It’s more than a free trade agreement. But what exactly have Australia and Indonesia signed?



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Simon Birmingham and Enggartiasto Lukita have signed an agreement that might never be ratified in that form.
DFAT

Pat Ranald, University of Sydney

Australia’s trade minister Simon Birmingham and his Indonesian counterpart Enggartiasto Lukita signed the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement on Monday. Only afterwards (as is often the case) did we get to see what was in it.

We might never see an independent assessment of its costs and benefits.

Beforehand the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade released a summary of the good news about increased Australian agricultural and education exports, together with statements of support from export industry representatives.

It said more than 99% of Australian goods exports by value would enter Indonesia duty free or under significantly improved preferential arrangements by 2020. Indonesia will guarantee automatic issue of import permits for key products including live cattle, frozen beef, sheep meat, feed grains, rolled steel coil, citrus products, carrots and potatoes. Australia will immediately eliminate remaining tariffs on Indonesian imports into Australia.

But most deals have winners and losers. The devil is in the detailed text, released only after the ceremony.

Employment rights? The environment?

First, what’s missing. There are no chapters committing both governments to implement basic labour rights and environmental standards as defined in the United Nations agreements, and to prevent them from seeking trade advantages by reducing these rights and standards.

Such chapters are increasingly included in trade deals like the Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP-11) encompassing nations including Brunei, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru and Vietnam, and the Australia-EU Free Trade Agreement at present under negotiation.

They acknowledge that trade agreements increase competitive pressures, and are intended to prevent a race to the bottom on labour rights and environmental standards.

The fact they are missing from the Indonesia-Australia agreement shows neither government sees them as a priority.

Extra-national tribunals

The deal does include something else contentious that was included in the Trans-Trans-Pacific Partnership; so-called investor-state dispute settlement clauses, in Chapter 14, Section B.

They give special rights to foreign corporations to bypass local courts and sue governments for millions of dollars in extra-national tribunals if they believe a change in law or policy will harm their investment.

The tobacco giant Philip Morris tried it in 2011 using investor-state dispute settlement provisions in an obscure Australia Hong Kong agreement after it lost a fight against Australia’s plain packaging laws in the High Court. It eventually lost in the international tribunal, although after four years and at the cost to Australia of nearly 40 million dollars.

Temporary migrant workers

Article 12.9 of the Indonesia-Australia agreement will give Indonesia an additional 4,000 temporary working holiday visas, and a commitment over the next three years to negotiate arrangements for more “contractual service providers”.

Unlike permanent migrants, who have the same rights as other workers, temporary workers and contractual service providers are tied to one employer and can be deported if they lose their jobs, and so are vulnerable to exploitation, as shown by recent research.

After signing, the implementing legislation has to be passed by both the Australian and Indonesian parliaments before it can come into force.

And not for some time

In Australia, the next steps are for the treaty to be reviewed by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. But the likely calling of the federal election in April will dissolve this committee. The committee will be reconstituted after the election with the winning party having a majority.

Last year Labor faced a strong backlash from its membership and unions when it supported the implementing legislation for the TPP-11 despite the fact that it was contrary to the then Labor policy.

This led to the adoption of an even stronger policy at its national conference and a draft bill that would apply to both future and existing trade agreements.

It requires independent assessments of the economic, social and environmental impacts of future trade agreements before they are ratified, outlaws investor-state dispute settlement clauses and the removal of labour market testing for temporary workers, mandates labour rights and environmental clauses and requires the renegotiation of non-compliant agreements should Labor win office.




Read more:
The Senate is set to approve it, but what exactly is the Trans Pacific Partnership?


If the Coalition wins office but not a Senate majority, and Labor implements its policy, a Coalition government could face opposition to ratification of the Indonesia-Australia agreement in the Senate.

If Labor wins government, it will face pressure from its base to implement its policy to conduct an independent assessment and renegotiate the provisions before ratification.

In Indonesia, which has elections in April, the deal could also face a rocky road.

Criticisms of the process led civil society groups to lodge a case which resulted in a ruling by the Indonesian Constitutional Court in November that the Indonesian President cannot approve trade agreements without parliamentary approval.

The opposition parties have been sceptical about the deal. Azam Azman Natawijana, deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee overseeing trade, was quoted in The Australian saying he expected the ratification process to be protracted.




