Grattan on Friday: Being a Trump ‘bestie’ comes with its own challenges for Scott Morrison



It’s now widely observed that Morrison and President Donald Trump have struck an early bromance.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

“How good is this?” Scott might have said to Jenny, when word came that he’d be the first Australian prime minister since John Howard in 2006 to score a White House state dinner when he visits Washington in September.

It’s now widely observed that Morrison and President Donald Trump have struck an early bromance, demonstrated by the dinner Trump hosted for Morrison at the G20 and now the planned gold star reception.

Never mind that many Western leaders view with the deepest concern Trump’s erratic foreign policy, leading to caution in their comments.

Morrison last weekend happily praised the president as “a strong leader, who says what he’s going to do and then goes and does it. … I can always rely on President Trump to follow through on what he says.”

Key to this flourishing relationship is Trump’s assessment of Morrison. As Herald Sun columnist Shaun Carney, explaining “Why POTUS loves ScoMo”, wrote this week, “Morrison fits Trump’s requirements pretty much down to a tee. Morrison is a conservative and an election winner. Trump loves winners.”

And of course there is Morrison’s ministerial record on border security.

Even Malcolm Turnbull received some generally favourable rub-off from the government’s tough line on people smuggling. It was one point referenced positively (sort of) by Trump during that excruciating phone conversation in which Turnbull begged the then-new president to honour Barack Obama’s deal to take refugees from Nauru and Manus.

Turnbull and Morrison are very different, but there’s a similarity in their approaches to dealing with this idiosyncratic president. Turnbull sought, and Morrison seeks, to establish a link-in with Trump on a personal basis.

Turnbull made his pitch with the line that “I am a highly transactional businessman like you”. In the Turnbull time, Trump did reluctantly agree to honour the refugee deal, and Australia – aided by a range of US advocates, including members of Congress – won exemptions from Trump’s imposition of steel and aluminium tariffs. (These days Trump is somewhat irritated that Australian aluminium exports to the US have ballooned, as its position has been strengthened vis-a-vis competitors hit by the tariffs.)

It’s too early for a detailed read of how Morrison will handle foreign policy generally. But the description by a Liberal colleague has Trumpian overtones: “[Morrison] likes to establish relationships and he likes to be a dealmaker. He likes to be able to demonstrate back home the benefits of these international dealings.”

One crucial continuity in Australia’s handling of the Trump administration has been the work of Joe Hockey, Australia’s man in Washington. Hockey is the accidental ambassador, the former treasurer who was a casualty of the coup that took down Tony Abbott.

A hail-fellow-well-met character, Hockey has been the right man for the Trump era. Simon Jackman, CEO of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, says: “Much of what we’re seeing owes a lot to Hockey. He’s been a remarkably effective diplomat for Australia. He’s very tight with the inner [Trump] circle.” Topped by his golf diplomacy with the president himself.

As well as schmoozing, Hockey (to be replaced early next year by former minister and one-time Howard chief-of-staff Arthur Sinodinos) is also willing to remind the Americans in forceful terms of how solid an ally Australia has been.

That takes us to a key unknown in this evolving Trump-Morrison relationship. Were the US to resort to the use of military force against Iran, would Trump ask Australia for some involvement? Probably. In such circumstances, as we’ve seen previously, Australia’s presence would be for the sake of appearances.

If a request ever came, it’s close to impossible to believe Morrison would say no. Australia never does. But any involvement would likely be limited to joining international patrols and escorts of oil tankers. Morrison recently said that while he was not getting into hypotheticals, “it’s not unheard of to have Australian frigates in that part of the world engaged in maritime operations”.

Jackman detects “growing weariness” in Canberra strategic circles at Australia’s support of US efforts in the Middle East, especially given Australia’s priorities are increasingly with the “step up” in the Pacific.

That “step up” is driven primarily by the push of China deeper into the region.

Morrison has already marked out the Pacific as a priority in his foreign policy – one that fans out into the much broader issue of managing relations with China, on which so much of our prosperity depends.

The perennial talk about Australia facing a choice between the US and China is false. This is because the alliance will always have the stronger overall pull, however vital the China relationship is and however specific issues play out.

Despite the aim of keeping Australia’s dealing with China calm and pragmatic, experience shows that is near impossible. Irritants keep arising, whether it is Chinese interference in Australia via cyber attacks and the like, pressure in the South Pacific, or, as we saw this week, the fallout from an ABC expose about China’s appalling treatment of the Uyghurs.

