As Scott Morrison heads to Washington, the US-Australia alliance is unlikely to change



Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

David Smith, University of Sydney

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s official visit to Washington this week carries some prestige. It is just the second “official visit” (including a state dinner) by a foreign leader during the Trump presidency, and the first by an Australian since John Howard in 2006. Despite a rocky start, relations between Australia and the US have been uniquely smooth in the Trump era.

Many traditional allies have learned to endure constant insults from the president. Trump complains bitterly about allies taking advantage of the United States in trade deals and defence alliances. France, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Denmark, Canada, Mexico and the whole of NATO have all been on the receiving end of Trump’s scorn.

In contrast, the leaders of a select group of Middle Eastern allies – Saudi Arabia, Israel, the UAE, and Egypt – have enjoyed extravagant backing from Trump, born of a mutual hostility to Iran and Barack Obama.

Australia seems to be in its own category as a long-standing ally that rarely attracts the attention of the president. In the absence of either tantrums or patronage, business as usual has quietly continued.

Australia’s unique position may be largely because we have a trade deficit with the United States, rather than the other way around. This is an issue of core importance to Trump, and the US gets its fifth-largest trade surplus from Australia at US$7.8 billion.

Australia’s outgoing ambassador, Joe Hockey, has cultivated a genuinely warm personal relationship with Trump that lubricates various bargains. It’s impossible to imagine him suffering the same fate as the UK’s Kim Darroch.

Morrison also understands the usefulness of a close personal relationship with the president and has steadily worked on this. It helps that Trump believes he has some political affinity with him.

But the relationship between the Australian and American governments is much broader than the one between president and prime minister. It is conducted behind the scenes every day by public servants on both sides and reflects decades of cooperation. Earlier this year, pro-Australian forces in the US government successfully defused Trump’s irritation at the volume of Australian aluminium exports to the US. Australia remains the only country with a complete exemption from American steel and aluminium tariffs.

This very stability may limit the scope of what Trump and Morrison can talk about. Most issues are relatively settled. However, the US-China trade war, and Australia’s role in it, will almost certainly be a topic of conversation.

Given the risks to Australia from a trade war, some had hoped Morrison could influence Trump to de-escalate tensions. In June, Morrison warned against the development of a “zero-sum mindset” on trade. He told a London audience that the World Trade Organisation, then under attack from the US, needed support as the US-China trade conflict put prosperity and living standards at risk.




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Back then, there was still hope of an agreement, which now seems more remote than ever. Morrison seems resigned to an enduring conflict between two of our largest trading partners. He has said the world will have to get used to it and that the conflict is all about the need to enforce the rules of global trade on China.

Australia has long shared American concerns that China flouts the rules to the extent that it undermines the whole system. Indeed, Australians have sometimes worried that Trump’s obsession with trade deficits is actually a distraction from this deeper issue.

In February, Hockey warned Trump against making a deal with China that would reduce the deficit while leaving structural issues unaddressed. But none of this means Morrison would accept an invitation from Trump to join the US in the trade war.

Morrison has already committed Australian support to the US effort to guard oil shipments from Iranian seizures in the Strait of Hormuz. This is the kind of invitation Australia rarely refuses. A frigate, surveillance and patrol aircraft and some personnel will go to the Persian Gulf, though it is unclear when.




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Infographic: what is the conflict between the US and Iran about and how is Australia now involved?


Other US allies, some of whom are signatories to the Iran nuclear deal, have declined to make even modest contributions such as these. They see the current crisis, correctly, as Trump’s fault and they fear provoking further conflict with Iran.

Even after Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal, reimposing sanctions that led to increased hostilities, the Morrison government opted to continue support for the deal, subject to Iranian compliance (which is now evaporating).

Both major parties are framing Australia’s support for the US in terms of our commitment to freedom of navigation and a rules-based international order.

Morrison is likely to reaffirm this commitment in Washington, without getting into discussions about why Trump withdrew from an agreement that his own intelligence agencies said was working. The recent demise of John Bolton as national security adviser will hopefully make it less likely that Australia faces any questions about deeper military involvement in the Gulf.

Morrison is keen to secure Trump’s first visit to Australia, for the President’s Cup golf tournament in December. While he lauds Trump as “a good president for Australia”, Australians are sceptical. A US Studies Centre poll in July found only 19% of Australians want to see Trump re-elected (that includes just 29% of Coalition voters).

In fairness to Trump, polls conducted in 2008 and 2012 found even smaller numbers of Australians wanted John McCain (16%) or Mitt Romney (5%) to win those presidential elections. The Republican Party this century has been well to the right of nearly every other mainstream conservative party in the world, including the Liberal Party.

Trump isn’t the first deeply unpopular president Australia has seen and he won’t be the last. In the 2019 Lowy Institute Poll, 64% of respondents say Australia “should remain close to the United States under President Donald Trump”.

There is no danger of that changing under Morrison.The Conversation

David Smith, Senior Lecturer in American Politics and Foreign Policy, Academic Director of the US Studies Centre, University of Sydney

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

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In the Democrats’ bitter race to find a candidate to beat Trump, might Elizabeth Warren hold the key?



She’s sitting third on the list of Democratic nomination contenders, but might Elizabeth Warren ultimately be the person to beat Donald Trump?
EPA/AAP/Craig Lassig

Dennis Altman, La Trobe University

Conservative former congressman Joe Walsh recently announced he would challenge Donald Trump for the Republican Party’s 2020 Presidential nomination.

