Are China and the US destined for war?


Jack Bowers, Australian National University

By 431 BCE, under the leadership of Pericles, Athens had become a formidable maritime power whose empire extended across the eastern Mediterranean region. Its challenge to the supremacy of Sparta, the warrior nation of the Peloponnesian peninsula, was obvious. According to historian and general Thucydides:

Growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta, made [the Peloponnesian] war inevitable.

Graham Allison’s new book, Destined for War, suggests a modern parallel in a rising power (Athens/China) causing fear in an established power (Sparta/the US) in which the necessary trust in one another is lost, and war becomes inevitable.

But the analogy has its limits. All too often the who, when and how of the next war have been confidently predicted. Very rarely has anyone got it right.

Athens and Sparta exercised power very differently from their analogous contemporaries. Over the four decades before the war, Athens had become the regional muscle, rather more like the US than China, extracting payment for providing security. The Athenians were primarily traders, providing a maritime security envelope while also securing resources for themselves.

Like the Chinese, the Spartans were focused more on maintaining territorial security. Most of the Peloponnesian peninsula was under Spartan control. Their strength came with the land and their exercise of a military regime depended on an often rebellious population of slaves known as Helots.

Athens had transformed its prosperity into a tightly controlled corporate empire. Similarly, today, the US has exerted considerable influence over strategic hotspots. Countries like Australia have effectively outsourced their security risks.

Sparta maintained a looser confederacy of alliances of which less was demanded, and less given. China too has used soft power, offering aid and investment across the Pacific and Africa, buying influence rather than extracting power.

We might see a certain aggressiveness about the US that reminds us of the image of Sparta as a warring nation. But, in fact, Sparta was somewhat insular and inward-looking. China’s expansion might remind us of the growth of the Athenian empire, but Athens had little land and few prospects – it depended on an empire to secure resources, very different from the Chinese situation.

Allison is acutely aware that his analogy to the fifth-century war is a provocation. With his colleagues at the Belfer Center at Harvard, Allison’s Thucydides’s Trap Project has studied 16 significant conflicts from the last five centuries. Twelve of those led to war. The others only avoided war through significant adjustments in the attitudes and postures of both sides.

There is no doubt that China is rising. The GDP of China surpassed the GDP of the US (on purchasing power parity terms) in 2014. By 2019, it will be 20% larger. While the US can only manage a growth rate of 2.1%, China continues to grow by at least 6.5%.

As former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd once observed, China is experiencing “the English Industrial Revolution and the global information revolution combusting simultaneously and compressed into not 300 years, but 30”.

The fearful West is apt to ignore the considerable internal tensions that China faces. The Chinese Communist Party has a social contract with its citizens: the price of authoritarian rule is to provide economic opportunities for all.

While the vast majority has prospered under its regime, inequality has risen exponentially between China’s urbanised east coast and the rural hinterland. Balancing the forces for social liberalisation on the coast and economic prosperity inland requires withering complexities.

Ironically, as part of the “One Belt One Road” initiative, the Chinese bought the port of Piraeus, the Athenian port that was the axis around which the Athenian empire once turned.

But this highlights China’s distinctly bifurcated view, between a maritime expansion of influence and a new Silk Road, designed to compete with Russia for economic and political dominance in Central Asia. China is a speeding juggernaut, precariously balanced between its international and domestic aspirations.

President Xi Jinping wants to make China great again. Allison’s prescient analysis shows that, despite Xi’s nuanced understanding of China-US relations compared with US President Donald Trump’s infantile floundering on the world stage, the aspirations each has for his country are remarkably similar.

But, unlike the bipolar world of the Ancient Greeks, the international system since the Cold War has been characterised by multipolarity: China, the US, the European Union, Japan, Russia and India each has an opportunity to exercise power more independently, or perhaps interdependently.

Allison’s book makes a fascinating and worthwhile contribution to our understanding of the nature of power as a function of the nation-state.

Through his analysis of the four case studies in which war was avoided, Allison gives us “twelve clues for peace”, including practical examples of how Thucydides’s Trap was avoided. These include insights into the nature of leadership, how power is enacted, the opportunities and entrapments of alliances, and much more.

Thucydides spoke of the motivations of war being fear, honour and interest, and it’s the same today. These motivations come largely from within – they are not imposed by other countries from outside.

The ConversationUltimately, countries go to war when their respective grand strategies – the exercise of power in the world for national interest – become misaligned with the expectations of their respective domestic audiences. That is, the trap for both the US and China is to manage domestic expectations, and to harmonise those expectations with the exercise of international influence.

Jack Bowers, Senior Lecturer, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Two systems, one headache: Hong Kong twenty years after the handover to China



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The CCP seems intent on bringing Hong Kong into line.
Shutterstock

Nick Bisley, La Trobe University

Hong Kong had suffered “more than a century of vicissitudes”. So declared Jiang Zemin on July 1, 1997, at the return of the colony to “the motherland”. Twenty years on from the handover of the British Crown colony, the people of Hong Kong are increasingly experiencing the vicissitudes of communism.

Claimed as a spoil of the first Opium War in 1842, Hong Kong was the last significant colonial outpost relinquished by the British. Zimbabwe had gone in 1980, and in 1984 Margaret Thatcher, of all leaders, agreed to terms with Deng Xiaoping for the handover of the territory to the People’s Republic 13 years later.

A fundamental tenet of the 1984 settlement was that until 2047, Hong Kong would enjoy continuity of the legal, economic and administrative arrangements established by the British. In the words of the Hong Kong Basic Law:

The socialist system and policies shall not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years.