On the Pacific stage, ANU professor of strategic studies Hugh White is highly sceptical of the effectiveness of trying to stop China’s encroachments.

Writing in the July issue of Australian Foreign Affairs, White argues that China’s “ambitions constitute a far bigger threat to US leadership in Asia than ever before, and a far bigger threat to Australia’s position in the South Pacific than we have ever faced. The costs of us of trying to keep China out of the region might simply prove impossible to bear.”

A cheaper alternative, White suggest, would be to boost our own military capabilities to deal with come what may; he argues we should engage in the region to the maximum but abandon “our traditional ideas about keeping intruders out of the South Pacific”.

Others see the situation in less stark terms, suggesting that while Australia can’t compete with China in dollars in the Pacific, it can give leaders of these countries more choice, allowing them to avoid getting sucked into a net of Chinese influence.

China will be a major item on the talks menu in Morrison’s Washington visit – for which he arrives September 19 – including the US-China trade dispute put on hold at the G20.

One challenge in being feted by Trump is capitalising on the “bestie” status while avoiding the appearance of over-familiarity and identification with a leader Australians don’t much like or trust.

This year’s Lowy Institute poll showed that, despite their strong recognition of the importance of the alliance relationship for Australia’s security (72%), only 25% of Australians had confidence in Trump “to do the right thing regarding world affairs”.

Allan Behm, former defence official and former adviser to Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong, suggests Morrison take “a long-handled spoon” to Washington. “Both are foreign policy novices. Morrison has to be very careful he doesn’t allow the developing personal relationship with Trump to draw him into decisions he might later regret – especially in relation to Iran.”

Morrison has already invited Trump to Australia for the Presidents Cup golf event in Melbourne in December. If he came, it might be a case of careful what you wish for. Especially when it’s Melbourne.

On his US visit, it will be important the PM be seen as his own man. He will have a significant opportunity when, as anticipated, he takes part in the leaders week at the United Nations in New York. He is expected to address the General Assembly.

However, one notable dilemma could be presented by UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ Climate Summit on Monday, September 23. If Morrison attends, there could be some awkward conversations; if he doesn’t, it’s a bad look for Australia.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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US House of Representatives condemns racist tweets in another heady week under President Donald Trump


Bruce Wolpe, University of Sydney

The past three days in US politics have been very difficult – and ugly.

President Donald Trump chose to exploit divisions inside the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives – generational and ideological – by attacking four new women members of Congress, denying their status as Americans and their legitimacy to serve in Congress. They are women of colour and, yes, they are from the far left of the Democratic Party. They have pushed hard against their leaders.

But Trump’s vicious, racist attacks on them have in fact solved the unity problem among the Democrats: they are today (re)united against Trump.




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You can draw a straight line from Trump’s birther attacks on Obama, to his “Mexican rapists” attack when he announced his run for the presidency, to his Muslim immigration ban, to equivocating over Nazis marching in Charlottesville, to sending troops to the US-Mexico border, to shutting down the government, to declaring a national emergency, to what he is doing today.

And his attacks on these lawmakers is based on a lie: three of the congresswomen were born in America. One is an immigrant, now a citizen, and as American as any citizen – just like Trump’s wife.

I worked in the House of Representatives for ten years. I learned early that you do not impugn – you have no right to impugn – the legitimacy of an elected member of Congress. Only the voters can do that.

Other presidents have been racist. Lyndon Johnson worked with the southern segregationists. Nixon railed in private against Jews. But none have spoken so openly, so publicly, without shame or remorse for these sentiments. So this is new territory.

And this is unlike Charlottesville, where there was vocal and visible pushback from Republicans on Trump giving an amber light to the Nazis in the streets. This is how much the political culture and norms have corroded over the past two years.

The Democrats chose to fight back by bringing a resolution condemning Trump for his remarks to the House of Representatives floor. Historians are still scurrying, but it appears this is unprecedented – the house has never in its history, which dates to the 1790s, voted to condemn a president’s remarks. (The Senate censured President Andrew Jackson over banking issues in 1834.)

The house passed the measure almost along party lines, with only four Republicans out of 197 – just 2% – voting for the resolution.