Challenging an incumbent president is not new: both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter faced very significant challenges when they sought a further term. But Trump’s hold on Republicans suggests that no challenge is likely to succeed.

For the Democrats, however, the race to oppose Trump is now wide open and bitter.

The American political system allows participation through primary elections in ways unknown in our tightly controlled party system.




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


Millions of voters take part in choosing the candidate of their party. This can have strange consequences; some of Bernie Sanders’ supporters were so disaffected by the nomination of Hillary Clinton that perhaps 10% of them voted for Trump.

Candidates must damage their opponents without providing ammunition that can be used against their party in the November elections.

Presidential primaries stretch across the first half of 2020. These include several key contests determined by caucuses, which involve actual attendance for several hours to register one’s choice. Because Iowa traditionally leads off, huge attention is paid to the results there.

Iowa is a state with a population of just over 3 million, and is far whiter than the United States. Its caucuses are followed by three other small states: New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, which between them start to look like the country as a whole.

Every Democratic candidate is spending time and resources in the early states, with teams of volunteers criss-crossing the small towns of Iowa and New Hampshire and wooing minority communities in Nevada (Hispanic) and South Carolina (African-American).

By the end of February, expect the field to have shrunk from the current dozen or so serious contenders to about half that number. On March 3 comes a slew of votes across 16 states, including California and Texas. The results that day will either produce a clear front runner or a dogged three-way fight lasting three more months.

One of the oddities of the Democratic race so far is that the two leading candidates and the incumbent president are all white men in their seventies, well past the accepted American retirement age.

The two best known Democratic contenders are Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, who cover the ideological spectrum of the Democratic Party: Sanders on the left and Biden on the right. Both entered the race with considerable money and name recognition, and both have started slipping in the polls as younger candidates have gained attention.

Some current polls now place Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts as equalling their support. Warren shares some of Sanders’ radical positions on health care and taxation, but she is careful to not define herself as a socialist, and she has the same grasp of policy as did Hillary Clinton.

Trump would undoubtedly campaign against Warren as another effete east coast liberal, invoking the failure of two previous candidates from Boston, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry.

Democrat voters looking for someone younger and different may swing behind Senator Kamala Harris from California, a former Attorney-General who is positioning herself as someone who transcends both racial and gender prejudices.

Kamala Harris is another Democratic runner polling well.
AAP/EPA/Elijah Nouvelage

Polls in Iowa and New Hampshire show Harris and Pete Buttigieg as the only other candidates who consistently poll over 10%. Buttigieg is the unexpected dark horse: gay, young, ex-military and mayor of South Bend, Indiana, which is smaller than Geelong. He far outpolls more experienced candidates – one of them, Kirsten Gillibrand, has already withdrawn.




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US Democratic presidential primaries: Biden leading, followed by Sanders, Warren, Harris; and will Trump be beaten?


The candidates are united in their dislike of Donald Trump, but this is a battle of egos and ideologies. Do the Democrats seek to win over Trump supporters in key states by appealing to a mythical “centre”? Do they try to win over Republicans, particularly educated women who made up some of the base for their victories in last year’s House of Representatives election? Or do they concentrate on their potential supporters among the young and minority communities who are less likely to vote?

In a country where fewer than 60% of those eligible bother to vote, the last option would seem the most viable, but that requires candidates who can speak to the disinterested and the disenfranchised.

Both racism and sexism played a role in Trump’s victory, and Biden’s current lead in the polls suggests many Democrats feel an older white man is their safest choice. But if the Democrats are to galvanise young and minority voters to turn out they need a candidate who is clearly very different to Trump.

The electoral college system means that winning the popular vote, as Clinton did, does not guarantee victory. In key mid-western industrial states the vote may well be determined by the consequences of Trump’s current economic policies.

Much can change before Democratic supporters start declaring their choice in six months. Several of the also-rans may surprise us; maybe one of the front-runners will drop out.

Were Bernie Sanders to withdraw and throw his support to Elizabeth Warren, she would become the front-runner; it’s less clear where Biden’s supporters would go, but if he polls poorly in February, he is likely to fade away.

At this point in 2015, pundits were predicting a presidential race between Clinton and Jeb Bush, with Clinton favoured to win. Nothing in politics is predictable.The Conversation

Dennis Altman, Professorial Fellow in Human Security, La Trobe University

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

New research shows vast majority of Hong Kong protesters support more radical tactics



The biggest difference between the current protest movement and the 2014 Umbrella Movement is the striking solidarity among the various groups of demonstrators. Everyone feels they are ‘in the same boat’ together, new research shows.
Roman Pilipey/EPA

Samson Yuen, Lingnan University

Three months on, there’s still no end in sight for the Hong Kong protest movement. What started as a demonstration against a bill to amend the city’s extradition laws has now morphed into a broader movement challenging the legitimacy of the government and seeking fundamental political reforms.

Every weekend, hundreds of thousands of protesters – sometimes more than a million – are still taking to the streets. The protests draw Hong Kongers from all walks of life: students, doctors, lawyers, journalists, teachers, civil servants, and, most recently, family members of police officers. The discussions on internet forums and encrypted messaging apps remain vibrant, with innovative ideas for new protest actions emerging frequently.

