China does not want war, at least not yet. It’s playing the long game


KYDPL KYODO/AP

John Blaxland, Australian National UniversityTalk of war has become louder in recent days, but the “drumbeat” has been heard for some time now as China’s military capabilities have grown. China does not want war, at least not yet. It’s playing the long game and its evident intentions have become more unnerving.

Scholars like Brendan Taylor have identified four flash points for a possible conflict with China, including Korea, the East China Sea, the South China Sea and Taiwan, but conventional war is not likely at this stage.

Where tensions are currently high

The armistice between North and South Korea has held for nearly 70 years. The pandemic has severely constrained North Korea’s economy and its testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles has ceased, for now. China has a stake in keeping Kim Jong-un’s regime in power in the North, but the prospects of reverting to a hot war have flowed and ebbed.

Just south of Korea, in the East China Sea, China has intensified its military activities around the Japanese-claimed but uninhabited Senkaku Islands. China appears to be wearing down Japan’s resolve to resist its claims over what it calls the Diaoyu Islands.

The United States has assured Japan the islands fall under their mutual defence security guarantee. But a confrontation with China could test US backing and possibly set the stage for escalated confrontation elsewhere.

Japanese plane flies over Senkaku Islands.
A Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force surveillance plane flies over the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Kyodo News/AP

Similarly, China’s industrial-scale island building in the South China Sea has resulted in extensive military hardware and infrastructure. This will enable the Chinese to consolidate their position militarily and assert control over the so-called nine-dash line — its vast claim over most of the sea.

The US Navy continues to conduct freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the sea to challenge China’s claims. With thousands of marked and unmarked Chinese vessels operating there, however, the risk of an accident triggering an escalation is real.

In 2016, an international tribunal rejected China’s claims to the waters in a case brought by the Philippines. Despite being a signatory to the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, China has ignored the tribunal’s ruling and continued to intrude on islands claimed by both the Philippines and Indonesia.

Recently, 220 Chinese vessels were anchored for months at a reef inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. China’s actions appear premised on the dictum that possession is nine-tenths of the law.

Like China’s seizure of the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 that preceded its massive island construction further south, China could conceivably take the unwillingness of the US to challenge its latest moves as a cue for more assertive action over Taiwan.

This is, after all, the main prize Beijing seeks to secure President Xi Jinping’s legacy.

Why Taiwan’s security matters

Taiwan presents the US and its allies with a conundrum. It is a liberal open democracy and the world’s leading computer chip maker. It also sits in the middle of what military strategists refer to as the “first island chain” stretching from Japan in the north to the Philippines in the south. Its strategic significance is profound.

Having adopted a “One China” policy since 1979, the US security guarantee for Taiwan is conditional and tenuous. Reflecting growing unease over China’s actions, polls show strong US public support for defending Taiwan.

So far, ambiguity has served US interests well, providing some assurance to Taiwan while discouraging the PRC from invading.

This guarantee has been important for Japan, as well. With its pacifist constitution, and occasional concern over US commitment to its defence, Japan would be closely watching how the US approaches its Taiwan policy.




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Australia would be wise not to pound ‘war drums’ over Taiwan with so much at stake


China is so far avoiding open war

Meanwhile, China has metamorphosed both economically and militarily. An exponential growth in China’s military capabilities has been matched by a steep rise in the lethality, accuracy, range and quantity of its weapons systems. On top of this, Beijing has ratcheted up its warlike rhetoric and tactics.

Last month, Xi made a muscular speech to the Boao Forum Asia, calling for an acceptance of China not only as an emerging superpower but also as an equal in addressing global challenges.

China's navy has been significantly upgraded.
China has significantly upgraded its navy since Xi took power eight years ago.
Li Gang/Xinhua/AP

Sometimes actions speak louder than words. And China’s actions so far have avoided crossing the threshold into open warfare, refusing to present a “nail” to a US “hammer”. This is for good reason.

If war did break out, China would be vulnerable. For starters, it shares land borders with 14 countries, bringing the potential for heightened challenges, if not open attack on numerous fronts.




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Then there are the economic concerns. China has significant Japanese, US and European industrial investments, and is also overwhelmingly dependent on energy and goods passing through the Malacca Strait between Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, the Indo-Pacific’s jugular vein.

This reliance on the Malacca Strait — referred to by one analyst as the “Malacca dilemma” — helps explain why China has invested so much capital in its Belt and Road Initiative and studiously avoided open conflict, at least until it is more self-reliant.

To avoid outright war, China evidently reckons it is better to operate a paramilitary force with white-painted ships and armed fishing vessels in the thousands to push its claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea and constrict Taiwan’s freedom of action.

It also recently passed a new law allowing its coast guard to act more like a military body and enforce maritime law — again in violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

China is also expanding its “grey zone” warfare against Taiwan, which includes cyber attacks, repeated incursions of its air space and territorial waters, and diplomatic isolation to undermine Taiwan’s resolve and ability to resist.




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Would America’s allies help defend Taiwan?

This persistent and escalating challenge by Chinese forces has demonstrated Taiwan’s inability to fully control its waters and air space. Beijing is continuing to build a fleet of amphibious capabilities to enable an invasion of Taiwan.

US pundits are also no longer confident the Americans would win in an outright war over Taiwan, with Washington’s top military officer in the region arguing one could happen within six years.

Taiwan lacks allies other than the United States, but Japan is mindful of the consequences of a US failure to defend Taiwan. Its ocean surveillance and coastal defence capabilities would be exposed if China took Taiwan. But Japan’s constitution precludes direct involvement in defending Taiwan.

Under its Anzus obligations, the US could call on Australia for military support to defend Taiwan. The mutual assistance provisions are not automatically invoked, but the implications of Canberra standing on the sidelines would be profound.

Warnings about rhetorical drumbeats of war remind us the US is no longer the world’s only superpower and suggest Australia should prepare for a more volatile world.

