This week, the Lowy Institute had the pleasure of hosting Hayder al-Khoei, an associate fellow at Chatham House and an expert on Iraq, Iran and clerical authority in Shi'a Islam. Hayder wrote for The Interpreter this week as well, with an insightful piece on sectarianism in the Middle East:
A simplistic, essentialist and sectarian analysis of the complex and multi-layered conflicts in the Middle East can unfortunately at times also become a self-fulfilling prophecy when the analysis feeds bad policy-making which then rewards sectarian mobilisation. It feeds back into a dangerous cycle which vindicates the sectarian analysis and produces further sectarian tensions. US policy and the creation of the ethno-sectarian political order in post-2003 Iraq is a good example of this.
This week the New York primaries were held for the Democratic and Republican parties in the run-up to the US presidential election. First, Emma Connors with a great anecdote on Donald Trump:
Kasparov, a presidential aspirant himself in 2008 — in Russia, that is — first saw Donald Trump in 1988, striding through the Plaza Hotel, wife Ivana on his arm. To Kasparov, then on his first visit to New York, Trump seemed to be capitalism personified. 'Trump owned the Plaza, the Plaza was a symbol of New York, New York was as a symbol of America'. Now, Kasparov thinks his 1988 self was taken in 'by the same con game' Trump is running today: 'Trump sells the myth of American success instead of the real thing'.
Also some coverage from James Bowen on the Democratic showdown in Brooklyn, with what looks almost like a knockout blow for the Bernie Sanders campaign:
While there has been a backlash from the black intelligentsia against Clinton’s support in the past for what is judged to be misguided welfare reform, and other missteps, this has failed to impact rank and file voters. A Hillary-supporting colleague of mine also suggested that black and other minority voters might have become hardened by the failure of the Obama presidency to have any meaningful impact on their lives, and are looking for a more pragmatic approach this time around. Though, in truth, Obama was always a pragmatist; he was merely better at couching his prosaic side in the poetic flourishes required of campaigning.
Persistent rumours that Japan has been disqualified from the submarine bid by the Turnbull Government hit the Australian media this week (with no denial from the Government). Sam Roggeveen on what it would mean for Japan's regional outlook if it turns out true:
One other angle here is that Japan has now, in short order, failed to win two high profile contracts in this neighbourhood, both of which it had good reason to expect to win. The other, of course, is the deal to build high-speed rail in Indonesia, which China won with a last-minute Lyle Lanley-style pitch to build the train line without an Indonesian government financial guarantee.
A great post from Danielle Cave on Twitter's new Managing Director in China, Kathy Chen:
Aside from selecting a Twitter handle with an expiry date, @KathyChen2016’s opening gambit displayed an unintentional knack for playing on the fears of western social media users who are increasingly concerned about privacy, surveillance, and freedom of speech. Their concerns include the extent to which tech companies work with their own governments, and extend to the moves and expansion plans these companies may have overseas. There was this conversation with Xinhua, the official news authority of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), where Chen said she was looking forward ‘to [a] closer partnership in the future.’ In response to state television broadcaster CCTV she stated the two should ‘work together to tell great China story to the world’. It was a clear reference to President Xi Jinping’s 2013 appeal ‘to tell the China story well’ that was subsequently adopted as a slogan by various limbs of the Chinese Government.
US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter was in India last week, where the groundwork was laid for potential logistical support for the US military. Dalbir Ahlawat:
Against this backdrop, India's agreement in principle to the Logistics Exchange Agreement is a step forward from the previous Indian government that, under the camouflage of strategic autonomy, evaded signing 'foundational agreements'. As India is not an alliance partner like Japan and Australia, it does not allow US troops to be stationed on its soil. While India and the US have converging strategic interests, India has retained its autonomy. Therefore, India's evolving strategic partnership with the US appears not only aimed at China, but also affords India some leverage in its negotiations with Beijing.
Rodger Shanahan on risk management and the 60 Minutes debacle in Lebanon:
Firstly, this is not the first time media have acted badly so it's not without precedent. Secondly, despite the rather large hoo-ha being generated in Australia (particularly given it's a high-profile media crew incarcerated in a Beirut jail), Lebanon has got other, rather more newsworthy issues to deal with at the moment. To name just a few: a quarter of its population consists of Syrian refugees; there is a deadly five-year long civil war on its border that occasionally spills over; it has been without a president since May 2014; it is recovering from a nation-wide 'garbage crisis'; the Saudis have recently withdrawn $4 billion in military and security aid; and the French president is currently touring. Amongst all this, a ham-fisted child abduction abetted by a foreign TV crew is titillating but hardly ranks as a first order issue.
