The winning foreign bidder for Australia's long-anticipated future submarines was revealed on Tuesday – the French-owned DCNS. The announcement followed leaks in the Australian media last week that Japan had effectively been excluded from the deal, even while a Japanese Soyru-class submarine was visiting Sydney Harbour. Regardless, the press has latched on the potential geo-strategic pressure the Turnbull Government came under in choosing the French over the German, but especially the Japanese, bids.
But as Sam Roggeveen pointed out in his piece this week, the Defence White Paper is fairly unequivocal in what the government sees as the main strategic priority. First, Bruno Tertrais with the view from Paris:
Economic good news is rare these days for the current French Government. So earlier this week, when the announcement that Canberra had chosen the French option for what was termed in Paris the 'contract of the century', it made headlines throughout the day in French media...
Both Canberra and Paris understandably focused their initial comments on the economic dimension of the decision and the concrete domestic consequences in Australia and in France, and there is every reason to believe that these considerations — rather than international politics — were paramount in Australia's decision.
I would argue, however, that the broader political and strategic context of the bilateral relationship mattered, and, perhaps more importantly, that the submarine contract will cement and broaden this relationship.
Sam Roggeveen with an important contextual note on the announcement:
Over coming days we may well see stories emerge of Chinese relief at this decision, and maybe even implications that Australia has buckled to Chinese pressure not to choose the Japanese bid. But one thing to keep in mind as you read these stories is that Australia is still doubling the size of its submarine fleet from 6 to 12. Whether the contractor is French, German, Japanese or other, that is still a substantial statement of Australia’s strategic anxieties, which inevitably centre around China’s long-term intentions.
Denise Fisher on the Australia-France strategic partnership:
Certainly the French see the contract as more than a commercial deal. French Defence Minister Drian said as much when he visited Adelaide in late February. In private comments to me yesterday, one senior French official noted with some emotion the timing of advice of the granting of the contract, on Anzac Day in the French capital, underlining the poignant historic foundations of the renewed Australian-French relationship that rests on the shared sacrifice of the past. Another has spoken of the news as a bright spot in a particularly morose period for the French, reeling from the terrorist attacks on its capital last year and so recently on Brussels. A little-reported consequence has been the major disruption to the tourism on which the French economy depends.
The decision from PNG's Supreme Court that the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre is illegal will be significant for the country's relations with Australia as well as the upcoming Australian federal election. Sean Dorney on the strength of Papua New Guinea's constitution:
Once again, the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court has demonstrated its forthright independence by finding against the PNG Government over the legality of the Australian funded Manus asylum seeker detention facility.
In a five to zero ruling, the judges declared that the Manus Island Processing Centre (MIPC) breached the PNG Constitution by depriving people of their personal liberty.
And the judges were highly critical of the way Peter O'Neill's Government handled the case.
The Interpreter followed up the announcement of Australia's new cyber strategy with two views this week. Ana Stuparu had a critical look:
In scattered places, the Strategy ambiguously refers to international 'partners' and 'cooperation,' but leaves the reader wanting more substance. Will Australia pursue more formalised alliances to avoid cyber attacks and prosecute cyber crime with Five Eyes, or indeed other states, as part of its Cyber Security Strategy? Is an effort being made at aligning and facilitating legal cyber interests in this regard? Even in the Strategy's section on shutting down malicious cyber actors' safe havens, formal cooperation is not meaningfully discussed. One cannot help but wonder whether it actually is a priority at the national strategy level.
And Fergus Hanson drilled down into some of the details surrounding the implementation of the strategy:
At a government level, there are solid efforts to strengthen defences, including 'a rolling programme of independent assessments of Government agencies’ implementation of the Australian Signals Directorate’s Strategies to Mitigate Targeted Cyber Intrusions'. After the debacle at the Office of Personnel Management in the US, there is ample evidence this issue needs to be taken extremely seriously. And as the strategy admirably acknowledges, an audit of seven Australian government agencies found 'most fell well short'.
What are the prospects for Mynamar's new government? Stephen Gray:
Broader ‘inter-ethnic’ reconciliation will require measures that the military will find more difficult to accept. The new government is inheriting a peace process that in September achieved a ceasefire agreement with only half of the country’s ethnic armed organisations. Conflict has escalated in the northeast to levels not seen since the 1990s. To get the peace process back on track, the new government must find terms that convince the Myanmar army that all of the ethnic armed organisations it is fighting should be included in a nationwide ceasefire.
Matthew Dal Santo on President Obama's visit to the UK, and what it says about Brexit:
Here the Eurosceptic counter-argument reaches its most passionate, seeing as the European project's ultimate aim the creation of a super-state that would collapse distinctive national histories into an undifferentiated pan-European narrative. Politically, they say, the supra-national Commission does this with its directives to national parliaments, while a European Parliament seeks to call into being a post-national 'European demos'. Culturally and socially, they argue, the unrestricted right of EU citizens to settle, work and draw public benefits in other member-states does this by diluting the link between citizenship, community and state.