Rather than rely solely on the US, Australia should bolster its own defence capabilities. At the same time, it should collaborate more with regional partners across Southeast Asia and beyond, particularly Indonesia, Japan, India and South Korea, to deter further belligerence and mitigate the risk of tensions escalating into open war.The Conversation

John Blaxland, Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

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

US support for waiving COVID vaccine intellectual property is a huge step. Australia must follow


Deborah Gleeson, La Trobe UniversityYesterday, the US Biden administration declared its support for waiving intellectual property rights, including patents, for COVID-19 vaccines.

This decision represents a huge breakthrough in discussions at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that have been deadlocked for more than six months.

Shortly afterwards, New Zealand’s trade minister Damien O’Connor announced his country’s support on Twitter, quickly followed by Canada’s expression of support for the proposal.

Other nations that have so far resisted pressure to support the waiver are likely to fall like dominoes in the wake of the US in coming days.

Today, Australia’s trade minister Dan Tehan said the waiver “will be an important part of trying to get a resolution in the World Trade Organisation”, but it remains unclear whether Australia has unequivocally thrown its support behind the proposal.

Waiving intellectual property rights is a necessary first step to scaling up the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines and correcting worsening inequities in access to these desperately needed products.

A decision by Australia to support the waiver would indicate we value human lives more than pharmaceutical industry profits, and are committed to bringing the pandemic to an end globally.




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Why do we need to waive intellectual property rights?

The exclusive rights to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines are currently held by a small number of companies that control the global supply. This is despite the huge amounts of public funding funnelled into their development.

Some of these companies have entered into licensing arrangements with other manufacturers to increase production, such as AstraZeneca’s contracts allowing CSL in Australia and the Serum Institute of India to make its vaccine.

But most have not. And no pharmaceutical company has taken steps to share its intellectual property, know-how, and technology through the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, a platform set up by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for this purpose almost a year ago.

The exclusive rights held by these companies are governed by the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, commonly known as “TRIPS”. WTO members are required by TRIPS to provide patent terms of at least 20 years, along with other types of intellectual property protection, such as protection of trade secrets.

Suspending patents and other intellectual property rights relevant to pharmaceuticals will remove legal barriers, allowing vaccine developers to enter the market more quickly without worrying about the prospect of litigation over potential infringements of intellectual property rights.

It will also mean vaccines manufactured in one country can be exported to others without having to navigate a legal maze.

What’s been happening at the WTO?

India and South Africa first put a proposal to the WTO in October 2020 for a waiver of certain intellectual property provisions in TRIPS for COVID-19 medical products for the duration of the pandemic. As envisaged by its sponsors, the waiver would apply to vaccines along with other medical products to fight the pandemic such as treatments, diagnostic tests and medical equipment.

Over the ensuing six months, more than 100 of the WTO’s 164 members moved to support the TRIPS waiver proposal.

But several countries have prevented negotiations from moving forward, including the US, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Japan, Brazil, Norway and Australia. If Australia now adds its wholehearted support to the US proposal for a waiver for vaccines, this could help shift the dynamics at the WTO further towards a resolution.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has been accelerating and inequities in vaccine access have been worsening. The director-general of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, noted in April that one in four people in rich countries had been given a vaccine dose, but only one in around 500 in low-income countries had received a dose.

It has become increasingly clear that unless governments take urgent action, the global supply of vaccines won’t be adequate to meet demand for a long time to come. COVAX, the global program for equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, has so far been able to deliver only 54 million of the two billion vaccine doses it planned to distribute by the end of 2021.




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Why is the US about-face so significant?

Historically, the US has been the world’s staunchest advocate for intellectual property rights. It has demanded its trading partners provide high levels of protection for IP in exchange for access to US markets, and has named and shamed countries it sees as providing insufficient IP protection, singling them out for trade sanctions.

The change in the US position signals how clearly the success of every country in fighting the pandemic depends on vaccinating the whole world. The risk of variants emerging in areas of uncontrolled transmission means no country can gain control of the situation just by vaccinating its own population.

The US move will give confidence to other countries to support the waiver and will isolate any countries that continue to oppose it.

Source: Médecins Sans Frontières

Does the US support for the waiver go far enough?

The US has agreed to support a waiver only for vaccines. This is short-sighted. COVID-19 treatments could become a more important part of the medical toolkit for fighting the pandemic further down the track — as treatments called “antiretrovirals” have proved crucial to reigning in the spread of HIV. And many countries are lacking sufficient diagnostic tests, which are critical for getting outbreaks under control.

The waiver also isn’t enough on its own: it’s necessary but not sufficient. Governments will need to incentivise pharmaceutical companies — or if they continue to drag their feet, force them — to share their knowledge of manufacturing processes and their technology through initiatives like the WHO Technology Access Pool.

And governments will need to invest in building production capacity in low- and middle-income countries and find solutions to problems like shortages of raw ingredients, rather than relying on the market to solve these structural problems.

What needs to happen next?

Given the consensus-based decision-making process at the WTO, the TRIPS waiver will still need to win the support of the remaining countries standing in the way.

Gaining the EU’s support will probably be the most difficult battle. The EU, where a large proportion of the world’s pharmaceutical companies are headquartered, has so far emphasised donations of vaccines as the way out of the pandemic. But European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has at least signalled the EU’s willingness to discuss the US proposal.

Once consensus is reached, it will be important for the negotiations to be transparent, with draft texts shared publicly, as the benefits that flow from the waiver will rely on the detail of its wording.

Negotiations will also need to progress at speed. There have been millions of deaths from COVID-19 since the proposal was first tabled six months ago. The world can’t afford another long wait.The Conversation

Deborah Gleeson, Associate Professor in Public Health, La Trobe University

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

Liberals likely to retain majority in Tasmania; Biden’s ratings after 100 days


AAP/Chris Crerar

Adrian Beaumont, The University of MelbourneWith 79% counted in Saturday’s Tasmanian election, the ABC is calling 12 of the 25 Tasmanian lower house seats for the Liberals, eight for Labor, two Greens and three undecided. Vote shares were 48.7% Liberals (down 1.5% since the 2018 election), 28.4% Labor (down 4.3%), 12.2% Greens (up 1.9%) and 6.3% for independents.