To better understand who the protesters are, as well as why and how they are protesting, I’ve conducted a series of large onsite surveys at 19 demonstrations since June 9, with the help of researchers from other universities. We have so far surveyed more than 8,000 protesters with a response rate of over 85%.

What the protesters are angry about

Our data show protesters tend to be young and highly educated. On average, half of our respondents are aged between 20 and 30. Around 77% said they had a tertiary (higher) education.

Few said they were unemployed, unlike protesters in other mass demonstrations around the world, like the Arab Spring uprisings and Spain’s Indignados movement.




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Most respondents identified themselves as either democrats or localists. However, in the early stages of the protests, it is also notable that nearly 30% of respondents said that they were centrists or had no political affiliations. This dropped to around 15% by early August.

When asked why they were protesting, the vast majority of respondents (more than 90%) cited two main motivations: the complete withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill and an independent inquiry into excessive use of force by police against the protesters.

Interestingly, from July onwards, police violence has become a more pressing concern for respondents, with those who see it as “very important” rising from 85% to over 95%. Protesters have also increasingly said they are fighting for Hong Kong’s democracy, with those who see it as “very important” rising from 83% to 88%.

The resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other major officials was considered the least important reason for protesting. This suggests that a change in leadership is not viewed as a solution to the political crisis – unlike in 2003, when half a million people marched against changes to Hong Kong’s national security laws and demanded the resignation of then-leader C.H. Tung.

Instead, the protesters are seeking a fundamental reform of the entire political system.

For many of them, the extradition bill is just the surface of a rotting system. It merely exposes the underlying problems that have been swept under the carpet for many years: the lack of democratic representation in the policy-making and legislative process, the declining accountability of the government, the blatant domination by a small clique of business and pro-Beijing elites, the increasing unimportance of public opinion, and the steady encroachment on people’s political rights and civil liberties.

Most of the Hong Kong protesters are young, well-educated and employed.
Roman Pilipey/EPA

Strong solidarity and acceptance of radical tactics

These same long-standing problems are what prompted the Umbrella Movement in 2014. But unlike the Umbrella protesters, who were intensely split over protest tactics, the current protest movement is exhibiting much stronger solidarity and resolution in achieving their demands.

The majority of respondents see themselves as “in the same boat” (that is, sharing the same fate) with one another. More 80% believe the protests should go on if the government refuses to offer anything other than the suspension of the bill. Among them, more than half support escalating the protests.

This extraordinary level of solidarity is striking. Part of this is because people have learned from the mistakes of the Umbrella Movement. Instead of pointing fingers at each another, protesters are this time using the phrase “do not split, do not sever our ties” to deal with conflicts. Misdeeds and transgressions are not condemned, but are now dealt with through collective reflection and friendly reminders.




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Trust Me, I’m An Expert: Why the Hong Kong protesters feel they have nothing to lose


Fuelling protesters’ solidarity is their strong feeling of desperation. Our survey results show the majority of respondents do not expect any concessions from the government. This has remained steady from early on in the protests, and explains the emergence of slogans like “I want to perish together”.

We also found a high tolerance for the more radical and militant tactics of some of the younger protesters, even among those who consider themselves moderates.

Consistently, over 80% agree that peaceful assembly should combine with confrontational actions to maximize the impact of protests. In June, slightly less than 70% agreed that radical tactics were understandable when the government refuses to listen. That percentage rose to over 90% in the August 4 protests.

Where the protests are heading

No one knows what the “endgame” of the Hong Kong protests will be. The government is now hoping that mass arrests, coupled with the new start of the school year and the possible introduction of emergency regulations, may clear out the streets in the next few weeks, ideally before China’s National Day celebrations on October 1.

The strategy may work, but likely only in the short run. If the Hong Kong government continues to refuse to heed what people are legitimately asking for, the people will undoubtedly return to the streets.




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Why Chinese and Hong Kong students clash in Australia: the patriotic v the protest movement


As research from other social movement studies has taught us, protests take place in cycles. The current protest movement in Hong Kong may eventually quiet down after a while, but another one may be brewing on the horizon.


The other researchers in the team include Francis Lee from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Gary Tang from Hang Seng University of Hong Kong, and Edmund Cheng from the City University of Hong Kong.The Conversation

Samson Yuen, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Lingnan University

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

Why Chinese and Hong Kong students clash in Australia: the patriotic v the protest movement


Christine Cunningham, Edith Cowan University; Clive Barstow, Edith Cowan University, and Wei Zhang, Edith Cowan University

The protests in Hong Kong have led to some open clashes here in Australia between students from mainland China and others from Hong Kong.

There were angry scenes between pro-China and pro-Hong Kong groups in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as at universities in Brisbane and Adelaide.

These clashes are troubling for the Australian university sector, which enrols 182,555 mainland Chinese and 11,822 Hong Kongers as international students at various education institutions.




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Trust Me, I’m An Expert: Why the Hong Kong protesters feel they have nothing to lose


Our current research suggests differences in the curriculum studied by mainland Chinese and Hong Kong students may help to explain the beliefs underpinning the protest movements.

Our research involved in-depth interviews of a random sample of more than a dozen international postgraduate students from mainland China who are studying, or very recently have been, at Western Australian universities.

The interviews took place in late 2018 – before the recent Hong Kong protests. We asked the participants about their experiences studying in Chinese schools where Moral Education is a compulsory subject.

