic rebalancing it needs? Steven Grenville thinks there are bigger problems elsewhere:
Put a group of economists in a room together and they will fret about textbook issues such as rebalancing demand. It may be that China's tougher challenges lie elsewhere: pollution, water, climate change, politics and the many surprises that litter the path of economic development.
In response to Jenny Hayward-Jones' paper released last week, Stuart Schaefer and James Batley think a longer-term perspective is needed in regards to Papua New Guinea:
From Australia's perspective, the article correctly notes that development issues need to be addressed by more than just the aid program. But it could go further in acknowledging the extent to which the aid program is shaped by broader political realities in the bilateral relationship. Indeed, surely no Australian bilateral aid program is shaped more by political considerations and pressure than the one with PNG. Of course, this is a fact of life. Even so — to cite just one recent example — it's undeniable that the deal to re-establish the Manus processing centre has had a real impact on the bilateral program.
As part of a series of posts on the relevance of overseas diplomatic posts, Jason Murphy questioned the value placed on overseas postings by diplomats:
Taking Australia's best and brightest and setting them to work on these inert tasks represents a tragic waste. Institutional rigidities are eating up careers and producing too little public benefit. An alternative system would see diplomats based in Canberra and deployed to foreign nations as needed on a shorter-term basis. Diplomats would become issue specialists rather than country specialists, and could have far more carriage of the grist and grind of negotiations instead of deferring to officials from Climate Change, Treasury or Agriculture.
In response to a post from Sam Roggeveen last week, Hugh White delved into the submarine deal and a possible Japan-Australia alliance:
The bottom line here is that the less our strategic circumstances change, the more sense a strategic alliance with Japan makes. But the more they change, the more likely it is that an alliance with Tokyo would not be in our interests, and the greater the risk to a submarine capability that relied on such an alliance. And these are of course exactly the circumstances in which our submarines would be most important to us. A subs deal with Japan would work best when we needed subs least, and worst when we needed them most.
Julian Snelder on the new great power dynamics:
It was, as Huisken says, an ambush. It is also effectively a fait accompli, because those new ‘islands’ won’t be unbuilt. In short, this outcome is exactly what a resurgent authoritarian superpower might want. Democracies may indeed plod their way to dumb decisions, as the critics say, but they do so with some degree of transparency and communication to outsiders. And they do eventually react to events. Sure enough, last weekend, after a long public legislative process the Philippines agreed to five new locations for US allied forces. And the American military may be capable of sprouting more, deeper and cheaper sites than every new sandbar that China can dredge up.
Merriden Varrall is back with a post on Chinese views regarding the South China Sea:
China’s attitude towards the other claimants in the South China Sea also reflects a narrative of filial piety and familial obligation. In this view, China’s role in the region is that of a regional father figure and benevolent overseer of a peaceful region, in which its neighbours (should) willingly pay due respect. And, if China’s neighbours do not show the proper deference, this is seen to justify taking stronger measures to ensure that this familial order is respected. This is not to say that China does not have material interests in the South China Sea, but these are not the full picture of China’s motivations.