Tasmania uses the Hare-Clark system, with five electorates each returning five members. A quota is one-sixth of the vote, or 16.7%.

In The Poll Bludger’s projections, the Liberals are on 3.6 quotas in Bass, Labor 1.6 and the Greens 0.6. The Liberals will win three, Labor one and the last is Labor vs Greens.

In Braddon, the Liberals have 3.4 quotas, Labor 1.6, the Greens 0.3 and an independent 0.4. The most likely result is three Liberals and two Labor.

In Lyons, the Liberals have 3.1 quotas, Labor 2.0 and the Greens 0.5. A clear three Liberals, two Labor.

In Franklin, the Liberals have 2.5 quotas, Labor 2.0 and the Greens 1.1. The Liberals will win two, Labor two and the Greens one.

Finally in Clark, the Liberals have 1.9 quotas, Labor 1.3, the Greens 1.2 and Independents Kristie Johnston and Sue Hickey 0.7 and 0.6 respectively. If this projection holds up, it is hard to see the Liberals not getting two Clark seats and a majority.

Adding it up, the most probable result of the Tasmanian election is 13 Liberals (steady since the 2018 election), eight Labor, two Greens, one Labor vs Greens in Bass and one independent in Clark (Hickey or Johnston).

Premier Peter Gutwein had called this election ten months earlier than scheduled, hoping to take advantage of high ratings attributable to COVID. A June 2020 Newspoll gave Gutwein an astonishing rating of 90-8 satisfied, almost certainly the best approval polled by any premier or PM in Australian polling history.

Gutwein gambled that his COVID popularity would get the Liberals to a majority while it remained an issue. It looks as if his gamble has succeeded. The Liberals are likely to retain government in Tasmania for a third term, while the same party is in power federally. This is a big achievement in a state that voted for Labor by 56.0-44.0 at the 2019 federal election.

The last publicly released poll, an EMRS February poll, gave the Liberals 52%, Labor 27% and the Greens 14%. In my election preview, a uComms poll for The Australia Institute gave the Liberals 41.4%, Labor 32.1%, the Greens 12.4%, Independents 11.0% and Others 3.1%.




Read more:
Tasmanian election preview: commissioned poll has Liberals likely short of majority


This commissioned poll was too low on the Liberals and too high on Labor and independents.

Liberals likely to gain Windermere in upper house, but Labor retains Derwent

Two of the 15 upper house seats were up for election for six-year terms. In Derwent, which Labor has held since 1979, they led the Liberals by 48.7% to 41.2%, with 10.0% for Animal Justice. In Windermere, held by a retiring conservative independent, the Liberals had 37.7% to Labor’s 26.8% with 21.2% for an independent.

Preferences have not yet been distributed for either seat, but Labor will clearly retain Derwent while the Liberals are likely to gain Windermere. The upper house will retain its 9-6 left-right split.

After first 100 days, Biden has 54% approval rating

It is 101 days since Joe Biden began his term as US president on January 20. In the FiveThirtyEight aggregate, his ratings with all polls are 53.9% approve, 41.4% disapprove (net +12.5%). With polls of likely or registered voters, Biden’s ratings are 53.8% approve, 42.0% disapprove (net +11.8%). For the duration of his presidency, Biden’s approval has been between 53% and 55%.

FiveThirtyEight has ratings of presidents since Harry Truman (president from 1945-53). At this stage of their presidencies, Biden’s net approval is only ahead of Donald Trump and Gerald Ford (who took over after Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974).

The US economy, boosted by stimulus payments, appears to be recovering very well from COVID, but attempted illegal immigration has surged since Biden became president. The key question is how Biden’s ratings look at the November 2022 midterms, when the president’s party normally loses seats.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, The University of Melbourne

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

Australia would be wise not to pound ‘war drums’ over Taiwan with so much at stake


Taiwan’s military has been on alert amid large numbers of Chinese war plane incursions in its air space.
Chiang Ying-ying/AP

Tony Walker, La Trobe UniversityAustralians woke up to the freelancing advice this week that “drums of war” were beating louder in their neighbourhood, according to the country’s top security official.

It is hardly news that regional anxiety is rising as the countries of the Indo-Pacific scramble to accommodate China’s surging power and influence.

However, an essay by Michael Pezzullo, Home Affairs secretary that spoke publicly of a possible war with an unnamed adversary, ventured into territory not previously traversed by government officials.

It appears not to have had the imprimatur of Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Morrison did not repudiate Pezzullo’s remarks, nor did he endorse them. He said Australia’s goal was to “pursue peace and stability” and a “world order that favours freedom”.

This is what Pezzullo, whose responsibilities include the domestic spy agency the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, said in a message to his staff without directly mentioning the dragon in the room — China.

In a world of perpetual tension and dread, the drums of war beat sometimes faintly and distantly, and at other times more loudly and ever closer […] until we are faced with the only prudent, if sorrowful course — to send off, yet again, our warriors to fight the nation’s wars.

These words, untethered from any immediate threat, might have been put aside, but their timing has helped focus attention on the security challenges facing Australia at a moment of considerable strategic uncertainty.

The change of administration in Washington, along with a continuing deterioration in relations between Canberra and Beijing, has further unsettled Australia’s national security calculations in an age of regional uncertainty.

The simple question in all of this is whether conflict with China has become more likely, even inevitable? And whether hawkish elements in the Australian national security establishment, like Pezzullo, are overstating the risks?




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Is war over Taiwan likely?

The core of this discussion relates predominantly to Taiwan, amid the many other issues bedeviling relations between China and the West.

These include human rights abuses in places like Xinjiang, the abrogation of the “one country, two systems” agreements over Hong Kong, China’s abrasive, mercantilist economic practices, its suspected cyber intrusions, and its aggressive base construction in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

All of these issues cause tensions with its neighbours and the wider international community.