Read more:
Investor rights to sue governments pose real dangers


The Conversation


Pat Ranald, Research fellow, University of Sydney

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

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A peace agreement in Afghanistan won’t last if there are no women at the table


Susan Hutchinson, Australian National University

Over the past weeks, the US government has been in peace negotiations with the Taliban. It has been 17 years since US and allied troops first deployed to Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban and support a democratically elected government.

The current peace negotiations have progressed further than any other attempted during the conflict. But they have two serious problems. Firstly, they have have not included the democratically elected government of Afghanistan, led by President Ashraf Ghani. Secondly, they have failed to include a single woman.

The situation so far

Peace negotiations can take many forms. At their most basic, they cover ceasefires and division of territory. But they often go further to address underlying causes of conflict and pave the way for durable solutions. They include extensive informal discussions before any formal agreement is signed.

In 1996, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. It banned women from attending school and denied them their most basic rights. The Taliban provided safe haven for those responsible for the attacks against the US on September 11, 2001.

The US is keen to withdraw its remaining troops. But they want to secure a commitment from the Taliban that Afghanistan will not be home to terrorist groups planning attacks against the United States.

The most recent reports show the Afghan government controls 56% of Afghan districts, or 65% of the population. The Taliban controls 15% of the districts, with 29% remaining contested.

Peace negotiations are often fraught with tension about who is allowed at the table. So far, the Taliban has refused to allow the government of Afghanistan to participate in the current negotiations. The chief US negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been briefing the Afghan government on the progress of negotiations taking place in various Gulf States.




Read more:
Afghanistan: the tensions inside the Taliban over recent US peace talks


Khalilzad is under pressure from US President Donald Trump to move the negotiations forward. But excluding the government is problematic. It could indicate the likely failure of negotiations, end up making the government look even weaker than it is and/or pave the way for a return to deeply conservative religious rule for Afghanistan.

It is often tempting for power brokers to prioritise the participation of armed groups in peace negotiations. But it’s important to ensure broader participation of civil society.

Research examining every peace agreement since the Cold War shows the participation of civil society makes a peace agreement 64% less likely to fail. The key reason is the peace process is perceived as more legitimate if civil society is included. But including civil society also ensures the concerns of the broader community are accounted for and that those who carried arms do not receive positive reinforcement by monopolising the benefits negotiated in the agreement.

What about the women?

Afghan women are angry about being excluded from the peace negotiations. The country’s leading women’s rights group, the Afghan Women’s Network, released a statement calling for “the full, equal and meaningful participation of women” in the negotiations.

Life for women in Afghanistan remains hard. The latest Reuters Poll said Afghanistan was the second most dangerous country to be a woman, down from the most dangerous five years earlier. The country still makes the top of the list for violence against women, discrimination, and lack of access to health care.

But significant progress has been made in the past 17 years.
Data from the UN Development Program show gender inequality dropped by ten percentage points between 2005 and 2017.

Women have strengthened their political, economic and social presence through efforts to advance their status and respect for their rights. Girls have been able to go to school. Women have become members of parliament, governors and police.




Read more:
Trump and Turnbull have little cause for satisfaction over progress in Afghanistan


Afghanistan’s 2004 constitution includes a hard won provision that enshrines the equality of men and women. But the Taliban is calling for a new constitution and it is highly unlikely if this was agreed, such a provision would survive.

Research drawing on extensive quantitative and qualitative data has shown that the way a country treats its women is the best indicator of its peacefulness. This is a better indicator than wealth, ethnic and religious identity or democracy.

We also know that women’s participation in peace processes makes for a more effective outcome. A peace processes is 35% more likley to last at least 15 years if women are at the negotiating table, have observer status, or participate in consultations, inclusive commissions or problem-solving workshops.

Women can negotiate with the Taliban

Even so, men and people from the international community often believe the struggles faced by Afghan women mean they are not in a position to negotiate with the patriarchal Taliban.

But Afghan women like Palwasha Hassan have been working for years to pursue peace with the Taliban. Hassan sits on the country’s High Peace Council and has seen how women across the country have already negotiated with local Taliban leaders. She says “the international community is failing to value what we have achieved together and the progress we have made so far.”

She conducted a workshop in 2010 with women across local communities. Stories included one woman who had negotiated to keep a local girls’ school open by arguing that educated girls could do better in Islamic studies, including learning to read the Quran. She also guaranteed to her Taliban interlocutors that a prayer space in the school would be reserved strictly for women and girls only.