While it had not been an electoral democracy, people who lived in the colony had freedom of association, expression and the rule of law administered by an independent judiciary. This was key to its appeal to those, whether expats or refugees seeking an outpost of liberalism in a largely illiberal Cold War Asia. But it was also fundamental to the economic dynamism of the trade and finance hub.

The confidence that multinational firms, banks and entrepreneurs had in the commercial rule of law, from contracts to intellectual property rights, made the city a remarkable economic success story.

Deng’s China had agreed that even though the party-state’s flag would fly over The Peak these freedoms would continue. Indeed, in 1984, less than a decade into the “reform and opening up” program, and in the very first days of the special economic zone initiative, these guarantees were seen as a vital part of the broader program revitalising China’s economy. Hong Kong promised to be one of the most important engines for economic growth; it made no sense to undermine the foundations of that success.

One China, Two Systems was the slogan in 1997, but it also signalled something more. The PRC was moving away from its command economy past and toward a more market oriented future. And at the time, one of unalloyed liberal optimism, some thought that the Hong Kong settlement might be an experiment in political pluralism. Hong Kong could be a model first for Taiwan and then possibly also for a more open Chinese system.

Two decades after the handover and the party-state is uneasy about that the implications of the exceptionalism of “one country, two systems”. Rather than embracing the pluralism that was inherent in the agreement with the UK, the Chinese Communist Party seems intent on bringing Hong Kong into line. But it is discovering that this may be a more difficult task than it realised.

Beijing seems to have fallen for the tired cliché that Hong Kong people are more interested in money and shopping than they are in political issues. As China scholar Graeme Smith recently said on the excellent Little Red Podcast, Hong Kong is not Singapore. It has long had a politically engaged populace.

In 1967, more than 50 people died in riots prompted by discontent with British rule.

In 1970 frustration with public transport boiled over. The CCP should not have been surprised when in 2003, it attempted to bring the Basic Law – the quasi constitutional arrangement established in 1997 – in line with the mainland’s authoritarian sedition and public security arrangements, the people of Hong Kong protested in huge numbers.

Popular protest against public transport changes occurred in 2007 and in 2014 the “umbrella revolution” showed the depth of pro-democracy sentiment in the SAR, especially among the young. Now, there is what has come to be known as the “locallist” movement, which seeks to retain Hong Kong’s distinctive features. It aims to frustrate Beijing’s desire to turn July 1, the felicitously named Special Administrative Region Establishment Day, into a celebration of national glory.

Hong Kong has always been exceptional. From its architecture to its accents, the people’s attitude to their appetites, Hong Kong is unlike anywhere else. Given this, it is understandable that the party state would want to turn the city into a model communist enclave. The problem is that that which makes Hong Kong vibrant, cosmopolitan and globally engaged sits very uneasily with CCP dictates.

As the party state embarks on the difficult journey moving from a middle to a high income country, it should reflect on the problems it faces in Hong Kong. A people who have enjoyed 150 years of freedom do not enjoy those ideas being shackled.

And it is those very ideas that are needed for the PRC to make good on its ambition to become a genuinely prosperous country. At some point the CCP has to make its peace with the freedom of ideas and a plurality of voices. Hong Kong should be the place where it figures out how to do this.

The ConversationInstead, 20 years on from the handover, rather than being a pathfinder for pluralism, Hong Kong looks like it will become another Xinjiang; a troublesome region that needs to be brought to heel. This clamping down on the freedoms agreed to in 1984 is hardly the sign of a strong and confident country looking to project leadership on the global stage.

Nick Bisley, Executive Director of La Trobe Asia and Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Chinese influence compromises the integrity of our politics


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Former trade minister Andrew Robb walked from parliament into a high-paying post with a Chinese company.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

This week’s ABC Four Corners/Fairfax expose of Chinese activities in Australia is alarming – not just for its revelations about a multi-fronted pattern of influence-seeking, but also for what it says about our political elite.

Are its members – on both sides of politics – naive, stupid, or just greedy for either their parties or themselves?

Why did they think Chau Chak Wing and Huang Xiangmo – two billionaires with apparently close links to the Chinese Communist Party – and associated entities would want to pour millions of dollars into their parties?

Did they believe that, in the absence of democracy in the land of their birth, these businessmen were just anxious to subsidise it abroad? Hardly.

Even worse, after ASIO had explicitly warned the Coalition parties and Labor in 2015 about the business figures and their links to the Chinese regime, how could the Liberals, Nationals and ALP keep accepting more of their money? Seemingly, their voracious desire for funds overcame ethics and common sense.

And why would former trade minister Andrew Robb not see a problem in walking straight from parliament into a highly lucrative position with a Chinese company?

The spotlight is back on Labor senator Sam Dastyari who last year stepped down from the frontbench over a controversy involving a debt paid by Chinese interests. Monday’s program reported that Dastyari’s office and he personally lobbied intensively to try to facilitate Huang’s citizenship application. The application had stalled; it was being scrutinised by ASIO.

While the Liberals will, quite legitimately, renew their attacks on Dastyari, the case of Robb, also highlighted in the program, raises a more complex question.

Robb brought to fruition Australia’s free-trade deal with China. He announced his retirement late in the last parliament, stepping down as minister but seeing out the term as special trade envoy. He was one of the government’s most successful performers.

On September 2 last year Robb’s appointment as a senior economic adviser to the Landbridge Group – the Chinese company that had gained a 99-year lease to the Port of Darwin – was announced on the company’s website.

Landbridge’s acquisition of the Port of Darwin was highly controversial, despite being given the OK by the defence department. The Americans were angry they were not accorded notice, with President Barack Obama chipping Malcolm Turnbull about it.