The concluding words in the resolution are these:

Whereas President Donald Trump’s racist comments have legitimised fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color: Now, therefore, be it resolved, That the House of Representatives […] condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimised and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of colour by saying that our fellow Americans who are immigrants, and those who may look to the President like immigrants, should “go back” to other countries, by referring to immigrants and asylum seekers as “invaders”, and by saying that Members of Congress who are immigrants (or those of our colleagues who are wrongly assumed to be immigrants) do not belong in Congress or in the United States of America.

So Trump is secure within his party – and he believes he has nothing to fear from the testimony of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, next week before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees.

Much attention will be paid to the examination of obstruction-of-justice issues when Mueller testifies. But the more meaningful discussion will occur in the assessment by the intelligence committee examining Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the persistence of a Russian threat in 2020.

Mueller ended his Garbo-like appearance before the media in May with these words:

The central allegation of our indictments [is] that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interference in our election. That allegation deserves the attention of every American.

The US presidential election remains vulnerable and it is not clear that sufficient safeguards are being put in place to protect the country’s democracy.

But it is the unresolved drama over impeachment that will colour Mueller’s appearance on Wednesday.




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Mueller concluded he could not indict a sitting president. However, he forensically detailed ten instances of possible obstruction of justice. Mueller said that if he believed Trump had not committed a crime he would have said so and that, as a result, he could not “exonerate” Trump.

The key question that will be asked of Mueller is: “If the record you developed on obstruction of justice was applied to any individual who was not president of the United States, would you have sought an indictment?”

And on the answer to that question turns the issue of whether there will be critical mass among House of Representatives Democrats, and perhaps supported by the American people, to vote for a bill of impeachment against Donald J. Trump.The Conversation

Bruce Wolpe, Non-resident senior fellow, United States Study Centre, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Two dozen candidates, one big target: in a crowded Democratic field, who can beat Trump?


Brendon O’Connor, University of Sydney and Dan Dixon, University of Sydney

An unprecedented 24 Democrats are currently running to be their party’s 2020 presidential nominee. Why are so many well-qualified, ambitious and smart people in the race?

The answer is Trump. The triumphant Democrat will face a president who was elected in 2016 with a historically high unfavourability rating, and the party is hoping this could mean an easy path to victory. In fact, many potential Democratic candidates are already significantly outpolling Trump.

In addition, those running view Trump as an existential threat to America, which means their candidacy can be spun as a calling rather than a career move.

On top of Trump’s ignorance, misogyny and frequent lying, he is despised by Democrats for his cruel immigration policies, loosening of environmental regulations, tax cuts for the wealthy, appointment of conservative anti-abortion judges, and habitual praise for dictators.




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Yet despite his policies and character, the president could well be re-elected. As Hillary Clinton discovered, running against Trump has its challenges. His attack-based, fear-mongering style is more electorally effective than many would hope.

Pundits frequently write about the loyalty of Trump’s base – rusted-on Republicans and whites without college degrees. However, Harvard voting data suggests that, in key swing states, registered independents and self-described moderates switched parties or turned out to deliver Trump victory.

So many Democrats are running for the nomination, the field was split in two for the first debate.
Giorgio Viera/EPA

The leader: Biden

Last week, we saw the 2020 election season officially kick off, with two televised debates featuring ten Democratic candidates apiece. But while the stages were packed, only a few candidates seem to have a genuine chance of taking out Trump: former Vice President Joe Biden; senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris; and Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

Currently, Biden is well ahead in the polls. He also claims to be the most “electable” Democrat in the field. However, primary voting does not start until February, and early leads can evaporate between the first debate and the first vote.

And since May, Biden’s polling average has declined from around 41% to 31%, according to an average of eight major polls. Right now, he’s riding name recognition and the warm glow of association with still-popular former President Barack Obama.

Joe Biden suddenly finds himself in unfamiliar territory as the front runner.
Tannen Maury/EPA

We’re particularly cautious about Biden’s chances, because when he campaigned to be president in 1987-88 and 2007-08, he was unimpressive. The former vice president remains notoriously gaffe-prone and his speech-making abilities are middling. In 2006, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote:

The only thing standing between Joe Biden and the presidency is his mouth.

Biden’s policy record is also full of controversial positions that are already being challenged. He supported the 2003 Iraq War, has a long-standing record of opposition to the federal funding of abortion clinics, and has been notoriously tough on urban crime. He also has a history of being on the side of financial institutions, backing a bankruptcy bill that was supported by credit card companies.