However, it is China’s recent threats against Taiwan that have emerged as the most vexed issue. They present a risk, however remote, of a military confrontation between superpowers.

Barring a miscalculation by either side in a tense environment, the likelihood of open conflict is low, given the potential costs involved on either side.

On the other hand, unless Washington and Beijing achieve new understandings that lower the temperature in and around the Taiwan Strait, Taiwanese security will continue to weigh heavily on America and its alliance partners in the Asia-Pacific.

As an ANZUS Treaty ally of the United States — and with its own regional security preoccupations — Australia cannot avoid contemplating the possibility of a meltdown in the Taiwan Strait.

This includes the perennial question of whether Australia would involve itself militarily against China if asked to do so by its treaty ally. Such an outcome hardly bears contemplating.




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Will the US make clear its intentions on Taiwan?

In its initial interactions with China on the Taiwan issue, the new Biden administration is treading carefully. This is in contrast to its predecessor, whose foreign posturing tended to follow the fluctuating whims of Donald Trump.

Among the options for Biden’s State Department is one that would transition America’s approach to Taiwan from one of strategic ambiguity to clarity.

This means rather than taking a non-explicit approach — leaving open the option of a military response should China seek to reunify Taiwan by force — the US would make an explicit declaration that it would would, in fact, respond militarily.

This approach is gaining support in Congress, where sentiment has hardened against China’s behaviour on various fronts.

Former Senator Chris Dodd in Taiwan this month.
Former Senator Chris Dodd led a US delegation to Taiwan this month to reaffirm Washington’s commitment to the self-governing island.
Taiwan Presidential Office/AP

It would be premature to declare a watershed has been reached on the Taiwan issue in which the US would make clear its intentions. But the debate appears to be heading in that direction.

Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, penned an influential essay in the September 2020 edition of Foreign Affairs in which he declared a policy of strategic ambiguity had “run its course”.

The time has come for the United States to introduce a policy of strategic clarity: one that makes explicit that the United Sates would respond to any Chinese use of force against Taiwan. Such a policy would lower the chances of Chinese miscalculation, which is the likeliest catalyst for war in the Taiwan Strait.

Haass has a point.

In another essay published this month by three veteran security analysts, however, the authors issue a warning that “hyping the threat China poses to Taiwan does China’s work for it”.

As troubling as the trend-lines of Chinese behaviour are, it would be a mistake to infer that they represent an unalterable catastrophe. China’s top priority now and in the foreseeable future is to deter Taiwan independence rather than compel unification.

Why China favours a less risky approach

Beijing’s crude policy of conducting war games in Taiwan’s vicinity, including intrusions into its airspace, might suggest China is preparing retake the island. But the question is at what cost to its international standing, economic interests, and internal stability?

What is much more likely, Haass argues, is China will continue to exert pressure on Taiwan by various means in the hope that “once ripe the melon will drop from its stem”.

It shouldn’t be overlooked that in its latest five-year plan, China reaffirmed a policy guideline of pursuing “peaceful development of cross-strait relations”.




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Finally, in all of this, there is the cold hard calculation of the military balance in the Taiwan Strait.

In its latest annual report to Congress, the US Department of Defence acknowledged China had “achieved parity with — or even exceeded – the United States” in three areas: shipbuilding, land-based ballistic and cruise missiles, and air defence.

In other words, the military balance in the Taiwan Strait is continuing to shift in China’s favour. This reality makes loose talk of Australian “warriors” responding to the trumpet call of war even less palatable.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Vice-chancellor’s fellow, La Trobe University

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

Biden’s first 100 days show a president in a hurry and willing to be bold


AAP/AP/zz/Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx

Bruce Wolpe, University of SydneyJoseph R. Biden Jr is the most experienced person to become president in US history. A senator for 36 years, with wide-ranging experience and leadership across domestic and foreign policy, and vice president for eight years with Barack Obama, with a full parentship between the two men on all aspects of Obama’s agenda, from health care to terrorism.

That experience has paid off with the exceptionally smooth start to his administration. Appointments have been made steadily, with wide acceptance. Communications from the president have been clear and concise. Both have been in sharp contrast to his immediate predecessor.

With three presidential campaigns in his own right, and two more with Obama, Biden has come to know America as few have. His experiences across the country have only reinforced the core beliefs he brings to the Oval Office: to heal America and help bring the country together, provide economic security and opportunity for Americans from all walks of life, and redress profound legacy issues including racial justice, climate change and immigration.

Biden made his legislative agenda quite clear throughout the 2020 presidential campaign. While each of the policy initiatives are complex, involving competing ideas and policy prescriptions, Biden was able to sell his program to voters as a responsible, pragmatic, centred, rational and commonsense approach that dealt with core issues that most voters recognise require attention. They are:

  • end the pandemic and ensure the success of the vaccination program
  • full recovery and jobs growth for the economy
  • racial justice and voting rights
  • climate change and green energy job creation
  • completing Obamacare and ensuring access to a “public option” for health insurance coverage
  • immigration reform and a path to citizenship for the “Dreamers
  • Build back better” America’s infrastructure: roads, bridges, railroads, airports, electricity grids, water supplies
  • gun control.

In these first few weeks of the Biden administration, it is clear that success on the first two overarching issues of urgency – ending the pandemic and restoring the economy – was essential. And Biden succeeded; the American Rescue Plan is now law. It is clear to most Americans that while the management of the pandemic was a disaster, the vaccine rollout has been a success.

Joe Biden is the most experienced person to become president in US history, having served in many roles including, for eight years, as vice president to Barack Obama.
AAP/AP/Susan Walsh

There was a deep understanding – which Republicans recognised as much as Democrats – that if Biden had failed on this first hurdle, his presidency would have been permanently damaged. In fact, failure to win congressional approval on the American Recovery Plan would have meant Biden was unable to win congressional approval of virtually all the other priority measures listed above.