Monday’s expose revealed that Robb was put on the Landbridge payroll from July 1 last year, the day before the election, and that his remuneration was A$73,000 a month – $880,000 a year – plus expenses.

Robb was touchy last year when his new position was questioned, saying: “I’ve been a senior cabinet minister – I know the responsibilities that I’ve got. I’ve got no intention of breaching those responsibilities.”

He did not give an interview to Monday’s program, but told it in a statement: “I can confirm that I fully understand my responsibilities as a former member of cabinet, and I can also confirm that I have, at all times, acted in accordance with those responsibilities”.

The formal responsibilities for post-separation employment are set out in the Statement of Ministerial Standards, dated November 20, 2015.

This says:

Ministers are required to undertake that, for an 18-month period after ceasing to be a minister, they will not lobby, advocate or have business meetings with members of the government, parliament, public service or defence force on any matters on which they have had official dealings as minister in their last eighteen months in office.

Ministers are also required to undertake that, on leaving office, they will not take personal advantage of information to which they have had access as a minister, where that information is not generally available to the public.

Ministers shall ensure that their personal conduct is consistent with the dignity, reputation and integrity of the parliament.

While Robb is not a lobbyist, and would argue that he has not contravened the letter of this code, it is hard to see how quickly taking such a position does not bring him into conflict with its spirit.

Why would this company be willing to pay a very large amount of money for his services? The obvious answer is because of who he is, his background, his name, his knowledge, and his contacts.

Robb surely would have done better to steer right away from the offer.

Both government and opposition, having for years been caught napping or worse about Chinese penetration, have started scrambling to be seen to be acting.

Turnbull last month asked Attorney-General George Brandis to lead a review of the espionage laws. Brandis says he will take a submission to cabinet “with a view to introducing legislation before the end of the year”.

The government is planning to bring in legislation in the spring parliamentary session to ban foreign donations, a complex exercise when, for example, a figure such a Chau, an Australian citizen, is involved.

In an attempt at one-upmanship, Bill Shorten – again on the back foot over Dastyari – says Labor won’t accept donations from the two businessmen featured in Monday’s program, and challenges Turnbull to do the same.

Shorten already has a private member’s bill before parliament to ban foreign donations, and on Tuesday wrote to Turnbull calling for a parliamentary inquiry “on possible measures to address the risk posed by foreign governments and their agents seeking to improperly interfere in Australia’s domestic political and electoral affairs”.

The ConversationOut of it all will come action on foreign donations and perhaps tighter espionage laws. But it is to the politicians’ deep discredit that they have been so cavalier about the integrity of our political system for so long.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Time for China and Europe to lead, as Trump dumps the Paris climate deal


Christian Downie, Australian National University

President Donald Trump’s announcement overnight that he will withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement comes as no surprise. After all, this is the man who famously claimed that climate change was a hoax created by the Chinese.

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While it will take around four years for the US to withdraw, the prospect is complicated by Trump’s claim that he wants to renegotiate the agreement – a proposal that European leaders were quick to dismiss. But the question now is who will lead global climate action in the US’ absence?

As I have previously argued on The Conversation, there are good reasons for China and Europe to come together and form a powerful bloc to lead international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

China is now the world’s number-one energy consumer and greenhouse gas emitter, and should it combine forces with Europe it has the potential to lead the world and prevent other nations from following the US down the path of inaction.

There are very early signs that this may be happening. Reports this week indicate that Beijing and Brussels have already agreed on measures to accelerate action on climate change, in line with Paris climate agreement.

According to a statement to be released today, China and Europe have agreed to forge ahead and lead a clean energy transition.

While it is too early to predict how Chinese and European leadership will manifest in practice, in the face of American obstruction they are arguably the world’s best hope, if not its only hope.

Decades of destruction

Trump’s announcement only reaffirms his antipathy towards climate action, and that of his Republican Party, which for decades has led attempts to scuttle efforts to reduce emissions at home and abroad. Let’s not forget that it was President George W. Bush who walked away from the Kyoto Protocol.

In just the few short months of his incumbency so far, Trump has halted a series of initiatives executed by President Barack Obama to address climate change. These include taking steps to:

  • Repeal the clean power plan

  • Lift the freeze on new coal leases on federal lands

  • End restrictions on oil drilling in Arctic waters

  • Reverse the previous decision against the Keystone XL pipeline

  • Review marine sanctuaries for possible oil and natural gas drilling.

And the list goes on.

This remains the real problem, regardless of whether the US is inside the Paris climate agreement or outside it. As the planet’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, what the US does domestically on climate change matters a great deal.

As a result, if China and Europe are to lead the world in the US’ absence, not only will they have to ensure that other nations, such as Australia, do not follow the US – and some members of the government hope they do – but they are also going to have to think creatively about measures that could force the US to act differently at home. For example, some leaders have already mooted introducing a carbon tax on US imports, though such proposals remain complicated.

In the meantime, while these political battles play out around the world, climate scientists are left to count the rising cost of inaction, be it the bleaching of coral reefs or increasing droughts, fires and floods.

The ConversationIf only it were all a hoax.

Christian Downie, Fellow and Higher Degree Research Convener, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Anti-Chinese and anti-Christian sentiment is not new in Indonesia


Olivia Tasevski, University of Melbourne

Racial and religious prejudice faced by the outgoing Chinese-Indonesian governor of Jakarta, now imprisoned for blasphemy, is not a new phenomenon in Indonesia. Ethnic Chinese and Christians in Indonesia have endured systematic and long-standing discrimination throughout the nation’s history. The Conversation

Earlier this month, the former governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok, was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy.

