This week the Lowy Institute (in conjunction with the United States Studies Centre) hosted an address from Joe Biden, US Vice President. Biden spoke on US-Australia ties, and on US engagement with the Asia Pacific more generally (for video of the event, click here; for audio, click here).
The address did not introduce new policy or even new rhetoric, but that Biden felt the need to repeat a message of reassurance was in and of itself meaningful, wrote Sam Roggeveen:
It was a tone of reassurance and comfort which matched the rest of the speech. But to bring comfort is also an acknowledgment that comfort is required. Evidently the Vice President and his advisers judged that allies and friends in the region needed to be reminded that America's economic and military strength is enduring, and need to be assured that, in its presidential politics, the US is not lurching towards demagoguery. That in itself is a worrying sign.
Biden’s address, argued Richard Woolcott, lacked an understanding of how the Asia Pacific had so radically changed, and how the US-Australia relationship may need to change as a result:
Our relations with the US are of great importance, but we should tell our larger ally when we consider that a conflict is not in our interests, as Prime Minister Whitlam did in 1973 in respect to the Vietnam conflict.
Last Friday segments of the Turkish army attempted a coup against President Erdogan, which ultimately failed. Erdogan’s response was swift, wrote Rodger Shanahan:
To many leaders, an attempted coup would give one pause for thought as to the direction they had taken a society. But Erdogan cares little for introspection and is driven to a large extent by ideology. He has made his way in the hard scrabble of Turkish politics with a firm belief in using power to shape society, and the fewer constraints on that power the better.
The coup attempt has likely brought an end to Kemalist Turkey, according to Wayne McLean:
Erdogan’s triumph will likely bring a natural end to Kemalist project, given its decreasing usefulness in managing Turkey’s exceptional geopolitical and ideational position in the current international environment. What replaces it is critical, because it's not only likely to shape Turkey’s future, but the wider region's political future as well.
The ramifications of the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration decision on the South China Sea continued this week. Bonnie Glaser argued that the US should make signing the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea a priority:
Centering US policy toward the South China Sea on a rules-based order has proved correct. The contradiction, if not hypocrisy, of the US insistence that China abide by the Convention while the US refuses to accede to it is evident, and undermines US moral authority.
Crispin Rovere recommended that the US build its own islands in the South China Sea:
This has multiple advantages over alternative courses of action, and is the only option likely to be effective long-term. Indeed, it is probably the only response that China will understand.
In the wake of the PCA ruling, now is the perfect time. Washington should undertake land reclamation on behalf of the Philippines, and do so under the auspices that the matter has been settled under international law.
Michael Leach noted the Court’s decision in the context of the Australia-East Timor maritime border:
Timor-Leste has been quick to note that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s call for China to respect an international rules-based order is at odds with Australia’s persistent refusal to negotiate maritime boundaries with Timor-Leste. This refusal was made more complete by Australia's withdrawal from the UNCLOS dispute mechanisms shortly before the restoration of Timor-Leste's independence in 2002. This move was clearly an effort to avoid the increasingly strong presumption of a median line boundary in international law.
Allaster Cox from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade responded to Leach’s article:
Where a country takes Australia to an international court or tribunal, Australia engages in that process. In fact, we are participating in two arbitrations initiated by Timor-Leste and we will abide by the decisions of the arbitrators. We have called on the parties to the South China Sea arbitration to do the same.
We are also participating in a separate conciliation process initiated by Timor-Leste. The conciliation will be heard by a five-member commission appointed by Australia and Timor-Leste. Although a conciliation is not a legally binding process, Australia is engaging in the process in good faith, in accordance with our international legal obligations.
In Indonesia, Sidney Jones wrote on the implications of the death of the nation’s most-wanted terrorist, Santoso:
He was found and shot on 18 July by the elite army unit Kostrad; not by the police who had been searching for him for the last five years. His death has implications for the risk of violence, military-police relations, and the draft anti-terrorism law now being revised in parliament.
British journalist Simon Heffer wrote on the appointment of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary:
Boris Johnson is hugely popular with the Conservative party rank and file. Those who work with him (which at the moment include his fellow parliamentarians) tend to have less regard for his abilities. He is seen as unreliable, dishonest, lazy and with a capacity for saying things without weighing up the consequences … Clausewitz he isn't.
While China continues to build huge numbers of coal-fired power stations, coal consumption is on the decline. Fergus Green:
Coal consumption is falling, and that’s good news from a climate-change perspective. But, for a country that aspires to a greener, more services-oriented and people-centred economy, the fact that the country is on track to spend US$160 billion on redundant coal-fired power stations purely to boost short-term GDP growth highlights some deeper problems in the Chinese political economy.
Finally, I wrote on why ease of media access to Nauru is a concern the Australian government should address:
While it’s undeniably true that the Nauruan government decides who comes into their country and the circumstances in which they come, the Australian government also decides whether or not the conditions on Nauru (including media access) are acceptable enough to run a detention centre there, and if not, whether diplomatic resources should be invested in attempting to adjust those conditions.
Photo: Sydney Heads/Peter Morris