The political and legal chaos engulfing Papua New Guinea's police force continues. Sean Dorney covered it:
In what other country would you have the head of the police fraud squad ordering the arrest of the Attorney General, a Supreme Court Judge and the Prime Minister’s lawyer and then, surprised at his own suspension, winning a court order to have that suspension nullified?
Jonathan Pryke also wrote on PNG and it's new economic reality:
At the launch of the 2016 budget, the government finally acknowledged that a fiscal adjustment was necessary after revenue for 2015 was predicted to be 20% less than originally planned. A supplementary 2015 budget (not at the time released to the public) foreshadowed an undisclosed in-year expenditure cut of 10%, combined with dramatic cuts to core services over the forward estimates period. Transport, administration and education budgets were all being slashed in real terms by more than 20% in 2016 alone.
There are clearly disagreements between the White House and PACOM on how to handle China's island building in the South China Sea. Ashley Townshend on the debate and effective responses:
Frustratingly, much of the evidence so far is mixed. On one hand, the administration's soft approach has patently failed to deter island-building or halt China's militarisation of Woody Island. But it has not yet presided over large-scale militarisation in the Spratly Islands or the creation of a South China Sea ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone). Why Beijing has not taken these steps is difficult to say, though there are a number of plausible explanations. Perhaps the White House's sustained focus on regional military balancing has led Beijing to conclude its actions are strategically counterproductive in the long-term. Equally plausible, however, is that Beijing intends to push these military initiatives forward once its outposts are completed, which hews closer to the assessment of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Hugh White wasn't impressed with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's recent trip to China:
And what precisely was this expected to achieve? Did Mr Turnbull really expect that his remarks would apply that last bit of pressure needed to persuade China to abandon its newly-built bases, withdraw its forces, repudiate the nine-dash line and submit its claims over contested features to arbitration? That seems a long shot, to put it mildly. After all, the argument he put to them is one they have heard many times before, and it is hardly a zinger.
Stephen Grenville pondered whether the IMF is ready for another global financial crisis:
This is important when thinking about the nature of any future financial crisis, and the need for a global ‘Plan B’ to contain the fallout. Europe might yet experience something that looks a bit like the 2010 crisis in the peripheral countries, if Italian banks fail. But this should be for the EU and the European Central Bank to sort out. Let’s hope the IMF has learned the lesson of Greece, and stays on the sidelines.
Peter Cai on the evolving battle between nationalists and internationalists in China:
The open duel between China’s leading dove and hawk is a clear indication that the country’s internationalists and reformers are worried about the country’s foreign policy direction. Some are urging the central government to refrain from playing with the destructive and unpredictable force of nationalism and foreign policy adventurism. Lets hope their voices will be heard and their warnings heeded.
I wrote on Australia's new cyber ambassador role, and how it's a good sign for our policy on global internet governance:
A cyber ambassador role is a good step forward in recognising that internet governance is an important foreign policy issue for Australia. Hopefully whoever who is appointed to the position can keep in sight the long-term goal of raising awareness around the importance of a sustainable and institutionalised internet governance architecture, rather than focusing purely on the, albeit important, cyber security aspects of the new position.
Merriden Varrall takes issue with analysts' use of the term 'Thucydides trap':
Is this all just semantics? Well, no, it matters. It matters because when influential people misunderstand history it allows them an authority to argue that 'war is more likely than not' when a rising power is threatening to displace a ruling power. This is what is being argued today with regard to China and the US. This conclusion is to urge the US and Australia to adopt tough action to deter China from its increasingly assertive activities.
Did King Salman snub President Obama? Almost certainly, says Anthony Bubalo:
There has been a lot of parsing of yesterday's reputed snub of President Obama by King Salman of Saudi Arabia. It certainly was a snub. In 2009 the late King Abdullah greeted Obama off the plane during the US President's first to the Kingdom; yesterday King Salman sent the Governor of Riyadh to welcome the US President while he received his Gulf counterparts a few hundred meters down the runway.
Erwin Jackson on the COP21 agreement and Australia dragging its feet on renewables:
This might sound like a fair way away, but research released by The Climate Institute last week paints a more immediate picture. To meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement, we would need to replace all our existing and old coal-burning power plants over the next 20 years to allow our clean energy sector to boom. If we delay, the research reveals we will have set up a situation where, from 2030, more than 80% of our coal-burning power plants will need to be closed in less than five years. The social and economic damage of this rushed and unplanned transition would be felt not only across coal-based communities but our entire economy. It might not even be possible to achieve such a rapid rate of closure.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Matt Wan.