It was a big week for Chinese soft power in Australia – the Lowy Institute's local paper The Sydney Morning Herald ran an eight-page lift-out last Friday with content provided solely by the Chinese state-run newspaper China Daily, one outcome from several 'cooperation agreements' and 'memorandums of understanding' signed by a number of Chinese and Australia publishers. On Monday, John Fitzgerald and Wanning Sun warned about the impact the deals might have on the editorial integrity of Australia's media:
The silence that has pervaded the Australian news media over the past four days is a fitting start to the new era of media cooperation with China's Propaganda Bureau. Leninist propaganda systems work not by persuading people through what they say but by intimidating or embarrassing others into not reporting things that matter.
Shortly after Fitzgerald and Sun's piece was published, Philip Wen did file a report on the Fairfax deals. The next day, Peter Cai argued that the lift-outs were unlikely to have a tangible effect on Australian readers, who, after all, also have access to English-language coverage of China from a wide variety of sources. The more pressing issue, Cai argued, is China's influence of Chinese-language media in Australia:
This [influence] is a hidden disease, largely invisible to Australian public and English-speaking population. But it does have impact on a sizeable and growing Chinese-Australian community and especially new migrants and students from mainland China.
This week also saw controversy over Confucius Classrooms, a program which involves the Chinese government paying public schools in New South Wales to carry its courses on Chinese language and culture. Marie-Alice McLean-Dreyfus argued that while these programs deserve scrutiny, the demand for them from public schools reflects the lack of funding for the teaching of Asian languages:
While successive Australian governments have vowed to increase the number of students learning Chinese, none have offered a funded, targeted and realistic plan. If governments increased funding for Asian languages, principals and schools would not need to rely on a Communist Party-influenced Chinese language curriculum.
Tomorrow (Sunday 5 June) marks the 2016 Australian election's 'hump day' – four weeks will have passed, and four weeks will be yet to go. The domestic focus of Sunday's leaders' debate led Sam Roggeveen to wonder why foreign policy (and the outside world in general) has been so barely mentioned this election cycle:
Admittedly, it is crashingly boring for policy analysts to complain that their pet issue gets too little attention from our political leaders. But last night's leaders' debate was notable for the fact that the outside world barely intruded into the discussion…
So why do the epochal events to our north — the once-in-a-century shift of global economic and strategic power from the Atlantic to the Pacific — have so little impact on Australia's domestic political debate?
Pointing to the immediate past vote in Canada, Brendan Thomas-Noone noted that foreign policy can make it on the agenda in federal elections, and that the kind of informed disagreement this entails would be good for Australia:
Foreign policy can play a decisive role in elections, with the best example being Canada's federal election late last year ... each political party made electoral promises on Syrian humanitarian resettlement and the Liberals followed through with their commitment; Canada's foreign policy in Iraq and Syria was scrutinised; defence policy was willingly debated, and they even had a leaders-level televised foreign policy debate for the first time.
There seems to be appetite for this discussion in Australia and polling shows it. In 2006, the Lowy Poll found that 82% of respondents thought 'it will be best for the future of Australia's if we take an active part in world affairs'. While this is the most recent poll that has asked this question, I can't see this number going down in the intervening years, particularly with the global issues now facing the country.
So what are foreign policy differences between the Australian parties? Georgina Downer noted how the values of the major parties have led to some foreign policy 'faultlines':
The Coalition construes the national interest in a pragmatic, realist way. It focuses on securing Australia's prosperity, through trade liberalisation, protecting our borders and trade routes, and maintaining a stable and peaceful Asian and Pacific neighbourhood. To achieve the best outcome for Australia, the Coalition will use whatever tools are available, be they bilateral, multilateral or both.
For Labor, the national interest means being a good international citizen. Labor is ideologically committed to multilateralism and finding solutions through international organisations such as the United Nations, and is sceptical of bilateral and unilateral agendas.
The Greens' foreign policy isn't as well articulated but, like Labor, party members claim to be committed to good international citizenry with a strong emphasis on environmental issues. For Di Natale (channelling the rhetoric of Kevin Rudd), climate change is the greatest global foreign and security policy challenge.
Crispin Rovere disagreed with Downer's characterisation of Labor's commitment to multilateralism, and argued that Labor should be the ones wearing the 'pragmatic' moniker:
Labor understands that as a middle power Australia's interests are best served when the excesses of great powers are constrained by a rules-based international order. Moreover, collective challenges such as climate change may only be resolved through multilateral action…
To the contrary, it's the Liberal Party that is ideologically opposed to multilateralism, although its staunch opposition to Labor's UN Security Council bid has fallen curiously silent since the MH17 crisis. Meanwhile, a healthier respect for the UN Security Council would have avoided catastrophic Liberal blunders such as the invasion of Iraq.