Another woman explained how she and others negotiated the release of hostages being held by the local Taliban commander. She appealed to Islamic values of life and justice, and persuaded the captors that the hostage was being held unjustly.

International agreements

The importance of women’s participation in international peace and security was codified by UN Security Council resolution 1325 nearly 20 years ago.




Read more:
As Australia takes the world stage, it’s time to fulfil promises to Afghan and Syrian women


Seventy-nine countries, including Afghanistan, have National Action Plans to guide the resolution’s implementation and the subsequent seven Security Council resolutions on Women, Peace and Security.

In October 2017, the US became the first country in the world to pass a Women, Peace and Security Act, signed off by President Trump himself. It was passed explicitly to

ensure that the United States promotes the meaningful participation of women in mediation and negotiation processes seeking to prevent, mitigate, or resolve violent conflict” across the world.

Democratic Senators have urged the Trump administration to ensure Afghan women’s involvement in the peace negotiations. But so far no one has invoked the new law.

There are few who wouldn’t hope for peace for Afghanistan, but as Palwasha Hassan says, the negotiations “have to include women, both to protect our rights and also to ensure the durability of the peace that follows.”The Conversation

Susan Hutchinson, PhD Candidate, Australian National University

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

It’s not clear where Trump’s ‘Space Force’ fits within international agreement on peaceful use of space


Melissa de Zwart, University of Adelaide

Overnight US President Donald Trump announced the establishment of a “Space Force” as a separate force of the US military.

Trump has indicated the reasoning behind the Space Force stems from national security concerns arising from the potential for renewed activities in space by China and Russia. Trump had previously referred to space as the “new warfighting domain.”

It’s not yet clear where this move sits in light of prohibitions laid out in the Outer Space Treaty, the document that has guided the the exploration and use of outer space by members of the United Nations since 1967.




Read more:
We’re drafting a legal guide to war in space. Hopefully we’ll never need to use it


In his recent announcement, Trump said:

When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space. So important.

Trump announces “Space Force”, a sixth branch of the armed forces in that country.

It’s been coming

Departments in the US military currently include the Air Force, the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard.

The announcement of a Space Force is part of Trump’s increased interest in the space domain, having in 2017 revived the National Space Council, under the leadership of Mike Pence.

Trump had previously flagged the idea of a US Space Force with statements in March and May.

However, with this most recent announcement Trump officially directed the US Department of Defense and the Pentagon to establish the Space Force.

Much more will be needed to actually make this happen. The President cannot simply declare the existence of a new branch of the US armed forces – it would also require, at minimum, an Act of Congress and quite possibly something more. Each branch of the US military has its own unique origins and would require the restructure of the Air Force and other oversight mechanisms in the Pentagon.

Further, there is also the question regarding what such a force could do. Trump’s speech flagged some sort of peacekeeping role.

Rich guys like rockets

Whilst much of the reportage of Trump’s speech has focused on the military aspects of his announcement, Trump reminded the audience that the Space Force was not the only space activity planned by his administration. Rather there was a strong emphasis on commercial space industries, observing that “rich guys seem to like rockets”.

US laws relating to commercial space are to be updated to encourage commercial space industries, directing government and the private sector to work cooperatively. Trump said:

I am instructing my administration to embrace the budding commercial space industry. We are modernizing out-of-date space regulations. They’re way out of date. They haven’t been changed in many, many years. And today we’re taking one more step to unleash the power of American ingenuity. In a few moments, I will sign a new directive to federal departments and agencies. They will work together with American industry to implement a state-of-the-art framework for space traffic management.




Read more:
A sports car and a glitter ball are now in space – what does that say about us as humans?


Trump also celebrated the potential for benefit to US workers, along with a lot of rhetoric about conquering the unknown. He said “we are Americans and the future belongs totally to us”, we will be “leading humanity beyond the Earth” and “into the forbidden skies”.

Noting the interest of private entrepreneurs establishing long term settlements on Mars, Trump observed that whoever made it to Mars first was fine as long as it was a US citizen.

The Outer Space Treaty

Trump’s proposals – as with any other new outer space settlements – must operate within prohibitions laid out in the Outer Space Treaty. Established in 1967, this document is the framework multilateral treaty that establishes the principal rules regulating the exploration and use of outer space.

Article II of the Outer Space Treaty indicates that “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”

That said, US law has been drafted to enable access to, including mining of, space resources, without any claim of sovereignty being made.