But in the race, Biden will look to highlight some of his positive policy achievements, such as his advocacy for landmark 1994 Violence Against Women Act and his involvement in promoting global poverty alleviation goals through proposed bills such as the 2007 Global Poverty Act.

The progressives: Warren and Sanders

Biden’s career of centrism and bipartisanship contrasts starkly to those of Sanders and Warren, his two closest competitors. Warren has been steadily improving her position in national polls in recent months, as Sanders’ has slightly declined – Sanders now averages around 17% of Democratic primary voters and Warren 13%.

Both have staked out left-of-centre policies the like of which have not been prominent in American presidential campaigns since the beginning of the Cold War. They support a progressive tax code and higher minimum wage. Both want to significantly cut US defence spending and curtail America’s overseas military involvements. Addressing climate change is also a priority.




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They have shifted the tone. Conversations about decriminalising illegal immigration to the US, expanding Medicare to all Americans, and cancelling more than a trillion dollars in student debt – all unthinkable in mainstream American politics even three years ago – are suddenly being taken seriously.

Why has America arrived at a moment where progressive policies are popular and it is conceivable Sanders or Warren could become the next US president?

The short answer is that status quo politics and economics have failed many Americans and the nation seems open to new solutions. Those “solutions” might still look like Trump, but they might also take the form of leftist policies that have long been considered irrelevant or unrealistic.

In the past, the Democrats have offered younger voters a less moralistic and more inclusive form of capitalism. Sanders and Warren, in particular, are now promising a social democratic vision that is far easier to communicate to the electorate than the complicated social policies promoted by the Clintons.

Gaining ground: Harris and Buttigieg

Harris and Buttigieg both sit to the left of Biden, but to the right of Sanders and Warren. Harris performed especially well in the debate – she effectively attacked Biden’s political history, and used her own past as a prosecutor to push for a ban on assault weapons. After the debate, one poll showed her moving from 6%-12% among Democratic voters.

Harris’ own history as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general, however, could prove a weakness, particularly in an environment where candidates are being challenged on progressive terms. In January, a New York Times op-ed argued that, when in power, Harris failed to push criminal justice reform and worked to uphold wrongful convictions.

A debate clash with Biden helped raise Kamala Harris’ profile among voters.
Etienne Laurent/EPA

Buttigieg is attempting to stake out the ground of the “scholar politician,” echoing Obama’s Ivy League credentials. He’s a graduate of Harvard and Oxford, and reportedly speaks seven languages. He also served in the US military and would be the first openly gay presidential nominee.

Popular among progressives, Buttigieg has made electoral reform a central policy platform – supporting abolishing the electoral college and introducing automatic voter registration – and has called for restructuring the Supreme Court to enshrine political balance.




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Among the challenges confronting Buttigieg is his response to the shooting of a black man by a police officer in his city, South Bend. At the Democratic debate, he was asked why he has been unable to improve African-American representation on the city’s police force. Buttigieg responded, “Because I couldn’t get it done”.

As the campaign wears on, we will likely see increasingly heated debate among the winnowing field, with any weakness that puts a candidate at risk of being defeated in the presidential race ruthlessly confronted and thoroughly interrogated.

As we approach February 2020, when the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses, the Democrats will continue to go through an existential struggle between those who believe the time has come for fundamental social reform, and those who believe such a platform would make a candidate un-electable, even against Trump.The Conversation

Brendon O’Connor, Associate Professor in American Politics at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney and Dan Dixon, Research Assistant at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trump and Kim are talking (again). But the leaders have yet to find real common ground



Handshakes and symbolism only go so far – eventually, the US and North Korea will need to work toward something more concrete.
KCNA/EPA

Benjamin Habib, La Trobe University

Sunday’s trilateral meeting in the Korean Demilitarized Zone between US President Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and South Korean President Moon Jae In made for compelling viewing, the latest chapter in Korean peninsula summit diplomacy.

Indeed, such a meeting would have been unthinkable only 18 months ago. It was an unprecedented event – the leaders of the US, South Korea and North Korea meeting together, especially in the DMZ.

Critics have argued, however, that the meeting was merely a heavily manicured photo-op. While heavy on symbolism, it covered nothing substantive and signalled only that the parties are willing to restart the negotiating process.




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A couple of major questions remain unanswered. First, what is the ultimate purpose of negotiations? Are the US, North Korea and South Korea talking about the same thing when they talk about “denuclearisation”?