This conviction follows his defeat in last month’s Jakarta gubernatorial election to a Muslim candidate, former Indonesian government minister Anies Baswedan. Ahok’s opponents ran a campaign against him based on ethnic and religious grounds.

The campaign against Ahok

Ahok acquired the position of Jakarta governor by default. He was deputy governor to Joko Widodo, who vacated the governorship after winning the 2014 Indonesian presidential election.

At an election campaign event last year, Ahok told his audience that religious leaders who were using an interpretation of a verse of the Quran against him were fooling Indonesians. These religious leaders interpreted Verse 51 of Al-Maidah as prohibiting non-Muslims ruling over Muslims.

Large protests demanding Ahok be jailed for blasphemy ensued. These were also laden with anti-Chinese slogans. For example, at a November 16 rally, some protesters chanted “crush the Chinese”.

The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), an Islamic vigilante group, organised some of these rallies. At one protest, FPI leader Rizieq Shihab asked protesters “would you accept an infidel as governor [of Jakarta]?” – a clear reference to Ahok.

Rizieq’s comment is unsurprising. The FPI consistently opposed Ahok serving as Jakarta’s acting governor due to his non-Muslim background.

During the election campaign, anti-Christian posters and banners could be seen in the streets of Jakarta. One such poster read “it is forbidden to pick an infidel leader”. Another banner stated that “Muslims who vote for an infidel [Ahok] … do not deserve a funeral prayer”.

Discrimination against Chinese Indonesians

Chinese-Indonesians, representing approximately 2% of Indonesia’s population of 250 million, experienced widespread discrimination during the Soeharto era (1966-98).

Soeharto’s regime banned Chinese language, newspapers, schools and cultural expressions. Chinese names were also prohibited. As a result, Chinese Indonesians were pressured to take Indonesian names.

In May 1998, during the devastating Asian Financial Crisis, Indonesians directed their anger against ethnic Chinese who they inaccurately perceived to be universally affluent. Rioters damaged Chinese Indonesians’ businesses in Jakarta’s Chinatown, Glodok, and in some cases burned them. During this period, many ethnic Chinese women were raped and some ethnic Chinese were killed.

Under Abdurrahman Wahid’s administration (1999-2001), Indonesia ended the ban on Chinese language, newspapers, schools and displays of Chinese culture. But discrimination against Chinese-Indonesians remains.

A 1967 decree prohibiting Chinese Indonesians from serving in the Indonesian armed forces remains in place. And, unlike non-Chinese Indonesians, Chinese-Indonesians possess an SBKRI, a document that proves their Indonesian citizenship. This document is still sometimes required for Chinese-Indonesians to obtain passports, enrol in schools and acquire business licences.

Discrimination against Christians in Indonesia

Ahok is part of two minority groups in Indonesia. Christian Indonesians comprise roughly 10% of Indonesia’s population. They, too, have been discriminated against throughout Indonesia’s history.

Since 2006, 500 Christian churches have been shut down in Indonesia. Some Islamists have been using a 2006 government regulation, which requires religious leaders to obtain community support prior to building places of worship, to demand church closures.

Discrimination against Christians also occurred during the Soeharto era. In 1967, Muslim militants damaged Christians’ properties in Jakarta, South Sulawesi and Aceh on the grounds of fighting Indonesia’s purported Christianisation.

Where to from here?

Following his election victory, Anies Baswedan publicly pledged as the incoming Jakarta governor to “safeguard [Jakarta’s] diversity and unity”.

However, to ensure Indonesia remains an inclusive democracy, Anies needs to go further than this. He should directly denounce the ethnic and religious campaign mounted against Ahok, notably by the FPI.

Furthermore, Jokowi’s administration needs to dismantle Soeharto-era discriminatory regulations and policies against ethnic Chinese.

If Anies fails to denounce the ethnic and religious campaign against Ahok and Jokowi does not attempt to remove anti-Chinese laws and regulations, Indonesia’s history of discrimination against Chinese and Christian Indonesians will continue to repeat itself.

Olivia Tasevski, Tutor in International Relations and Political Science, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Belt and Road Initiative: China’s vision for globalisation, Beijing-style



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World leaders, led by Chinese President Xi Jinping, meet for the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing.
Reuters

Benjamin Habib, La Trobe University and Viktor Faulknor, La Trobe University

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a multifaceted economic, diplomatic and geopolitical undertaking that has morphed through various iterations, from the “New Silk Road” to “One Belt One Road”. The Conversation

The BRI imagines a US$1.3 trillion Chinese-led investment program creating a web of infrastructure, including roads, railways, telecommunications, energy pipelines, and ports. This would serve to enhance economic interconnectivity and facilitate development across Eurasia, East Africa and more than 60 partner countries.

First proposed in September 2013, it is the signature foreign policy initiative of Chinese President Xi Jinping. It is a project of unprecedented geographical and financial scope.

BRI has two primary components: the overland Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB), and the sea-based 21st-century Maritime Silk Road (MSR). Together, they form the “belt” and “road”.

SREB’s overland infrastructure network encompasses the New Eurasia Land Bridge and five economic corridors: China-Mongolia-Russia; China-Central Asia-West Asia; China-Pakistan; the China-Indochina peninsula; and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar. The SREB’s connective sinews will be high-speed rail and hydrocarbon pipeline networks.

The MSR is focused on developing key seaports that connect to land-based transportation routes.