Relationship with Congress

The key to understanding what Biden can accomplish in Congress requires an appreciation of the political dynamics that affected, and ultimately overcame, Obama’s presidency. Indeed, the lessons from the 111th Congress – the first two years of Obama’s first term – are the guideposts for Biden’s strategy and approach to winning in this 117th Congress.

What is striking about this partial re-creation of the landscape on the Hill when Obama entered office was that the Biden agenda is, to a significant degree, similar to the priorities articulated by Obama in 2009. This includes rebuilding an economy struck down by crisis, addressing an urgent health-care reform agenda, securing progress in the epic battle to combat global warming, and a host of other compelling social priorities.

The urgency of what Biden has undertaken is clear. He knows that if he fails on dealing with the pandemic while shoring up the economy, his presidency is lost. That defeat would mean he would be unable to leverage the votes in Congress to do the other big things on racial justice, climate change, and immigration.

And the Republicans know it – and therefore feel no need to back off their headlong embrace of extremism and their intent to stop Biden’s agenda cold. The midterm elections next year traditionally punish the party that holds the White House. Republicans need a net gain of only six seats in the House, and just one in the Senate, to win control of Congress. What is the incentive for them to be truly bipartisan on Biden programs that voters will reward him for winning in Congress?

This is why Biden was determined to go big and go early – however he can get there – to get the vaccine and economic stimulus in place as soon as possible, and without Republican votes.

This is the lesson Biden draws from Obama’s setbacks in living with a too-tepid recovery program in the Great Recession in 2009. Republicans refused to go with what the economy needed. Obama and the Democrats acceded to them and, with the recovery far too slow, took a huge political hit in the 2010 midterm elections. Biden has no intention of repeating that mistake.

Where Australia fits in

There are several major issues that directly affect Australia’s interest in the context of its alliance with the United States.

China. This is the most important foreign policy issue facing Biden. While he generally concurs with the issues that President Donald Trump defined as requiring hard-nosed engagement, especially on trade, Biden’s approach is much more multilateral: development of concerted, coordinated policies on China in conjunction with US allies across Asia and Europe. This was the genesis of the recent meeting of the Quad leaders in March.




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Sentiment in Congress among both Democrats and Republicans is for a continuation of confrontation with China on trade, human rights and territorial issues, including Taiwan and the South China Sea. Leaders in Congress on China policy will pay special attention to Australia’s views and outlook and will want to ensure that US policy towards China takes into account and protects Australia’s interests. US officials have made clear that China must retreat from its economic coercion of Australia.

Biden’s approach on foreign relations has been more multilateral than that of his predecessor, demonstrated at the Quad meeting in March this year.
AAP/AP/Ryohei Moriya

Big Tech. Australia’s strong stance against the market abuses of big tech companies, especially Facebook and Google, has captured the attention of both members of Congress who follow these issues closely, and the administration officials and agencies who oversee antitrust and consumer protection issues. Lawmakers and regulators alike will track how these issues play out in Australia, and further steps taken in parliament and by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.




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Climate change. Climate change and global warming have already proven to be an issue that is directly affecting Australian politics. Biden’s commitment to move aggressively on climate is a pillar of his overall agenda. His stance on climate was crucial to winning the support of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic nomination.

In office, Biden has affirmed reaching stringent emissions-reduction targets by 2050. He has also moved aggressively to reverse, by issuing executive orders, Trump policies that rolled back environmental regulations, ended carbon-intensive projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline, and permit approvals that would have opened public lands and offshore tracts to oil and gas drilling.

These measures – especially the support for firm 2050 targets – have provoked political debate here on Australia’s climate policy, as we could see from the climate summit Biden convened in April. The contours of this debate are ultimately bound by any moves in Congress to put a price on carbon. It is unclear whether Biden will proceed with such legislation. If carbon-price legislation is proposed, it would further intensify political debate on the degree to which Australian policy should mirror any such proposal.

It is clear there is nothing Prime Minister Scott Morrison can say or do that will slow, delay or stop any action Biden and his climate advisors, led by former Secretary of State John Kerry, will take to address climate change.

Biden and his climate czar John Kerry has moved swiftly and aggressively on the issue, leaving many to question Australia’s position.
AAP/EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

This suggests the political echo chamber in Australia on these issues will intensify to the extent that a Democratic-controlled Congress does not stop, or block, Biden administration moves to control carbon pollution and greenhouse gases.




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So far, so good, but where to from here?

The only issue posed by this first year of Biden’s term is whether Australia will be working with a strong president or a weak one.

Biden’s standing in Washington and with Americans overall will determine whether he becomes a strong president who will give Australia more leverage to advance its strategic interests, especially with China, or a weak president who leaves Australia with less leverage in dealing with other world powers.

The next 100 days will be crucial. Will Biden succeed in getting his infrastructure program through Congress, or will the Republicans and some wavering Democrats block it, halting his momentum? This will be a key marker of how consequential Biden will ultimately be as president.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.

After early success, India’s daily COVID infections have surpassed the US and Brazil. Why?


Rajib Dasgupta, Jawaharlal Nehru University India is in the grip of a massive second wave of COVID-19 infections, surpassing even the United States and Brazil in terms of new daily infections. The current spike came after a brief lull: daily new cases had fallen from 97,000 new cases per day in September 2020 to around 10,000 per day in January 2021. However, from the end of February, daily new cases began to rise sharply again, passing 100,000 a day, and now crossing the 200,000 mark.

Night curfews and weekend lockdowns have been reinstated in some states, such as Maharasthra (including the financial capital Mumbai). Health services and crematoriums are being overwhelmed, COVID test kits are in short supply, and wait times for results are increasing.




Read more:
As India’s COVID crisis worsens, leaders play the blame game while the poor suffer once again


How has the pandemic been spreading?

Residents in slum areas and those without their own household toilet have been worst affected, implying poor sanitation and close living have contributed to the spread.