Lessons in China

The Moral Education curriculum teaches Chinese children to be politically proud of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and loyal to the ideals of a One-China worldview.

Moral Education is a stand-alone subject and also embedded within other subjects, such as history and Chinese literacy studies. Moral Education starts being taught in the early years of schooling and continues throughout high school and during undergraduate university studies.

In primary school, all Chinese children are supposed to join the Young Pioneers, a 130 million-strong youth organisation controlled by the CCP.

In high school, teachers invites students who achieve highly academically and morally to join the Communist Youth League. In university, excellent students are invited to join the Communist Party.

In contrast, Hong Kong students do not study Moral Education and cannot join the Young Pioneers, Youth League or the Communist Party.

When East meets West

Preliminary indications from our interviews suggest that when mainland Chinese students arrive in Western countries for postgraduate studies they carry with them a moral duty to uphold their national identity. This identity is arguably constructed through the Moral Education lessons.

The following are translated Mandarin quotes from participants in our study. Each quote comes from a different student, but we have de-identified them to protect their identity. They are talking about their experiences of studying Moral Education in their primary and high school years:

I was taught to love our motherland and love our country. It’s the right thing to do.

We were taught many slogans that were inspirational, positive and patriotic. It taught us to love our country, our family and our society.

In secondary school Moral Education made us all feel we are part of one China and what the government is doing is to give us a better life.

We are also learning from our interviews that even after mainland Chinese students study in Western universities for several years, they are unlikely to change their previously learnt ideological positions.

I think although the Communist Party is a one-party dictatorship, because in a big country like China it is very difficult to apply democracy and maintain the sustainability otherwise it will be too chaotic.

When I was standing under the party flag and sworn in to join our Communist Party it was so exciting. After so many years of ideological and political education, I believe that the Communist Party is the most advanced organisation of our society.

Now, especially when we are living overseas, if you hear the Chinese national anthem it brings me to tears of pride, belonging and identity.

Sympathy for the Communist Party

Another phenomenon our interviews revealed is that many of our participants expressed strong sympathy towards the CCP government.

That holds even after they learn about facts and events that have been censored in China, including the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

I will most likely participate (in) rallies like welcoming President Xi’s visit to Australia because I am […] Chinese and I have a sense of belonging and responsibility attached to this Chinese identity. I also will be vocal about protecting China’s sovereignty.

China is a big country with a large population and there are still many people who are not well educated, therefore they are easy to be incited by others. Although the one party is never 100% perfect, it at least proved itself that most people in China have a good life under its leadership.

Isolated in Australia

Over the course of three interviews with each participant in our study, we discovered many Chinese international students feel isolated from Australian friendship circles.

They expressed concern at the lack of opportunities to truly engage with Australian students during their time living here. Many worry that local Australian students just aren’t interested in them.

Actually I have little knowledge about how Australian society works – aside from the common social norms. I don’t know where I can access such knowledge. Some locals take it for granted that we should have known this, but we really don’t as we grew up in a totally different place.

For me I tend to have the impression that the local students believe we Chinese students are not interested in talking to them, so they would not take the initiative and talk to us either. I suggest that our university can do more about it like organising activities so we could access local friendships.




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International education should be a two-way transaction, deep in its engagement and fluid in its ability to change as we change.

But what these interviews show is the strong feelings many students from mainland China have about their country and government, which perhaps explains why they feel anger towards those who protest against that way of life.

The growing trend of these Chinese graduates returning to their homeland for work opportunities also has a bearing on their continuing patriotism and sense of national identity.The Conversation

Christine Cunningham, Senior Lecturer in Educational Leadership, Edith Cowan University; Clive Barstow, Professor of Creative Arts / Executive Dean Arts & Humanities, Edith Cowan University, and Wei Zhang, PhD candidate, Edith Cowan University

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

After a border dispute and spying scandal, can Australia and Timor-Leste be good neighbours?



Protesters outside the Australian embassy in Dili, Timor-Leste, in 2016, demanding a settlement of the border dispute between the nations.
Antonio Dasiparu/EPA

Michael Leach, Swinburne University of Technology

On August 30, Timor-Leste will celebrate the referendum that gave it independence from Indonesia. For the people of this small island, it has been a long battle – and one that continues today. You can read our companion story on the island nation’s struggle for independence here.


This Friday marks the 20-year anniversary of the day the East Timorese people voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia after a 24-year occupation.

Another significant anniversary comes next month, on September 20. That was the day of the arrival of the INTERFET mission, the Australian-led multinational force that brought an end to the violence that wracked Timor-Leste after the independence vote.

In the intervening three weeks, 1,500 Timorese were killed in the violence, which had been orchestrated by the Indonesian military and its proxy militias. Over 250,000 were forcibly displaced to West Timor and some 80% of the infrastructure was destroyed.

Many Australians are rightly proud of their contribution to Timor-Leste’s independence, which served as a historical corrective to Australia’s longstanding support for Indonesian’s invasion and forced integration of East Timor in 1975-76. The more than 5,000 Australian soldiers in the INTERFET mission marked the nation’s largest military deployment since the Vietnam War.

Yet despite the goodwill the mission engendered in Timor-Leste for the Australian people, relations between the two nations have repeatedly been undermined by contentious negotiations over control of the lucrative oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea.