And is the endgame of negotiations ultimately about denuclearisation, or is it about reaching a permanent peace settlement to formally end the Korean War?

Symbolism vs substance

Given the abrupt failure of the US-North Korea summit in Hanoi in February, a symbolic photo-op at the DMZ is an encouraging sign that the parties are still interested in talking.

These kinds of symbolic gestures are the foundation upon which negotiations can move forward, given that all parties are starting from a place of mutual mistrust. Without this kind of patient state-to-state relationship building, the US and North Korea will never reach a stage where more substantive issues can be discussed.

The symbolism is also important in signalling intent to the public in all three countries. For the US and South Korea, building domestic support for engagement is key to the ultimate ratification of any future agreement.

Define ‘denuclearisation’

We also need to place the DMZ meeting in the proper context. There are several parallel games at play in which the US, North Korea and South Korea have diverging interests.

The first of these games revolves around the US demand of “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation”, or CVID, which has formed the basis of US policy on North Korea for successive administrations since 2002.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program represents a threat to America’s nuclear weapons supremacy – both in and of itself, and as an example to other countries that might seek to develop their own nuclear weapons capability. A nuclear-armed North Korea also demonstrates the diminished authority of the US as a regional and global power.

We see the CVID game at play in the rhetorical commitment of the US government to denuclearising the DPRK, despite the evidence that CVID has thus far failed, and in the pushback against Trump for his perceived willingness to sacrifice this aim in order to reach a deal with Kim.

The North Korean interpretation of a nuclear-free Korea, meanwhile, involves the full relinquishment of nuclear weapons by all nuclear powers, including the US.

With this in mind, the Kim government is committing to a negotiating process from which it can obtain sweeteners, not an end goal.




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This leads into the second game at play: Kim’s quest to modernise the North Korean economy, which is important to the legitimacy and longevity of his government. Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program was developed as a security umbrella under which the government can move forward with economic modernisation, while minimising the risk of state collapse.

As such, the North Koreans are likely to seek an easing of economic sanctions and economic assistance to accelerate the development of their economy in negotiations with the US.

One way to achieve these objectives is by stretching the negotiating process out for as long as possible – this allows the North Koreans to secure incentives for small concessions over a longer-term, incremental negotiating process.

The impromptu trilateral meeting on Sunday played well to audiences in the US, North Korea and South Korea.
Yonhap/EPA

The race to develop the North

The third game relates to the potential opening of North Korea to foreign investment. Kim’s economic modernisation drive means that extensive opportunities for infrastructure development will emerge for foreign investors when the political climate eventually warms sufficiently.

The contours of a contest to develop North Korea are beginning to coalesce, with South Korean, Chinese and Russian companies jockeying for position to develop this relatively untapped space.

Moon, for one, sees this engagement strategy as part of South Korea’s broader push to integrate northeast Asia through economic and infrastructure linkages, such as gas pipelines, railway connections, seaports, regional electricity grid integration, Arctic shipping routes, shipbuilding, labour exchange, and the development of agriculture and fisheries projects.




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Elements of this emerged in last year’s Panmunjom Declaration, which mentioned the potential opening of railway and road corridors across the DMZ.

A peace settlement, or at least a negotiating process towards that end, is the magic key that could unlock possibilities for infrastructure development in North Korea. This would remove economic sanctions as an obstacle to investment and reduce the political and economic risk for investors.

Trump’s unique diplomatic style

Finally, the fourth game relates to Trump himself. His businesslike approach to diplomacy and penchant for policy-by-Twitter are far removed from longstanding US diplomatic practices, in both style and substance.

Trump’s desire to reach an agreement with Kim has brought him to the brink of relinquishing the US demand for “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation” by the North.




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While one could argue, as I have, that CVID has long been a fantasy anyway, Trump’s apparent willingness to make concessions on this front puts him at odds with many in his administration and within the broader US foreign policy establishment.

This may explain one notable absentee from Trump’s entourage in South Korea – National Security Advisor John Bolton, who was dispatched to Mongolia instead. Bolton’s hardline stance on North Korea is well known, so his absence was significant. In February, the North Korean media criticised Bolton for trying to be a spoiler in the negotiations in Hanoi.