One word that has dominated discussions about why cases have increased again is laaparavaahee (in Hindi), or “negligence”. The negligence is made out to be the fault of individuals not wearing masks and social distancing, but that is only part of the story.

Negligence can be seen in the near-complete lack of regulation and its implementation wherever regulations did exist across workplaces and other public spaces. Religious, social and political congregations contributed directly through super-spreader events, but this still doesn’t explain the huge rise in cases.

The second wave in India also coincides with the spread of the UK variant. A recent report found 81% of the latest 401 samples sent by the state of Punjab for genome sequencing were found to be the UK variant.

Studies have found this variant might be more capable of evading our immune systems, meaning there’s a greater chance previously infected people could be reinfected and immunised people could be infected.

A new double mutation is also circulating in India, and this too could be contributing to the rise in cases.




Read more:
What’s the new coronavirus variant in India and how should it change their COVID response?


Low fatality rate?

In the first phase of the pandemic, India was lauded for its low COVID death rate (case fatality rate) of about 1.5%. However, The Lancet cautioned about the “dangers of false optimism” in its September 26 editorial on the Indian situation.

In a pandemic situation, the public health approach is usually to attribute a death with complex causes as being caused by the disease in question. In April 2020, the World Health Organization clarified how COVID deaths should be counted:

A death due to COVID-19 is defined for surveillance purposes as a death resulting from a clinically compatible illness, in a probable or confirmed COVID-19 case, unless there is a clear alternative cause of death that cannot be related to COVID disease (e.g. trauma)

It is unclear the extent to which the health authorities across the states of India were complying with this.

Many states have set up expert committees to re-examine and verify COVID-19 deaths after coming under criticism that reported death rates were not accurate. Many states made corrections in mortality figures, and the full extent of undercounting is being actively researched.

District-level mortality data, both in the first wave as well as in the current wave, confirm that the global case fatality rate of 3.4% was breached in several districts such as Maharashtra, Punjab and Gujarat. Case fatality rates in some of the worst-affected districts were above 5%, similar to the 5% mortality level in the US.

What are the challenges this time?

A majority of the cases and deaths (81%) are being reported from ten (of 28) states, including Punjab and Maharashtra. Five states (Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala) account for more than 70% of active cases. But the infection seems to have moved out of bigger cities to smaller towns and suburbs with less health infrastructure.

Last year, the government’s pandemic control strategy included government staff from all departments (including non-health departments) contributing to COVID control activities, but these workers have now been moved back to their departments. This is likely to have an effect on testing, tracing and treating COVID cases. And health-care workers now have a vaccine rollout to contend with, as well as caring for the sick.




Read more:
‘How will we eat’? India’s coronavirus lockdown threatens millions with severe hardship


What now?

In early March the government declared we were in the endgame of the pandemic in India. But their optimism was clearly premature.

Despite an impressive 100 million-plus immunisations, barely 1% of the country’s population is currently protected with two doses of the vaccine. The India Task Force is worried that monthly vaccine supplies at the current capacity of 70 million to 80 million doses per month would “fall short by half” for the target of 150 million doses per month.

Strict, widespread lockdowns we have seen elsewhere in the world are not appropriate for all parts of India given their effect on the working poor. Until wider vaccination coverage is achieved, local containment measures will have to be strengthened. This includes strict perimeter control to ensure there is no movement of people in or out of zones with local outbreaks, intensive house-to-house surveillance to ensure compliance with stay-at-home orders where they are in place, contact tracing, and widespread testing.

It should go without saying large congregations such as political rallies and religious festivals should not be taking place, and yet they have been.

Strong leadership and decentralised strategies with a focus on local restrictions is what we need until we can get more vaccines into people’s arms.The Conversation

Rajib Dasgupta, Chairperson, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University

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

As the US plans its Afghan troop withdrawal, what was it all for?


David Goldman/AP

Jared Mondschein, University of SydneyUnlike most US presidents, Joe Biden did not come to the White House with many fixed ideological positions. He did, however, come with fixed values. Chief among them is understanding how US policies impact working American families.

In his nearly half century of experience in and around Washington, Biden was known to ask any staffers using academic or elitist language to

pick up your phone, call your mother, read her what you just told me […] If she understands, we can keep talking.

The debate about the nearly 20-year US presence in Afghanistan has challenged three prior US presidents — George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Yet Biden, as the first US president in 40 years to have had a child who served in combat, sees things differently.

There undoubtedly remains a strategic argument — albeit shared by increasingly fewer Americans — for maintaining a US presence in Afghanistan. Namely, that it would continue to prevent terrorists from once again making safe haven there.

But Biden’s announcement that he would withdraw the remaining US troops by September essentially meant he saw no way of making the parent of another soldier killed in Afghanistan understand such an argument. As he said,

Our reasons for remaining in Afghanistan have become increasingly unclear.

Biden said it is ‘time for America’s troops to come home’.
Andrew Harnik / POOL/EPA

Shifting US support for the war

Today, most Americans agree with him.

When the longest war in American history began, 83% of Americans were in favour of it. But by 2019, 41% of Americans simply had no opinion on whether the US had accomplished its goals in Afghanistan.

Perhaps clearer than the US rationale for maintaining troops in Afghanistan is the fact Americans are dramatically less concerned about terrorism than they were 20 years ago.

A woman embracing her husband after his return from a deployment to Afghanistan in 2014.
David Goldman/AP

One month after the September 11, 2001, attacks, 71% of Americans said they were worried about a terror attack.

But by July 2020, terrorism ranked last in a list of ten issues that Americans deemed to be a “very big problem in the country today.” Climate change, violent crime, unemployment, government ethics, and racial injustice were all deemed more important.

And in February of this year, Americans were asked what of 20 options should be given “top priority” as a long-range foreign policy goal. The top-ranked priority, with 75% in support, was “protecting the jobs of American workers”.

The very last one? “Promoting democracy in other nations”, at just 20%.