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Australia and Timor Leste settle maritime boundary after 45 years of bickering


A treaty signed last March created a maritime boundary between the states for the first time. The border is expected to come into force this week following its ratification by both parliaments – another momentous milestone in Timor-Leste’s history.

But other thorny issues remain. When Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrives in Dili for the anniversary on Friday, he will likely face calls for Australia to drop its prosecution of a whistleblower who revealed an Australian spying operation against Timor-Leste.

As former Timor-Leste leader Jose Ramos Horta said,

If Australia doesn’t show political leadership, moral leadership on this issue, every time we talk to Australian leaders I will wonder if they have a tape recorder in their pocket [or] if my office has been bugged.

Australian soldiers conducting an operation to flush out militia fighters in Timor-Leste in September, 1999.
Jon Hargest/AAP

Conflict over oil and gas

Since its independence, Timor-Leste’s relations with Australia have been overshadowed by one major factor: the oil and gas fields on its contested maritime border.

Relations hit rocky waters in 2012 when Timor-Leste challenged the Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS), which had been signed by the two countries in 2006. This treaty had established a 50-year moratorium on maritime boundary negotiations, or five years after exploitation of the Greater Sunrise gas field ended, whichever occurred first.

Allegations then emerged in 2013 from a former ASIS agent (now known as Witness K) that Australia had spied on Timorese officials during the negotiations over the CMATS treaty. This led Timor-Leste to launch a case in The Hague challenging the treaty for want of good faith.

Australia was embarrassed by the exposure, but determined to maintain the countries’ ongoing treaty arrangements and focus instead on revenue-sharing agreements. However, Timor-Leste argued that the bulk of the oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea would lie on their side of a median line and pushed for a permanent boundary to be drawn between the countries.




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Australia and Timor Leste reach a deal on the Timor Sea – but much remains unknown


As relations deteriorated, ministerial visits ceased for almost five years.

Because Australia had abandoned the international courts as a means of resolving the maritime boundary in 2002, Timor-Leste had only one option left. In 2016, it pioneered the use of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) compulsory conciliation process: a non-binding but mandatory mediation between nations on maritime disputes.

The conciliation panel of five judges found the CMATS treaty’s moratorium on defining a maritime boundary was invalid. This dealt a fatal blow to decades of Australian foreign policy focused on maintaining its continental shelf claim in the Timor Gap in line with the 1972 Australia-Indonesia border treaty.

Australia could have attempted to tough it out since the tribunal’s finding was non-binding. But by this point, the Labor opposition was arguing the maritime boundary with Timor-Leste should be renegotiated in line with international law, putting additional pressure on the government to resolve the dispute.

A separate dispute over China’s claims in the South China Sea, also settled in 2016, made Australia’s position increasingly untenable, as well. The world was urging China to respect an international tribunal’s maritime ruling, so it would be difficult for Australia not to do the same.

A new boundary finally set in the sea

Once the UNCLOS opening decision came down, the two sides began negotiating a border in good faith. Timor-Leste dropped its espionage case against Australia in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, and later terminated the CMATS treaty, without Australian objection.

Announcement of the new maritime border treaty followed in March 2018. It was a major diplomatic breakthrough and soon led to the resumption of ministerial visits.

The new maritime boundary between Australia and Timor-Leste.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

The treaty created a median-line boundary in the former Timor Gap, placing the wells in the former Joint Petroleum Development Area (JPDA) in Timor-Leste’s sovereign waters.

The Timorese believe there is another A$1.5 billion of oil reserves in this area, but as these fields near the end of their life, the greater game lies in the as-yet-untapped Greater Sunrise field. This field straddles the eastern side of the new boundary and is believed to be worth in excess of US$40 billion.

Timor-Leste also achieved a major increase in royalties from the future development of this field, up from 50% under the CMATS treaty to 70-80%, depending on whether the pipeline eventually goes to Timor or Darwin.




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For Timor-Leste, another election and hopes for an end to crippling deadlock


China’s potential role in development

Since then, Timor-Leste’s focus has shifted to negotiations with its commercial partners over its ambitious plans for the Tasi Mane oil and gas megaproject on its southern coast.

This project could bring additional challenges for the relationship with Australia. The East Timorese government estimates that external financing will provide some 80% of the estimated US$10.5-12 billion funding for the project. And Timor-Leste’s ambassador to Australia has already stated that if funding partners cannot be found among Timor-Leste’s friends in Australia, the United States, Japan or South Korea, then Chinese capital would be a clear alternative.

Timor-Leste has rejected reports that China’s Exim bank offered a A$16 billion loan to finance the megaproject, though it acknowledges both countries have expressed willingness to cooperate over the separate development of Timor-Leste’s petrochemical industry.

It is also notable that China this month donated some US$3-5 million in defence materiel requested by the Timorese government.

Even though China might be seen as a logical partner for developing Timor-Leste’s oil and gas processing capabilities, Beijing’s involvement would certainly complicate relations with Australia.

Timor-Leste has generally sought to balance its relationships with key regional powers, in part to prevent the dominant influence of any single nation. The country’s foreign minister recently emphasised that discussions on the Tasi Mane project are ongoing with potential partners in Australia, the US, Europe and Asia.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop meets with her Timor-Leste counterpart, Dionisio Soares, in Dili in 2018. She was the first Australian government minister to visit Timor-Leste in five years.
Greg Roberts/AAP

Remaining obstacles to closer ties

Despite the major improvement in bilateral ties between the two countries, there are some remaining points of contention.