More work to be done

Engagement with the North is hugely preferable to the uneasy status quo on the Korean peninsula that carries with it a heightened risk of conflict escalation. However, for this engagement to continue, the parties need an agreed purpose to keep negotiations moving forward.

The DMZ leaders’ meeting shows just how far apart the interests of the US, South Korea and North Korea are, and how much work needs to be done to build trust and align the parties to a basic common goal.

Handshakes and symbolism only go so far. Eventually, the parties will need to work towards something more concrete for the process to be sustained.The Conversation

Benjamin Habib, Lecturer in International Relations, Department of Politics and Philosophy, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australians’ feelings sour towards China: Lowy poll


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The attitudes of Australians towards China have soured dramatically in the past year, according to the Lowy Institute’s annual poll released on Wednesday.

Only 32% trust China to act responsibly in the world – which is a drop of 20 points from the 2018 poll and the lowest level in the 15 years of the poll.

Despite this, more Australians have confidence in China’s President Xi Jinping than have confidence in United States President Donald Trump.

Only 25% have confidence in Trump to do the right thing in world affairs (down five points since 2018), compared with 30% for Xi (a fall of 13 points since last year). Among those aged 18-29, none expressed “a lot” of confidence in Trump and 66% had “no confidence at all” in him.

The poll was done March 12-25, of 2130 people.

The results come as Scott Morrison, ahead of attending the G20 in Japan later this week, will address Australia’s relations with China, the increasing US-China tensions and the changing regional power balance in a major foreign policy speech on Wednesday.

He will say that while Australia will be “clear-eyed” about the fact political differences will affect aspects of its engagement with China, “we are determined that our relationship not be dominated by areas of disagreement.”

Lowy senior fellow Richard McGregor, who has previously reported as a journalist from Beijing, said the relentless coverage of China’s political system, allegations of interference in Australia’s politics, and its poor relations with its neighbours “seems to have finally registered” with the Australian public.

The results for China might have been worse if it were not for the Trump factor muddying the picture, he said. “There’s a recognition that we’re in for a much tougher time with China, and that’s accurate,” McGregor said.

On the Lowy “feelings thermometer” Australians’ feelings towards China have cooled nine degrees to 49 degrees since 2018, while their feelings towards the US have fallen four degrees to 63 degrees. The US rates behind both New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Lowy says: “In 2019, trust in and warmth towards China are at their lowest point” in its poll’s history.

“Most Australians say that Australia’s economy is too dependent on China and Australia should do more to resist China’s military activities in our region. Scepticism continues about Chinese investment in Australia and China’s intention in the Pacific.”

Nearly three quarters (74%) agree “Australia is too economically dependent on China”. Almost half (49%) say foreign interference in Australian politics is “a critical threat” to Australia’s vital interests – a rise of eight points from last year.

Some 77% believe “Australia should do more to resist China’s military activities in our region”. This is up 11 points since 2015. Six in ten people would support the Australian military conducting freedom of navigation operations in the South China sea.

There remains high concern about Chinese investment, with 68% saying the government is “allowing too much investment from China”, although this is a little lower than the 72% high point of last year.

Reflecting Australians’ mixed feelings as the country balances its relations with the US and China, 50% believe the government “should put a higher priority on maintaining strong relations with the United States, even if this might harm our relations with China”.

But 44% believe it should “put a higher priority on building stronger relations with China, even if this might harm our relations with the United States”.

With Australia’s policy pivot towards the Pacific being driven in substantial part by China’s expanding interest and influence in the region, 55% think that “if China opened a military base in a Pacific island country” this would be “a critical threat” to Australia’s interests. 73% agree “Australia should try to prevent China from increasing its influence in the Pacific” – although views are split about spending more money there.

When people were asked about their confidence in nine leaders, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern rated highest – 88% have a lot or some confidence in her. Behind her are Scott Morrison (58%), then opposition leader Bill Shorten (52%), Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (34%), Xi (30%), Trump and Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi (both on 25%. “This means President Trump is only ahead of Russia’s Vladimir Putin (21%) and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un (7%),” Lowy said.

The Trump factor has complicated attitudes to the US but the alliance retains overwhelming support with 72% saying it is very or fairly important for Australia’s security (down four points in a year). But 66% think Trump has weakened the alliance and only 52% trust the US to act responsibly in the world. This is little changed from last year but the lowest trust in the US since the question was first asked in 2006 and 31 points lower than in 2009.