Read more:
US postpones Afghanistan troop withdrawal in hopes of sustaining peace process: 5 essential reads


What was it all for?

The rationale for maintaining US troops in Afghanistan was not only unclear to most Americans, it also became unclear to a growing number of US veterans. In late 2019, 44% of veterans said they supported US troop reductions from Afghanistan — compared to just 33% of the general public.

As Biden reminded the world in his announcement, the US invaded Afghanistan to root out al-Qaeda and prevent future terror attacks on the US. He posited the death of Osama bin Laden and the degradation of al-Qaeda were evidence of success on that front.

But both of those were accomplished a decade ago — leading Biden to wonder what had been accomplished since then, and what could be accomplished in the future.

More than 2,400 American service members were killed in Afghanistan and more than 20,000 were wounded.
Massoud Hossaini/AP

More than a decade ago, the Obama administration fiercely debated the merits of decreasing the US troop presence in Afghanistan. Around that time, a US Marine colonel who did multiple deployments to the region reflected to me about the many Marines he lost there and the parents he consoled. He asked a simple question:

What exactly am I supposed to tell these mothers that their sons died for?

Ultimately, the withdrawal of US troops has led veterans and non-veterans alike to ask another question that others have asked in the past: What was it all for?




Read more:
For the Afghan peace talks to succeed, a ceasefire is the next — and perhaps toughest — step forward


It remains unclear if the more than 2,400 US troop and personnel deaths, US$2 trillion and 20 years achieved anything truly lasting on the ground in Afghanistan.

Yet, perhaps the greatest legacy from the US war in Afghanistan should not be something the US gained, but instead what it lost — unbridled confidence in and dependence on US hard power.

Such humility and restraint may be exactly what is needed for the challenge the Biden administration wants to focus on most, and is perhaps most relevant to the American working family: rebuilding at home.The Conversation

Jared Mondschein, Senior Advisor, US Studies Centre, University of Sydney

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

Russia and China are sending Biden a message: don’t judge us or try to change us. Those days are over


Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service/AP

Tony Kevin, Australian National UniversityThe past week has marked a watershed moment in Russia’s relations with the West — and the US in particular. In two dramatic, televised moments, US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have changed the dynamics between their countries perhaps irrevocably.

Most commentators in the West have focused on Putin’s “trolling” of Biden by dryly — though, according to Putin, unironically — wishing his American counterpart “good health”. This, of course, came after Biden called Putin a “killer”.

But a more careful and complete reading of Putin’s message to the US is necessary to understand how a Russian leader is, finally, ready to tell the US: do not judge us by your claimed standards, and do not try to tell us what to do.

Putin has never asserted these propositions so bluntly. And it matters when he does.

Biden has put Putin on notice, saying he will ‘pay a price’ for alleged meddling in the 2020 US presidential election.
Evan Vucci?AP

Putin’s message to the new US president

The tense test of strength began when Biden was asked about Putin in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos and agreed he was “a killer” and didn’t have a soul. He also said Putin will “pay a price” for his actions.

Putin then took the unusual step of going on the state broadcaster VGTRK with a prepared five-minute statement in response to Biden.

In an unusually pointed manner, Putin recalled the US history of genocide of its Indigenous people, the cruel experience of slavery, the continuing repression of Black Americans today and the unprovoked US nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the second world war.

He suggested states should not judge others by their own standards:

Whatever you say about others is what you are yourself.

Some American journalists and observers have reacted to this as “trolling”. It was not.

It was the preamble to Putin’s most important message in years to what he called the American “establishment, the ruling class”. He said the US leadership is determined to have relations with Russia, but only “on its own terms”.

Although they think that we are the same as they are, we are different people. We have a different genetic, cultural and moral code. But we know how to defend our own interests.

And we will work with them, but in those areas in which we ourselves are interested, and on those conditions that we consider beneficial for ourselves. And they will have to reckon with it. They will have to reckon with this, despite all attempts to stop our development. Despite the sanctions, insults, they will have to reckon with this.

This is new for Putin. He has for years made the point, always politely, that Western powers need to deal with Russia on a basis of correct diplomatic protocols and mutual respect for national sovereignty, if they want to ease tensions.

But never before has he been as blunt as this, saying in effect: do not dare try to judge us or punish us for not meeting what you say are universal standards, because we are different from you. Those days are now over.




Read more:
Nato-Russia tensions: what a Biden administration can do to lower the temperature


China pushing back against the US, too

Putin’s forceful statement is remarkably similar to the equally firm public statements made by senior Chinese diplomats to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Alaska last week.

Blinken opened the meeting by lambasting China’s increasing authoritarianism and aggressiveness at home and abroad – in Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and the South China Sea. He claimed such conduct was threatening “the rules-based order that maintains global stability”.

Yang Jiechi, centre, speaking at the opening session of US-China talks in Alaska.
Frederic J. Brown/AP

Yang Jiechi, Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief, responded by denouncing American hypocrisy. He said

The US does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength. The US uses its military force and financial hegemony to carry out long-arm jurisdiction and suppress other countries. It abuses so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade exchanges, and to incite some countries to attack China.

He said the US had no right to push its own version of democracy when it was dealing with so much discontent and human rights problems at home.




Read more:
Biden faces the world: 5 foreign policy experts explain US priorities – and problems – after Trump


Russia and China drawing closer together

Putin’s statement was given added weight by two diplomatic actions: Russia’s recalling of its ambassador in the US, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting in China with his counterpart, Wang Yi.

Beijing and Moscow agreed at the summit to stand firm against Western sanctions and boost ties between their countries to reduce their dependence on the US dollar in international trade and settlements. Lavrov also said,

We both believe the US has a destabilising role. It relies on Cold War military alliances and is trying to set up new alliances to undermine the world order.

Though Biden’s undiplomatic comments about Putin may have been unscripted, the impact has nonetheless been profound. Together with the harsh tone of the US-China foreign ministers meeting in Alaska — also provoked by the US side — it is clear there has been a major change in the atmosphere of US-China-Russia relations.