The prosecutions of Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery in the espionage whistleblower case have been criticised by Horta and another former Timor-Leste leader, Xanana Gusmão. This week, Gusmão indicated he would appear as a witness to give evidence on behalf of the two, raising the potential for further embarrassment for Australia.

Some political activists in both Australia and Timor-Leste have also called for Canberra to pay back oil and gas revenues it has received from the JPDA since the border treaty was signed in 2018, and accused Australia of delays in ratification.

While these accusations have made headlines, Timor-Leste’s parliament had not ratified the treaty either until last month. In any case, Timorese NGOs point to the far larger question of up to US$5 billion in revenues that Australia has received dating back to 2002, when revenue-sharing agreements began.

But it appears there is no appetite in either country to consider repayment of historical royalties.

As Australia and Timor-Leste prepare to celebrate the anniversary of the independence referendum – as well as the recent restoration of good bilateral relations – it’s worth keeping in mind that new hurdles potentially lie ahead, with implications for the wider region.The Conversation

Michael Leach, Professor, Politics & International Relations, Swinburne University of Technology

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

Boris Johnson has suspended the UK parliament. What does this mean for Brexit?



UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend the parliament at a crucial time for Brexit negotiations may stymie his opponents.
AAP/UK Parliamentary Recording Unit handout

Anne Twomey, University of Sydney

Boris Johnson has secured the prorogation of the British parliament, which means it will be prevented from sitting for much of the crucial period between now and the Brexit date of October 31.

So what options do those opposed to a no-deal Brexit now have in parliament to prevent it?

A cunningly placed and timed prorogation

If a majority of the House of Commons were opposed to a no-deal Brexit, two primary routes are open to it. One would be the enactment of legislation requiring the government to seek a further deferral of the Brexit date until after some circuit-breaking event could be held, such as a new referendum or general election. The other would be a vote of no-confidence in the government and an early general election.

Both would be extremely difficult to achieve within the now very tight parliamentary timeframes – which presumably was the point. This prorogation is cunningly timed and placed. The fact that parliament has not been prorogued for the entire period leading up to the Brexit date makes it harder to argue in the courts that the prorogation is unconstitutional.




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Boris Johnson, ‘political Vegemite’, becomes the UK prime minister. Let the games begin


The fact that Johnson gave prorogation advice to the queen before a court could decide on whether to issue an injunction to prevent the giving of such advice (with a hearing on the matter having been scheduled for September 6) also potentially stymies the use of the courts to prevent prorogation. This is because the main avenue for legal attack is in relation to the giving of the advice by ministers, rather than the action of the queen in giving effect to that advice. The latter would normally be regarded as “non-justiciable” – outside the appropriate exercise of judicial power.

In addition, slicing up the sitting period with prorogation in the middle, from September 10 to October 13, means it is now likely there is too little time to achieve all the procedural steps necessary to pass legislation or the resolutions necessary to secure a change in government.

This is exacerbated by the fact that the government largely controls the order of proceedings in the House of Commons and prorogation effectively wipes the parliamentary slate clean of any uncompleted action. Any partially completed action would have to start again once parliament resumes.

Confidence, fixed-term parliaments and an election

One alternative that has previously been raised is a vote of no confidence in the government and an early election. The UK has fixed five-year terms for its parliament. But an early election can be held if a two-thirds majority of the House of Commons votes for it, or if there is a vote of no confidence in the government and after 14 days there has been no vote of confidence in the government.

In either case, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 states that the election is to be held on a day appointed by the queen on the recommendation of the prime minister.

A senior government source reportedly told The Guardian:

We have been very clear that if there’s a no-confidence vote, [the prime minister] won’t resign. We get to set an election date. We don’t want an election, but if we have to set a date, it’s going to be after 31 October.

What could be done to avoid that outcome?

The House of Commons could instead act to force the resignation of the prime minister, secure the appointment of a caretaker prime minister, bring about an early election and authorise the new prime minister to seek to defer Brexit until after the election was held so the people could make the ultimate decision on Brexit.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act deals solely with issues of confidence in relation to the holding of an early election. It provides that only a resolution “that this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government” can cause an early election. It does not deal with other expressions of no confidence in the government.

As the then clerk of the House of Commons advised the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in 2018, the House could pass a “no confidence motion in other terms than those in the Act”, including no confidence in a specific minister.

This would have a “massive political effect but [would] not trigger the terms of the Act”.

So if, for example, the house expressed no confidence in Boris Johnson to hold the office of prime minister, he would be forced, by convention, to resign.

In addition to passing a vote of no confidence in a prime minister, the house may pass a “constructive motion of confidence”, which states that it has confidence in someone else to form a government.

This may be a compromise candidate who is trusted by both sides to run a caretaker government, which makes no significant policy decisions or appointments but simply undertakes necessary ordinary business until an election is held.

The formation of a caretaker government is consistent with British parliamentary practice. Winston Churchill formed one and popularised the “caretaker” term in 1945.

When a prime minister resigns, he or she might give advice to the queen as to whom to appoint as his or her successor. But the queen is not bound by this advice, as the outgoing prime minister ceases to be responsible to parliament for it.