China has been at pains to emphasise the co-operative nature of the initiative and its objective of “win-win outcomes”. In his address to the Belt and Road Forum for International Co-operation in Beijing, Xi framed the BRI in terms of “peace and co-operation”, “openness and inclusiveness”, “mutual learning”, and “mutual benefit”.

Yet behind the rhetoric of harmony and mutuality lies a substantive strategy for growing an emerging China-led operating system for the international economy. This could potentially succeed the US-led Washington Consensus and Bretton Woods system.

What China gets from the BRI

BRI projects are likely to increase China’s economic and political leverage as a creditor.

China has established the multilateral Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the $40 billion Silk Road Fund. These are financial vehicles for BRI infrastructure projects, yet the vast bulk of funding to date has come from China’s big state-owned investment banks.

The prospect of access to Chinese financial largesse to fund much-needed infrastructure investments has attracted attention from many prospective partner nations. Many of these appreciate the minimal political conditionalities that come with Chinese finance, in comparison to finance on offer from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank.

The BRI has been viewed as a way for China to productively use its enormous, $3 trillion capital reserves, internationalise the renminbi, and deal with structural issues as its economy navigates the so-called “new normal” of lower growth.

Perhaps foremost among these is the issue of industrial over-capacity. Having maxed out investment-driven growth through a frenzy of domestic infrastructure building following the 2008 global financial crisis, the BRI represents an international stimulus package that will utilise China’s idle industrial capacity and safeguard jobs in key industries such as steel and cement.
This is a significant political dividend for the Chinese government. The Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy rests on maintaining economic growth and improving people’s standard of living.

In relation to energy security, the BRI will assist China in diversifying its energy sources through greater access to Russian and Iranian oil and gas. This will be achieved by linking with pipeline networks from Russia and Central Asia.

By investing in pipelines from Gwadar, on the coast of Pakistan, to Xinjiang, and from coastal Myanmar to Yunnan, China also can diversify its transportation routes for maritime energy supplies. This reduces its vulnerability to energy supply disruption at maritime choke-points in the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea.

The establishment of port facilities in the Indian Ocean will also be advantageous to the emerging blue-water capability of the People’s Liberation Army Navy. This would assist in keeping vulnerable critical sea lines of communication open for maritime energy supplies from the Middle East.

Collectively, these measures could reduce the ability of the US Navy to blockade China’s energy supply routes in any future conflict scenario.

Geopolitical implications of the BRI

After more than a decade of conjecture about China’s increasing international assertiveness, the Chinese government has now clearly signalled its intention to assume a more prominent global leadership role through the BRI.

China is aiming to spur a new round of economic globalisation, but in a changed international order that it has a pivotal role in shaping.

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the BRICS New Development Bank, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership are the “software of integration” – the financial pillars of trade and investment in this vision.

The BRI is the development vehicle – the “hardware of trade and investment” and the final pillar on which China’s claim to global leadership rests.

Somewhat paradoxically, given the investment focus on hydrocarbon pipelines, the BRI also represents the vehicle through which China is likely to shape the contours of the emerging international post-carbon economy. The Paris Agreement in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is a keystone document in this respect.

A combination of the climate emergency and market behaviours are making fossil fuel energy production increasingly uneconomic. This has spurred an accelerating transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy generation.

China is a world leader in green and alternative energy technologies. Through the BIR it is well-placed to be the dominant player in facilitating the transition and roll-out of renewable energy infrastructure across Eurasia. This is especially so since the Trump administration has ceded American influence in international climate politics through its repudiation of proactive climate policies.

Leadership on international climate action is one area in which China can develop significant soft power cache, particularly with developing countries of the global south.

China’s BRI announcement is also reflective of the relative decline of the US as the world’s pre-eminent power. A declaration of intent as bold as that made in Beijing over the weekend at the Belt and Road Forum for International Co-operation would have been inconceivable prior to the 2016 US election.

The Trump administration’s clumsy foreign policy manoeuvrings have damaged US prestige, weakened the integrity of a liberal international order already under duress, and opened a window for China to stake its claim.

The BRI also signals a deepening of the Sino-Russian strategic partnership. This is based on a complementary supplier-consumer energy relationship and a mutual antagonism to the US.

However, not all regional countries see the BRI as a boon. The Indian government has expressed reservations over the BRI’s China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and China’s Indian Ocean ambitions.

The BRI now ups the ante for regional middle powers like Australia that have deftly attempted to hedge between the US and China. Australia’s foreign policymakers must weigh up the case for engaging with the BRI and having a seat at the table as China’s vision takes shape.

Benjamin Habib, Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, La Trobe University and Viktor Faulknor, PhD Candidate in International Relations, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia risks missing out on China’s One Belt One Road


Alice de Jonge, Monash University

Australia is late to the party in only recently expressing real interest in China’s One-Belt, One-Road initiative (OBOR). And if Australian businesses don’t take advantage of the opportunities available in this project now, there are plenty of regional competitors that will take their place. The Conversation

Australia became an unofficial OBOR partner in 2016, with the launching of a public-private NGO known as the Australia-China OBOR Initiative (ACOBORI), less than a year after the signing of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

Australia has so far declined China’s offer to formally link the Northern Australia Project to OBOR. However, more recently Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, has said he sees merit and opportunities for collaboration (particularly around the northern Australia initiative) arising from OBOR, adding the caveat that decisions about such collaborations would be taken “on the basis of what is Australia’s national interest”.

Following the old silk road

China’s One-Belt, One-Road initiative (OBOR) comprises a land belt and a sea road. The land belt connects China’s underdeveloped hinterland to Europe, traversing 65 countries across the land terrain of the ancient Silk Road land route. The sea leg comprises a network of railways and ports crossing an ocean route that connects Europe with the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia.