The two following pieces are on the Panama Papers. First, Mike Callaghan on the possibilities of a global tax organisation:
While the Panama Papers are seen as further evidence of massive international tax avoidance and evasion, tax is really a subsidiary story. The Panama papers are largely about secrecy. They demonstrate how criminals — corrupt leaders, politicians and officials, organised crime bosses and drug lords — use shell companies and trusts to hide the proceeds of their crimes. Of course tax cheats also hide their income and assets, but avoiding tax does not seem to be the main motive of many of those caught in the Panama papers.
And Daniel Woker talked about letterbox companies:
Many are still in denial and much is being done to deny evil intent. Yes, it is true that both letterbox companies (in use pretty much all over the world) and offshore accounts are not illegal. But it is equally true that Panama, the British Virgin Islands and other exotic offshore centres are making it pretty easy to keep the secrets of the people and corporations who are the beneficiaries of assets held in such companies and accounts. That explains why a number of former clients of Swiss banks, once automatic exchange of information between national authorities was threatened, transferred their assets to a Panamanian account held by a letterbox company.
This past week, Crispin Rovere thought Ted Cruz's days were numbered as a Republican primary candidate:
Cruz has already lost the nomination, it's just that he and the so-called 'Never-Trumps' are yet to realise it. When awareness dawns, the agony will be fast, acute, and terminal.
Cruz's exposure came from his pyrrhic Colorado victory; his nausea followed the New York primary last week; and the Cruz-Kasich deal finalised on Sunday heralds his final demise.
Will China's island-building policies in the South China Sea 'lose it the peace'? James Goldrick:
If China ejects other nations from the area, Beijing will indeed be at risk of losing the peace. Contrary to suggestions that its dominion over the South China Sea would be accepted as a fait accompli, the reverse will be the case. It will not be forgotten and it will not go away. The other claimant nations will be forced to live with a boundary that cuts them off from their own historic areas of activity — a boundary that is barely out of sight of their own coasts. Resentment can only fester, both at a local level in the various nations' coastal communities, and at the national level in countries which are particularly sensitive to any perceived infringements of their national sovereignty.
Philippines-based journalist Inday Espina-Varona on recent comments made by presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte:
Filipinos see Australia as a regional power, and the US as the world’s superpower. Both countries have heaped praise on President Beningo Aquino’s economic gains, which many citizens say they not benefited from. Duterte’s supporters also compare the reaction to Duterte's 'joke' with the silence or muted remarks that have greeted past accounts of grave human rights violations by government forces.
What has gone wrong with economic policy-making? Stephen Grenville:
Of course it is easy to find fault in this latest effort to pick apart what has gone wrong with economic policy-making. But each successive contributor to the debate — whether Piketty, Gordon, Summers or Cohen and DeLong — identifies three common themes. The pernicious influence of doctrine (and specifically the free-market ideologues); the insidious undermining of political consensus through income mal-distribution and the rise of politically-powerful vested interests; and the misallocation of our best talent into finance, with so little apparent benefit to society.
Tristram Sainsbury on recent developments with the global development banks:
When I attended the launch of the NDB in Shanghai a year ago, I was struck by the optimism of this policy experiment. This optimism was still there when it officially 'opened for business' last month. We still don't know how particular governments will want to intervene in bank activities, or how they would react to mistakes. With this in mind, starting small with discrete projects is sensible, as is the rhetoric of being independent from the influence of individual nations.
A very good piece from Sarah Logan on the evolving trade and censorship battle over internet regulations between the US and China:
In an unusually cruel twist for the likes of Google, then, the tech sector is one of the brightest stars of both the US and Chinese economies and is — thanks in no small part to earlier iterations of US policy — closely associated with national identity and values on the global stage. The latest round of battles has no clear outcome, but America's recent approach opens up a new flank. This time, it heeds the advice of its golden industries and seeks to ferry them through China's Great Firewall instead of demanding they stop at its borders, left to gaze longingly on the riches within.
And finally, Catherine Hirst looks at the Taliban three years on from the death of its leader, Mullah Omar:
There are many reasons for the recent resurgence of the Taliban, and Omar is not one of them. Although a significant amount of prestige, legitimacy and power were indeed concentrated in the former Taliban leader, the degree of this concentration and its long-term impact on the organisation has been overstated. Recent gains made by the Taliban show that experienced deputies (such as Mullah Mansour), a breadth of strategic expertise (as represented in the 21-man Rabari Shura or leadership council), multiple revenue streams, the support of foreign fighters (largely Uzbeks and Pakistanis), and a local support base are all important reasons why Jihadist groups can remain resilient despite leadership change.
Photo courtesy of Australian Defence Image Library.