In other results:

  • climate change is rated highest among the threats to Australia’s vital interests. Nearly two thirds (64%) rated it as a “critical threat”, up six points since last year and 18 points since 2014.

  • 75% say free trade is good for their own standard of living, and 71% believe it is good for Australia’s economy.

  • 47% (a fall of seven points since 2018) say the number of migrants coming is too high.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison warns of widespread pain if US-China trade tensions are not contained


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison will warn of the danger of any further escalation in US-China tensions and declare Australia won’t let its relations with China be dominated by inevitable differences, in a major speech ahead of this week’s G20 meeting.

Walking a line between Australia’s major ally and its largest trading partner in a Wednesday address on the economic dynamics of the Indo-Pacific region, Morrison will stress the need for these two great powers “to resist a narrow view of their interests”, noting that with great power comes great responsibility.

He will also emphasise the range of Australia’s regional involvement and promote its willingness to play its role as a middle power in a moveable scene. “We won’t be fazed, intimidated or fatalistic”.




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Morrison’s speech to Asialink, issued ahead of delivery, follows his outlining of the re-elected government’s immediate domestic economic priorities on Monday.

“The world’s most important bilateral relationship – the US-China relationship – is strained,” Morrison says, pointing to the spreading collateral damage of the rising trade tensions.
“The global trading system is under real pressure. Global growth projections are being wound back. The impact of any further deterioration of the relationship will not be limited to these two major powers,” he says.

“The balance between strategic engagement and strategic competition in the US-China relationship has shifted.”

Australia has and would continue to welcome China’s growth and development, Morrison says.

“However, the ground has now shifted. It is now evident that the US believes that the rule-based trading system – in its current form – is not capable of dealing with China’s economic structure and policy practices.”




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Morrison acknowledges the legitimacy of many of the concerns about China, such as its intellectual property theft and industrial subsidies.

“The rules-based system is in need of urgent repair if it is to adequately respond to these new challenges, including the rise of large emerging economies, changing patterns of trade and new technologies,” he says.

“Our prosperity, and that of our Indo-Pacific partners, depends strongly on the maintenance of an open global economy and a rules-based trading system in which the rights of all states are respected.

“It will also depend on a positive, productive and cooperative bilateral relationship between China and the US,” Morrison says.

“As a rising global power, China also now has additional responsibilities.

“It is therefore important that US-China trade tensions are resolved in the broader context of their special power responsibilities, in a way that is WTO-consistent and does not undermine the interests of other parties, including Australia.

“It is in no-one’s interest in the Indo-Pacific to see an inevitably more competitive US-China relationship become adversarial in character,” he says.

“There are risks of further deterioration in key relationships and consequent collateral impacts on the global economy and regional stability.

“There is also the challenge of adjusting to the potential for decoupling of the Chinese and American economic systems, whether this be in technology, payments systems, financial services or other areas.

“But these are not insurmountable obstacles,” Morrison says.




Read more:
Avoiding the China trap: how Australia and the US can remain close despite the threat


Australia would not be a passive bystander but would play its part, based on principles including a commitment to open markets with trade relationships based on rules.

While continuing to work with other partners in the region, Australia would also “deal directly with our great and powerful friends”.

Its relationship with the US “has never been stronger,” Morrison says.

“Our alliance with the US is the bedrock of Australia’s security, providing us with irreplaceable hard power capabilities and intelligence. Australia is a stronger regional power because of the US alliance.

“We are committed to working with the US internationally because we agree it has borne too many burdens on its own. Australia will continue to pull its weight.

“And we will work with the US to reform international institutions, including the WTO, to ensure they’re fit for purpose and serve their members’ interests.”

The government is also “committed to further enhancing our relationship with China” – a relationship with “many strengths”.

“While we will be clear-eyed that our political differences will affect aspects of our engagement, we are determined that our relationship not be dominated by areas of disagreement.

“The decisions we make in relation to China are based solely on our national interests, just as theirs are towards Australia, and these are sometimes hard calls to make.

“But they are designed always to leave large scope for cooperation on common interests and recognise the importance of China’s economic success. This success is good for China, it is good for Australia.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

US-Iran conflict escalates again, raising the threat of another war in the Middle East



The United States’ reinstitution of punitive sanctions is causing real hardship to Iranians.
AAP/EPA/Abedin Taherkenareh

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Let’s start with a number. On any given day, more than 17 million barrels of oil pass through what is known as the world’s most important chokepoint.