Another election also rolled – that for the next UN Secretary General. Sarah Frankel analysed the electoral potential of two frontrunners, Bulgaria's Irina Bokova and Croatia's Vesna Pusić:
While commentators have thoroughly publicised the factors at play in the race related to gender and geography, there's also a distinction to be made between UN insiders and UN outsiders, each bringing their own pros and cons. With the race still so up in the air, it's worth taking a closer look at two candidates, one UN insider and one outsider, to see how their prospects are shaping up.
The Interpreter hosted a fantastic two-parter from Samir Saran and Ashok Malik on the multipolar Asian century. Part one explored the character and magnitude of Asia's ascent:
The Asian century is not exclusive to Asia. It is as much about the rise of Asia, Asian actors and Asian institutions as it is about others who engage with the continent. Challenges and transformations in the region will define not just this continent's century, but that of the planet.
Part two asked what kind of regional and global order this Asian century would produce:
Our objective is to gauge the political underpinnings behind an emerging Asian architecture. Very simply: will it be defined by contestation or cooperation? Can the US incubate a political order that is largely similar to existing multilateral systems or will the cost of creating disruptive institutions keep Asian countries from buying into them? And finally, can any credible pan-Asian governance institution successfully absorb — or at the very least acknowledge — the cultural, economic and social differences that characterise the continent?
On a more atomic level, several authors this week explored developments in maritime security across the Asia Pacific. First, Euan Graham visited and wrote on South Korea's newly opened naval base on Jeju island:
Seoul's commitment to invest in a major new base on South Korea's southernmost extent of territory suggests a broader significance: a recognition that the country needs to broaden its strategic horizons beyond the ever-present threat from the North. This is something that deserves encouragement, given South Korea's unrealised potential as a middle power with global maritime interests, and a stake in freedom of navigation very similar to Japan.
Ristian Supriyanto looked at Indonesian, Philippine and Malaysia trilateral patrols in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas, aimed at countering maritime piracy and terrorism in the area:
What happens at sea is basically a spillover of what essentially is a land problem. So long as peace between Manila and the various militant groups in Mindanao remains elusive, no amount of maritime forces can calm the seas. The patrols that the three nations suggested should therefore be regarded only as a stopgap measure pending the implementation of a lasting solution, which will certainly require better law enforcement in the southern Philippines.
Greg Raymond speculated as to what might happen if/when the Permanent Court of Arbitration rules for the Philippines and against China in their South China Sea territorial dispute, and argued for Australia taking a stronger diplomatic stance should China ignore an adverse ruling:
Australia sees China's nine-dash line as an unacceptable claim and its actions as inconsistent with the rules-based global order. While China is not an obstacle to world order overall, a degree of pushback is reasonable. Any PCA ruling casting doubt on China's nine-dash line claim represents an important opportunity for Australia to develop, strengthen and diversify its approach.
And David Brewster examined a deal between India and Iran to develop a port in the Iranian city of Chabahar:
There are several mountains to cross before the new port and transport links are operating. The Gulf region is in a state of strategic flux and it is difficult to predict Iran's strategic trajectory, including its relationship with India. Competitors such as China and Pakistan could obstruct or otherwise trump India's involvement in the project. India also has a long history of failing to exploit strategic opportunities open to it. Nevertheless, the Chabahar project could be a big step in India's regional role and alter the strategic dynamics of West and Central Asia.
The Interpreter carried two pieces on Brexit this week. One, by Michael Martins, analysed the effects the very prospect of the vote seems to be having on the UK economy:
The manufacturing sector helps to highlight how uncertainty is affecting business decisions because its time horizons are longer and its sunk costs higher. When uncertainty prevails, manufacturing firms are usually the first to signal a slowdown. Output in the sector shrank by 1.9% in the first three months of 2016 compared to the year prior.
The other, by Daniel Woker, examined what a 'yes' and 'no' vote would mean for Europe's already fragile security situation:
With summer approaching, all European governments will do just about anything to avoid another wave of migrants washing over the continent, with its attendant chaos on old national frontiers in borderless Europe, babies drowning in the Mediterranean, threats of easy infiltration by militant and terrorist jihadists, and another surge in populist xenophobia exploited by right-wing politicians. As the wells of potential migrants on the south-eastern and the southern borders of Europe overflow, the only way to go is more muscular prevention.
Finally, to the US elections, how should Donald Trump react to his abysmal support among African Americans and women? Nadia Brown argued that for Trump to get any support from these groups, he must begin to article policies that meaningfully address the issues they face:
These two constituencies — African Americans and women — are large portions of the American electorate and key demographics that the GOP elite would like to mobilise. A mid-March poll conducted by CNN found that 73% of female voters have a negative view of Donald Trump. An early February poll conducted by USA Today/Suffolk found that African American support for Trump is around 10% (with a margin of error plus or minus 9 points).