Instead, the queen is obliged to appoint as prime minister the person most likely to hold the confidence of the House of Commons. If the House of Commons has declared, by resolution, who this person is, then the queen has clear evidence, so her appointment of that person cannot be questioned.

The next consideration is that a caretaker prime minister is by convention constrained in undertaking significant acts. If parliament wanted the prime minister to renegotiate the Brexit date so the people could decide on Brexit as a key policy in a general election, it would be prudent for a parliamentary resolution to authorise this action.




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Finally, in the United Kingdom it has historically been the case that fundamental constitutional change has been put to the people in a general election. An example is the equally divisive debate over Home Rule for Ireland and the limitation of the powers of the House of Lords.

This means the House of Commons would need to pass a formal resolution that “this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government”, referring to the government established by the new prime minister. This would allow an early election to be held.

In addition, to ensure the caretaker government was for the shortest possible time, the house could resolve that the prime minister should set a particular date for that election.

A series of resolutions could achieve this, but it would require a united front from those opposed to a no-deal Brexit and clever parliamentary tactics to achieve it within the very limited sitting time available.

It may prove that prorogation was the masterstroke to prevent this from occurring.The Conversation

Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

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

G7 throws up plenty of controversy and debate, but little compromise



Prime Minister Scott Morrison met with US President Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, among others, at the summit in France.
AP/EPA/Ian Langsdon

Susan Harris Rimmer, Griffith University

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has had a busy fortnight of international diplomacy. Barely had the dust settled from his performance
at the Pacific Island Forum in Tuvalu, than the prime minister announced troop commitments to the Straits of Hormuz, then fronted a delicate press conference in Vietnam speaking about the South China Sea, en route to France.




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After a year in the top job, Morrison may be slowly understanding what it takes to make an impact at a global level in order to pursue Australia’s interests.

The Golden G7 Ticket

Morrison scored a rare and valuable invitation to the 45th Group of Seven (G7) Summit in Biarritz, France. The G7 membership consists of the industrialised economies of US, France, Germany, Japan, the UK, Italy and Canada, along with the Presidents of the European Union and European Commission, and usually Spain. The World Bank, IMF, OECD, African Union, ILO, African Development Bank and NEPAD are also usually invited, the UN Secretary-General was also there.

The G7 used to be the G8, but Russia is still suspended. A G8 summit had been planned for June 2014 in Sochi, Russia. But in March that some year, the the G7 members cancelled the meeting and suspended Russia’s membership of the group due to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. However, Russia has not been permanently expelled.

French President Emmanuel Macron used his invitations strategically to promote a “league of democracies” concept. He invited leaders from Australia, India, Chile and South Africa to join the outreach activities at the summit, in particular to attend a Sunday night dinner to discuss environmental challenges.

Australia is a member of the G20, which includes India, Indonesia and China. But it has often cast a wistful eye to Canada’s participation in the G7/8, despite the relative similarity in economic strength between the two nations.

This year, the Henry Jackson Society released its second Audit of Geopolitical Capability report, which assesses the geopolitical capability of the Group of 20 nations plus Nigeria. It ranked Australia as the eighth most capable in the world, ahead of India and Russia.

But since the election of Donald Trump as US president, the G7 has lost much of its consensus and related power. The 2019 summit was like an Agatha Christie play, full of shocks, tensions, surprise reveals and difficulties.

Tensions and diplomatic shocks

The US president walked out early from last year’s G7 summit in Canada over criticism of his tariffs policy, and then refused to sign the final statement. Macron therefore organised the summit to have a two-hour lunch alone with the president, and abandoned the idea of a final communique.

Saturday working sessions were held on jobs, global inequality, climate change and women’s empowerment, leading to criticisms from the US delegation that the agenda was too “niche”. Sunday was devoted to the extremely difficult trade discussions and the Amazon forest fires.

The European G7 nations, as well as other EU members such as Ireland and Spain, sparred over whether to block the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement unless Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro takes forceful action on the forest fires raging in the Amazon and on climate change in general.




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Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017, shortly after he attended his first G7 in Italy. Climate was still a sticking point at this summit, with leadership from the G7 unlikely on climate as an economic risk.

The Saturday dinner was thrown into uproar by Trump championing the re-entry of Russia to the G7, with the EU arguing back that Crimea would be better.

Sunday saw the surprise arrival of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to meet with Macron. Zarif, sanctioned by the US, said salvaging the 2015 nuclear deal would be difficult but “worth trying”.

Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear accord in 2018, leaving European signatories scrambling to preserve the pact. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she welcomed efforts toward deescalation. Europeans have so far declined to join Australia, the US, Bahrain and the UK by engaging in the Strait of Hormuz. The situation in Hong Kong was barely raised.

Salty summit

Just before the summit, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson – attending his first G7 summit – and European Council President Donald Tusk traded barbs over the UK’s exit from the European Union. Tusk said he would not negotiate a no-deal scenario, and said he hoped the prime minister did not want to go down in history as “Mr No Deal”. Johnson took a swim in the sea and created a lengthy metaphor for journalists about Brexit as a result.




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Boris Johnson, ‘political Vegemite’, becomes the UK prime minister. Let the games begin


Most world leaders attending the summit declared they would ask the US to resolve the trade war with China. However, Trump announced additional duties on Chinese imports one day before he arrived in France. He then threatened to levy import duties on French wine “like they’ve never seen before”. The US president also said the British would lose “the anchor around their ankle” after leaving the EU.