OBOR has significant backing in China, including from the China-led Asia-Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

OBOR is backed not just by the AIIB, but also by two other recent development finance initiatives – the Silk Road Infrastructure Fund and the New Development Bank. The infrastructure fund is made up from Chinese foreign exchange reserves and will act like a Chinese sovereign wealth fund. The bank was established by the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in 2014.

For the government, OBOR provides a policy tool for channelling investment from China’s wealthy seaboard provinces to the under-developed central and western regions. It channels China’s investment into projects that will have longer-term benefits, and not just into assets that are vehicles for parking hot money. All at a time when China is seeking to curb the flight of money from the country.

Australian business involvement

There are many risks and challenges to be faced in such a vast initiative as OBOR – with its cross-border projects involving a variety of different countries, each with its own historical baggage and current preoccupations.

An inaugural ACOBORI report identified a number of established and emerging sectors of opportunity for Australian industry arising from OBOR. Both inbound and outbound trade and investment with China can, importantly, pave the way for greater diversification of the Australian economy.

University of Melbourne affiliate, Asialink, identifies opportunities in sectors such as: agriculture, financial and legal services, education, tourism, healthcare, energy, architecture engineering and planning expertise.

The Australian services sector has so far demonstrated the keenest interest in OBOR, especially in finance and law. The list of those already involved include three of the big four banks, law firms King Wood and Mallesons and Minter Ellison, and global engineering consulting firms Worley Parsons, SMEC and Norman Disney & Young.

It’s the smaller firms and those in challenged sectors (particularly manufacturing) that appear less willing to investigate the risks and opportunities. This isn’t helped by the Australian government, which appears to be torn between a fear of Chinese influence and a desire not to miss out on potential opportunities for lucrative involvement in OBOR projects.

There are two key reasons why Australia needs to remain involved in both the AIIB and OBOR. The first is the risk of missing out if Australian businesses don’t take advantage of the opportunities available.

Foreign firms are already taking advantage of the situation. For example, Hutchinson Ports, controlled by CK Hutchison Holdings of Hong Kong’s richest man Li Kashing, already operates ports at 22 locations in 18 countries along the OBOR route. Hutchinson Ports is planning to start operations in another three countries along the route in 2017, and enlarge capacities of existing terminal facilities to ride on growing demand.

At the moment researchers describe the situation surrounding China’s OBOR as “contested multilateralism”. This is where states and businesses use new multilateral institutions to challenge established institutions, rules, practises or missions.

The AIIB has been seen as a challenge to the established institutions of the (US-dominated) World Bank and (Japan-dominated) Asian Development Bank. China’s OBOR initiative can similarly be seen as a challenge to the dominance of US and European investment presence in the region.

In such a world, clever businesses are not seeing any need to choose sides. So far as possible, they are playing the field; taking advantage of opportunities as they arise, all the while keeping careful track of changing risks.

The second reason why Australian businesses need to remain actively engaged, is to ensure that the country is in a position to influence the longer-term future of the region. Australia should be using its influence to emphasise the potential for OBOR initiatives to help achieve the sustainable development goals including reducing hunger, poverty and inequality, to name a few.

Alice de Jonge, Senior Lecturer, International Law; Asian Business Law, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The US, Russia and China: a twisted tale of personal ego, profound mistrust and foolish nationalism



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In Russia and China, Donald Trump now faces two centres of power that are no longer willing or feel the need to comply with America’s interests and priorities.
Reuters/Carlos Barria

Joseph Camilleri, La Trobe University

Alarm bells are ringing a mere three months into Donald Trump’s presidency. The two global flashpoints, Syria and North Korea, are worrying enough. The Conversation

More troubling still are America’s relations with Russia and China. These are now mired in angst, uncertainty and mutual suspicion. They underlie the failure to create a viable system of crisis prevention and crisis management.

Global power shift

Trump’s first 100 days as president have dramatically demonstrated this failure. For all the rhetoric about “making America great again”, Trump is rapidly discovering that the US has limited capacity to impose its will on the rest of world.

The trend is visible everywhere – in international trade and finance, diplomacy, and numerous conflicts around the world.

In Russia and China, the US now faces two centres of power that are no longer willing to comply with America’s interests and priorities.

Under Vladimir Putin, Russia has been busy reasserting its influence after years of humiliation following the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Starting from a low base, China has sustained over the last three decades the most remarkable rate of economic growth in modern history. Now it is seeking to exert the political influence commensurate with its new economic status.

America’s relative political decline goes back to its military defeat in Vietnam. Temporarily obscured by the end of the Cold War, it became fully apparent during the Bush and Obama years. But Trump is the first president to have run on a platform openly stating that the US is in decline and promising to reverse the trend.

Militarism not isolationism

In his inauguration speech, studded by more references to “America” than any inauguration speech in US history, Trump vowed:

We will make America strong again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And we will make America great again.

The nationalist card – the one unifying plank of his otherwise chaotic discourse before and since his election – is meant to strike a chord with the many disenchanted Americans hankering for a “golden age” that has long since passed. Trump now faces the immense challenge of delivering on this pledge despite intractable problems at home and abroad.

On the international stage, he has chosen to rely on showing off America’s unmatched military might. This position is supported by some of the most powerful voices in the US military and political establishment.

Soon after taking office, Trump gave the military expanded authority in the conduct of operations against Islamic State in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. In support of the Saudi bombing campaign against Houthi forces in Yemen, the US carried out 70 airstrikes in March alone. This is more than twice the number for all of 2016.