Those 17 million-plus barrels constitute about 20%, give or take a few percentage points, of world oil consumption daily.

The waterway in question is the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Arabian Gulf to the north. It is 33km wide at its narrowest – where its “chokepoint” shipping lane measures just 3km across.

This is barely enough space for supertankers to pass.

Any interruption to seaborne oil-trade through the strait in the world’s most volatile region would immediately push up oil prices, add to risks of a global recession and prompt concerns about a wider conflagration in the Middle East.




Read more:
Trouble in the Gulf as US-Iran dispute threatens to escalate into serious conflict


The Strait of Hormuz is not simply a chokepoint. It would become a flashpoint in the event of military confrontation between the US and Iran.

It is hard to overstate the dangers of unintended consequences from an escalation of American military pressure on Iran that risks bringing the region to the brink of war and severing an economic lifeline to the rest of world.

This scenario hardly bears thinking about. Yet Donald Trump has seemed determined to push Iran to the brink by re-instituting punitive economic sanctions that are causing real hardship to Iranians.

What is at stake for the regime in Tehran is its survival. It will not yield to crude American pressures which reflect a certain mindset in Washington that appears to believe that regime change on the cheap is achievable.

At the heart of an escalating dispute between the US and Iran is the US withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal and re-imposition of sanctions, notwithstanding that Iran was complying with its obligations. Iran is now threatening to resume production of low-enriched uranium beyond amounts specified in the deal.

This agreement was negotiated over many months by the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany to forestall Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Washington’s abrogation of it ranks as the most irresponsible act – among many – of the Trump administration.

America’s stringent sanctions that penalise entities that do business with Iran, allied with risks of conflict in the Gulf, are exerting enormous stress on the Western alliance.

American leadership in this case is perceived to be part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Vali Nasr, an Iranian specialist at the International Crisis Group, warns of a mistake or a miscalculation. He told The New York Times:

President Trump may not want war, but he will get one unless he balances coercion with diplomacy.

At this point, there is not much sign that American diplomacy provides a real prospect of an easing of tensions.

This week, the US announced it was deploying another 1,000 troops to the region to join more than 6,000 already in place. It has sent an aircraft carrier battle group to the Gulf, and has positioned B-52 bombers on bases in proximity to Iran.

All this is feeding high levels of anxiety in the Gulf region and across the Middle East. Further afield, markets across Europe, Asia and North America are nervously watching developments.

Whatever Washington’s strategy of exerting maximum pressure on Iran is, it is not working. It is also not clear whether there is a plan B.




Read more:
Why Trump’s decertification of the Iran nuclear deal may prove a costly mistake


America’s avowed aim is to bring Iran back to the negotiating table to force concessions on the nuclear deal. The US also wants the Iranians to scale back what Washington perceives to be their destabilising behaviour in the region.

This includes allegations Iran is behind a series of attacks in the Gulf on shipping tankers and oil pipelines in recent weeks. Iran denies involvement.

Circumstantial evidence of Iranian involvement is fairly compelling. But such is the damage done to Western intelligence credibility by mistakes in the lead-up to the Gulf War in 2003 that anything Washington says based on its own intelligence is questioned.

Let’s put forward another figure. The 17 million barrels passing through the Strait of Hormuz daily represent 30% of the world’s seaborne-traded oil.

Those shipments account for the bulk of oil shipped by the world’s major oil producers and OPEC members – Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

There’s another figure that is relevant. About 25% of the world’s traded liquefied natural gas (LNG) also transits what is arguably the world’s most strategically important waterway. Qatar, which matches Australia as the world’s largest exporter of LNG, sends almost all of its LNG through the strait.

In other words, this is a crowded energy superhighway by any standards.

The strait connects the Arabian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman to the south and the Arabian Sea beyond.

It is bounded on the eastern perimeter by Iran and to the west by the oil-rich Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis have been urging their American allies to take “surgical” reprisals against Iran for attacks on shipping in the Gulf. In such a case, Iran would not turn the other cheek.

Tehran is certain to have a roster of retaliatory options starting, no doubt, with a further disruption to shipping in the Gulf. American naval forces could be deployed to keep Gulf sea lanes open, but this would come at a cost.

The most immediate cost would be felt in the world’s energy markets. What could not be discounted is another war in the Middle East and the destabilisation of the entire region.

These are dangerous moments.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.