Outside the summit, more than 9,000 anti-G7 protesters marched peacefully over a bridge linking France and Spain, about 30 kilometres from Biarritz. Yellow Jacket protesters held pictures of Macron upside-down.

Australian leadership on digital hate

In the midst of such turmoil, it would be difficult to make an impact as an invited guest. However, Morrison kept up his advocacy on the Christchurch Call.

At the close of the G7, Morrison announced an undisclosed amount of funding from the OECD and A$300,000 to fund the development of voluntary transparency reporting protocols for social media companies to prevent, detect, and remove terrorist and violent extremist content.

A summit of ‘senseless disputes’

This was the EU President Tusk’s final G7 Summit and he reflected sadly on Saturday that leaders of the world’s richest and most powerful democracies are increasingly unable to find “common language”, and were instead at risk of getting caught up in “senseless disputes among each other”.

The summit seems to have borne out his worse fears. Hopefully Scott Morrison was inspired by the fractured state of the big stage to become part of the solution.The Conversation

Susan Harris Rimmer, Australian Research Council Future Fellow, Griffith Law School, Griffith University

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

Greenland isn’t Denmark’s to sell: some essential reading for Trump on colonialism



The coast of Greenland is not for sale.
Shutterstock

Felicity Jensz, University of Münster

Donald Trump is not the first US President to make an offer of buying Greenland from Denmark – but he might be the last.

Home of some 56,000 people and around 80% covered by ice, Greenland is culturally connected to Europe – but physiographically it is a part of the continent of North America.

The USA has purchased from the icy northern territories before. In 1867, they bought Alaska for US$7.2 million from Russia, who established settlements there in the late eighteenth century.

Then (as now) no local Indigenous people were consulted in the transaction.

A long history of American colonialism

The history of settler colonialism in North America includes numerous land purchases, including with Indigenous peoples, such as the 1737 Walking Purchase which tricked the Delaware Indians out of more than double the amount of land than they expected, purchased only for “goods”.

America has successfully purchased land from other European countries, including over two million square kilometres of North America from France in 1803 in the Louisiana Purchase for US$15 million.

This map from 1903 shows the extent of the Louisiana Purchase.
Wikimedia Commons

The United States has also purchased Danish colonies before. In 1917, Denmark sold the Danish West Indies (US$25 million) to the United States, which the Americans promptly renamed the United States Virgin Islands. This isn’t even the first time a US president has tried to buy Greenland – President Harry Truman offered to buy it from Denmark in 1946 for $US100 million.

America has also gained territory by force of arms, such as when Spain ceded the Philippines to the USA after the Spanish-American War with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in December 1898. And they have opportunistically annexed territories after they suffered internal political turmoil, such as in the case of the annexation of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893 in the years after Queen Liliʻuokalani was overthrown.

Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii, photographed around 1891.
Wikimedia Commons

A Dano-Norwegian colony

Trump believes he can simply purchase Greenland from Denmark. Put bluntly, this is impossible, although the mistake is perhaps an easy one to make for someone with a colonial era mindset and only a passing familiarity with the region.

For the last two centuries, Greenland has predominately been a Danish colony, and, as the example of Alaska demonstrates, colonies were often sold and exchanged by imperial powers. Truman’s offer in 1946 was when Greenland was a Danish colony.

Leaving aside its Viking past, the colonial period for Greenland began in 1721, when the Danish-Norwegian missionary Hans Egede established a mission and began trading near present-day Nuuk, placing Greenland under joint control of the Dano-Norwegian monarchy. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, Greenland became a sole colony under Denmark.

It remained a Danish colony until 1953, after a referendum sparked by Danish discomfort with the United Nations’ oversight of the relationship between Denmark and Greenlanders. Greenland was formally incorporated into the Danish Realm as an autonomous territory without consultation with Greenlanders.

The reality was that Greenland was still a colony in all but name.

Striving for recognition

Greenlanders continued striving for political recognition and autonomy from their former colonisers. The Greenland Home Rule Act in 1979 in was a step towards this autonomy, establishing Greenland’s own parliament and further sovereignty.

In 2008, the country hosted a referendum to support or oppose the Greenland Self-Government Act. Passing with 75% of the vote, it declared Greenlanders are a distinct people within the Danish Realm.

Politically, this placed the Greenlandic parliament on an equal basis with the Danish parliament – although this relationship is not always an easy one. Some aspects of Greenland’s politics are still under Danish control, such as foreign policy, security and international agreements.

The Greenlandic and Danish flags flying together.
Pixabay, CC BY

But under the current laws, Greenlanders have the right to self-determination, and any agreement to purchase Greenland – no matter who made it – would have to be agreed upon by Greenlanders.

‘Greenland is Greenlandic’

Denmark’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, has dismissed Trump’s claims that Denmark essentially owns Greenland, stating that “Greenland is Greenlandic.”

Unlike in the Alaskan purchase of the nineteenth century, the agreement of Greenlanders would be essential for any “large real estate deal” that stripped them of their land and sovereignty.

Kim Kilesen, the Prime Minister of Greenland, has emphatically stated that Greenland is not for sale. And if it was, he would be the one to ask – not Denmark.

Greenland is not Denmark’s to sell.The Conversation

Felicity Jensz, Research associate professor, University of Münster

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