What will this mean in practice? Both Russia and China are signalling they will only deal with the West where and when it suits them. Sanctions no longer worry them.

The two powers are also showing they are increasingly comfortable working together as close partners, if not yet military allies. They will step up their cooperation in areas where they have mutual interests and the development of alternatives to the Western-dominated trade and payments systems.




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Countries in Asia and further afield are closely watching the development of this alternative international order, led by Moscow and Beijing. And they can also recognise the signs of increasing US economic and political decline.

It is a new kind of Cold War, but not one based on ideology like the first incarnation. It is a war for international legitimacy, a struggle for hearts and minds and money in the very large part of the world not aligned to the US or NATO.

The US and its allies will continue to operate under their narrative, while Russia and China will push their competing narrative. This was made crystal clear over these past few dramatic days of major power diplomacy.

The global balance of power is shifting, and for many nations, the smart money might be on Russia and China now.The Conversation

Tony Kevin, Emeritus Fellow, Australian National University

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

US massage parlour shootings should ring alarm bells in Australia: the same racist sexism exists here


Damian Dovarganes/AP

Tegan Larin, Monash UniversityThe recent US shootings at massage businesses in Atlanta should ring alarm bells in Australia. Eight people were killed in the attacks, including four Korean women and two Chinese women.

US authorities are still trying to determine the exact motive behind the attack by a 21-year-old white man, who is a suspected sex buyer.

But some feminist groups, such as Asian Women for Equality, immediately identified misogynist racism as a key element behind this sort of violence. As one member of the group, Suzanne Jay, said,

Men are being trained by the prostitution industry. They’re being encouraged and allowed to orgasm to inequality. This has an impact on Asian women who have to deal with these men.

The global sex trade, feminists have argued,

increasingly contributes to the dehumanisation of all Asian women.

Indeed, it has been reported that the Atlanta shooting suspect explained the attacks were a form of vengeance to eliminate the “temptation” for his “sexual addiction”.

How Australia’s massage businesses operate

Like the US, Australia’s “massage parlours” are associated with the prostitution of Asian women. These venues, outwardly presenting as massage businesses but offering illicit sexual services, make up the majority of brothels in the city I study, Melbourne.

Australia’s commercial sex industry is regulated at the state and territory level, resulting in a patchwork of differing models.

In Victoria, massage parlours are estimated to outnumber legal brothels five-fold. My research on Melbourne’s massage parlours supports this estimate.




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Will Victoria be the first place in the world to fully decriminalise sex work?


Despite the main purpose of Victoria’s Sex Work Act to “control sex work”, the majority of Victoria’s brothels get around the legislative requirements and controls by operating under the guise of legitimate massage businesses.

Massage businesses are usually considered a general retail premises in most council areas, which do not require a planning permit or registration.

Australia’s sex industry is also heavily reliant on a culture of sexualised racism.

An analysis of online massage parlour advertising conducted as part of my research shows ads commonly feature images of Asian women in suggestive poses. The wording highlights race or ethnicity, with such phrases as “young and beautiful trained girls from Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, China and Malaysia”.




Read more:
New report shows compelling reasons to decriminalise sex work


In addition to ads, my research also examined online sex buyer review forums. These typically encourage men to include descriptions of “ethnicity, appearance, breast size”, ratings of the women’s body parts and the “services” received.

These sex buyer reviews not only demean and denigrate women, they also promote the sexualised and racist stereotypes that pervade the industry.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a recent study of sex buyer reviews of Australia’s legal brothels found

that sex buyers actively construct and normalise narratives of sexual violation and violence against women.

The effects of sexualised racism in prostitution

This blatant racism, misogyny and male sexual entitlement is not confined to massage parlour owners or their customers. It’s also embedded in Victoria’s Sex Work Regulations.

The updated regulations now allow advertising to reference “race, colour or ethnic origin of the person offering sexual services”. This means that Victoria’s sex industry legally promotes women from minorities as an eroticised “other”.




Read more:
US has a long history of violence against Asian women


This normalisation of sexualised racism promoted by the sex trade in Australia may have wider effects.

A Korean-Canadian doctor, Alice Han, for example, recounted to the ABC being asked twice in a span of 12 hours in regional New South Wales whether she was a sex worker.

She said this exemplifies “a pattern of demeaning stereotyping and racial profiling” of Asian women in Australia, and the association of Asian women with prostitution more broadly.

Australia’s sex industry also relies on the migration and trafficking of Asian women for its survival.

Indeed, Australia’s sex industry is rife with modern slavery for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Cases have been found in both legal and illegal brothels, signalling the wholesale failure of prostitution legislation in this country.

This raises questions about the model of total decriminalisation being proposed in Victoria. This model seeks to decriminalise not only those exploited in prostitution but those who profit from them, such as pimps, brothel owners and sex buyers.

The best path forward

Australia is increasingly behind the rest of the world when it comes to approaching prostitution from a gender equality perspective.

Indeed, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has consistently reprimanded Australia for not meeting its requirements to reduce the demand for prostitution.

In order to address the mix of racism, misogyny and men’s sexual entitlement that prostitution is founded on, Australia must adopt a new national framework. The Nordic or “Equality” model offers one path forward — it decriminalises those working in prostitution, but not those who exploit them.

A ‘stop Asian hate’ rally outside the Georgia state capitol in Atlanta.
Ben Gray/AP

This model, which has garnered support from survivors of prostitution and anti-trafficking organisations around the world, includes robust social services to support those in the sex trade and assist them into transitioning to other industries.

We know prostitution relies on the abuse of the world’s most marginalised women and girls in order to function. It is predominantly Asian and migrant women who suffer on the front lines of Australia’s sex trade.

While the national conversation confronting society’s acceptance of sexual violence is well overdue, we cannot ignore the sexism, misogyny and racism bound up in Australia’s sex trade.The Conversation

Tegan Larin, PhD Candidate Monash University XYX Lab, Monash University

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