In the first two weeks of April, the Trump administration:

Yet the utility of military power is diminishing. As one centre of power declines and another rises, new faultlines and tensions emerge, and with them new uncertainties. This helps explain why the US finds it so difficult to set a clear policy direction for relations with Russia and China.

The Russia conundrum

In the case of Russia, Trump’s task has been greatly complicated by the findings of the US intelligence community that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 US election.

Hoping to deflect attention from his campaign’s links with Russia, Trump has allowed relations with Russia to continue on their downward slide. Perhaps it was never his intention to reset the US-Russia relationship.

In any case, he is under considerable pressure from his most senior security advisers to act tough with Russia. Almost certainly, he failed to appreciate that his actions and statements on Syria would provoke Putin’s fury.

The end result is clear. In Trump’s words, US relations with Russia have reached “an all-time low”. Not surprisingly, he has now reversed his previous position on NATO, and announced the alliance is “no longer obsolete”.

Russia, for its part, remains unbending in its support of the Assad government in Syria. It has mercilessly denounced the illegality of the US missile attack, and used its veto power to block a UN Security Council resolution condemning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his use of chemical weapons.

And now Russia has forced the US to accept a significant watering down of the UN Security Council resolution condemning North Korea’s latest missile launch.

Russia has been busy reasserting its global influence under the leadership of Vladimir Putin (left).
Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

China’s rise

During his election campaign, Trump repeatedly lambasted China for its currency manipulation and threatened to apply tough restrictions on Chinese exports. Before and immediately after his election he flaunted America’s commitment to Taiwan’s security, and challenged China’s military build-up in the South China Sea.

Yet the tone has since changed markedly. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the US became an occasion to discuss differences on trade and agree to a 100-day plan for reducing the current US trade deficit with China.

At least in public, Xi stuck to his script about the virtues of bilateral co-operation. Trump presented the talks as forming the basis for “an outstanding relationship”.

The North Korea crisis has exposed the limits of US power. Neither increased US economic sanctions nor the threat of military action are likely to force the North Korean regime into submission.

The US needs China’s help to have any chance of reining in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. China’s response has been to increase pressure on North Korea while issuing a stern warning to both parties.

And so, the relationship remains at best unpredictable. As much as China and the US need each other, the hawks in the Trump administration – and there are many – will not easily abandon their plans to contain China, challenge its claims to sovereignty in the South China Sea, and maintain the US military’s pre-eminence in the region.

However, none of this will halt China’s rise.

What does the future hold?

The months ahead are less than promising. The use and threat of force will do nothing to resolve any of the longstanding conflicts in the Middle East or east Asia.

The projection of military muscle and modernisation of nuclear arsenals are far more likely to produce greater local and regional instability, and heighten the risk of miscalculation from any of the three major centres of power.

Trump and Putin lead countries that hold some 14,000 nuclear weapons, or close to 95% of global stockpiles. These arsenals cast a shadow over US-Russian security, which seems likely to darken with the advent of new technologies and rising levels of mistrust and suspicion.

Pursuing “America First” or “Russia First” policies in conditions of such mutual vulnerability is an exercise in futility.

A more profitable course for these three centres of power is to recognise each other’s legitimate interests, expand the opportunities for economic and diplomatic co-operation, and develop a co-ordinated approach in the management of actual and potential flashpoints.

To bear fruit, such efforts need to have solid foundations – in particular decisive steps to eliminate nuclear weapons, enhance the effectiveness of international law, and strengthen the UN’s capacity for conflict management and peace-building.


Professor Camilleri will explore these issues in depth at a keynote lecture to be delivered at St Michael’s on Collins, Melbourne, on May 9 and 16.

Joseph Camilleri, Emeritus Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump and North Korea: military action will be a disaster, so a more patient, thoughtful solution is required



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North Koreans react as they march past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during a military parade.
Reuters/Damir Sagolj

Benjamin Habib, La Trobe University

Pundits often cite the North Korean regime’s crimes against its citizens as proof of Kim Jong-un’s irrationality as a leader. These crimes, as exhaustively documented by former High Court justice Michael Kirby for the UN Human Rights Council, are monstrous and inexcusable. The Conversation

Grave as they are, they do follow a discernible logic from the perspective of Kim’s efforts to consolidate his regime’s hold on power. Perversely, US President Donald Trump’s sabre-rattling plays into Kim’s logic of domestic power that positions the US as a dire threat, justifying the regime’s political repression.

William Perry, US under secretary of state during the Clinton administration, has contended that Trump’s military brinkmanship increases the likelihood of coercing North Korea back to denuclearisation negotiations. This is the ground that a heightened threat of American attack will prompt Kim to recalculate the benefits of continued nuclear proliferation.

But this scenario is only credible if Trump intends following through on the threat. This now appears more questionable given the controversy over the exact location of the USS Carl Vinson.

Having established the foolishness of attacking North Korea in my previous article, I’d now like to prompt discussion on a couple of points.

The first is how the “irrational Kim” rhetoric limits our ability to understand the complexity of the crisis in North Korea. This creates risks that perversely would compromise human rights and humanitarian goals.

The second is to explore other options for improving human rights and humanitarian outcomes for North Koreans beyond the threat and application of military force.

There is much emotion in debates over North Korea, and rightly so. Many North Korenas have experienced much suffering and trauma, as well as the lingering anguish of the Korean War and the separation of families by the partition of Korea.

This is precisely why analysts need to carefully weigh up the risks and rewards of policy choices: to do justice to that suffering, and to ensure we do not recommend misadventures that could add further misery to the North Korean people.

First, don’t make things worse

Considering the risks to civilians posed by a war of regime change, it is difficult to mount a case for war as a vehicle for improving human rights and humanitarian outcomes for the North Korean people.

The discourse on human rights in North Korea has long been framed through the lens of national security. Policy issues become “securitised” when proponents of an issue area frame it as an existential security threat, of high priority, that requires extraordinary measures and rapid action to tackle.

Because such issues become framed in the language of security, military-based solutions often come to dominate policy prescriptions. The “crazy Kim” argument has been central to the security rhetoric around human rights in North Korea. This locks possible solutions into a narrow spectrum focused on military force and coercion.

Just as doctors undertake to “first do no harm”, so too should foreign-policy-makers be wary of strategic choices that carry a high risk of making things worse.

Many Korea analysts have pointed to Seoul’s vulnerability, and the risk to millions of South Koreans, posed by a cascading escalation of US military action into full-scale war. That risk also applies to people living in population centres north of the demilitarised zone.

As the Iraq example again illustrates, removing a dictator in a war of regime change is not a guarantee that human rights and humanitarian outcomes will improve.

According to the Iraq Body Count project, 119,915 Iraqi deaths were verifiably attributed to the conflict in that country from 2003 to 2011. Another study published in PLOS Medicine journal put the death toll at half-a-million Iraqi civilians.

Either way, this death toll and suffering escalated well beyond the scale of human rights abuses and deaths that occurred under Saddam Hussein’s regime. This is not to downplay the suffering of those persecuted under Hussein, but to recognise that the invasion of Iraq made a bad situation worse.

Could we see similar casualty numbers in a war in North Korea?

North Korea is an urbanised country. Approximately 60% of people are concentrated in larger urban centres. In the event of full-scale escalation, air strikes are likely to target critical infrastructure in an effort to weaken the fighting and logistical capacity of the Kim regime. Many of these targets will be in urban centres, exposing civilians to attack.

We should be mindful of the humanitarian cost of the damage of war to the North Korean economy, industry, agriculture and key infrastructure. Targeting of critical energy, transportation and sanitation infrastructure will no doubt weaken North Korea’s fighting capacity, but also eliminate those critical services for civilians. Food production and distribution networks are likely to be disrupted.

For a country that is already chronically food insecure, any damage to food production and distribution systems will have immediate impacts on increasing malnutrition and starvation. Consider that estimates of deaths from North Korea’s “Arduous March” famine in the mid-1990s sit at approximately 600,000 after the collapse of the country’s food production and distribution system.

The elimination of services for civilians is likely to increase the risk of non-combat casualties from malnutrition, disease, and the elements – particularly during North Korea’s harsh winter.

If such a war ends quickly and an occupation force arrives in North Korea to restore security, casualty figures will be still be high. However, some of the longer-term impacts of human insecurity might be avoided.

However, in the event the post-regime environment is unstable, then casualty figures for North Koreans on a scale similar to Iraq become more likely.

Creating an environment for positive human rights outcomes

Removing Kim Jong-un as the head of the regime does not automatically translate into a win for human rights. A lot of post-conflict nation-building has to take place if a war scenario is to transcend the immediate humanitarian disaster and create an environment in which human rights for the North Korean people can be improved.

Human rights are best guaranteed by stable governance, strong political institutions, legal protections, active civil society, and broad material wellbeing. A post-conflict North Korea in which the Kim regime has been removed would effectively be a failed state. None of these facilitating conditions for human rights guarantees would yet exist.

It takes time and resources to cultivate the institutions of a stable state. It requires many years of patient networking, conversation and compromise to develop a social movement that could evolve into an active civil society. It takes even longer to cultivate a political culture in which the citizenry respects the integrity of the political system even when their faction is not in power.

Without this social infrastructure, Kim Jong-un’s removal is likely to lead to the disintegration of North Korea into a failed state, paving the way for the emergence of another authoritarian strongman.

In South Korea, it took more than 40 years after the conclusion of the Korean War, an ongoing American military occupation, and the development of a broad-based pro-democracy movement, for an imperfect democratic political system to evolve.

To suggest this process could be circumvented in North Korea does not accord with the findings of research into democratisation and social movements. These norms, rules and institutions should ideally be developed by the North Korean people over time, not impatiently imposed from outside by other powers.

It is doubtful that Trump – and, more importantly, his core political support base – has the stomach for the massive long-term, high-cost commitment that nation-building in a post-Kim North Korea would entail.

Where to from here?

One could be forgiven for observing the current US-North Korea standoff as a game played by privileged men in suits on either side, gambling with the lives of ordinary citizens. Millions of lives on both sides of the demilitarised zone and beyond are placed at unnecessary risk through such high-stakes brinkmanship.

It is easy for leaders to talk tough on non-proliferation and human rights enforcement. But it is quite another to bring about international norms in these fields in such a tricky strategic context as the Korean Peninsula.

Unfortunately, Trump’s penchant for military posturing does little to increase the likelihood of denuclearising North Korea, or improving human rights outcomes for its citizens.

Instead, the Trump administration’s bellicose rhetoric inadvertently legitimises North Korea’s justifications for its nuclear weapons program, along with the domestic coercive apparatus that persecutes North Korean citizens.

Guaranteeing human rights in North Korea will ultimately require new institutions, new laws, a domestic civil society, cultural change, and a process of justice for past abuses.

This is a project far beyond the scope of military action, requiring patience, innovative thinking and disciplined strategic restraint on the part of policymakers. And they must recognise the unique strategic circumstances of the Korean Peninsula.

Benjamin Habib, Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.