With respect to a Space Force, Article IV of the Outer Space Treaty expresses a principle of use of space for “peaceful purposes”. Members of the Outer Space Treaty are forbidden from placing nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction in orbit around the Earth, on celestial bodies or stationed in outer space. Military bases, installations and fortifications, weapons testing and conduct of military manouevers on celestial bodies are also forbidden.

Of course, none of this has prevented military personnel being involved in space activities and exploration since the dawn of the space age. Both the early US astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts have been members of their respective countries armed forces. Nor has it prevented the transit of weapons of mass destruction through space. GPS is a development of the US Department of Defense and many satellites, including Australia’s own Optus C1 satellite is a dual use (military and civilian) satellite.




Read more:
As the world embraces space, the 50 year old Outer Space Treaty needs adaptation


All eyes on space

The question of the legality of the extent of military uses of outer space and what role may be performed by Trump’s Space Force is still open.

Generally, the practice of the space faring states to date indicates that the prohibitions contained in Article IV of the Outer Space Treaty have been interpreted as “peaceful”, but as referring to non-aggressive rather than non-military uses of space.




Read more:
With China’s space station about to crash land, who’s responsible if you get hit by space junk?


Of course, militaries worldwide are already very reliant upon space in terms of communication, position, navigation and timing, surveillance and reconnaissance. Militaries regularly hold exercises such as a Day without Space, which prepares users for the possible destruction of or serious interference with GPS, internet and satellites communications, upon which all modern militaries are heavily reliant.

Space assets such as satellites are quite fragile and valuable and hence issues will inevitably arise regarding capacity to protect space assets.

The ConversationTrump’s Space Force may still be a highly speculative announcement but it is true that we live in an era where militaries and civilians worldwide are becoming far more reliant and invested in the space domain.

Melissa de Zwart, Professor, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide

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

US-North Korea summit agreement is most revealing for what it leaves out



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North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump were all smiles today, but a meaningful agreement is still a long way off.
AAP/Kevin Lim/The Straits Times/SPH

Benjamin Habib, La Trobe University

In my preview of the historic US-DPRK summit in Singapore, I asked where Trump and Kim might find lowest common denominator points of agreement to potentially unlock a confidence-building pathway.

That this summit has even taken place at all could be seen as an achievement, given where US-DPRK relations were in 2017. We should therefore be unsurprised that despite Trump’s hype in the lead-up to the event, the common denominators of agreement amounted to promises of a new relationship and little else of substance.

However, it is not so much what is in the joint statement as much as what has been left out that is the big story.

To tease this out, let’s consider the four specific points of agreement articulated in the joint statement released by US President Donald Trump and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un at the conclusion of today’s summit.




Read more:
As the shaky US-North Korea summit is set to begin, the parties must search for common interest


A new relationship?

In the first article of the agreement, the two parties committed to establishing a “new US-DPRK relations.” What might a new relationship between the two countries look like?

The leader-to-leader summit between the two countries was unprecedented and potentially could represent a tentative first step on the road to rapprochement. Symbolism is the obvious place to begin, given the low base the relationship between these two countries is starting from.

If we jump to article four, both parties have committed to the process of recovering the remains of UN forces prisoners of war and soldiers missing-in-action from the Korean War, along with the immediate repatriation of the remains of those already identified.

In a similar way to the family reunion program articulated in the inter-Korean Panmunjom Agreement, the repatriation of POW/MIA remains is a relatively easy confidence-building measure on which to base a longer-term pathway of more substantive measures. It is also of great importance as a mark of respect to the families of those military personnel who can find closure with the return of their deceased loved ones.

The second article refers to joint efforts “to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” As I’ve argued previously, a settlement to formally conclude the Korean War could be potential common interest around which to develop an engagement pathway.

Prior to the summit, Trump hinted that the “signing of a document” to close hostilities was a possibility. The closest the joint statement comes to this is a passage in the second paragraph, which reads:

President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK.

It is not immediately clear from the text what these security guarantees might be, but it certainly falls short of any kind of non-aggression pact or peace treaty. Such an outcome was always unlikely at this summit and would be the product of a longer negotiating process should it come to pass.

The end of ‘complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation’?

The joint statement gets interesting in article three, in which “the DPRK commits to work toward the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.”

The wording around “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula” reflects the North Korean interpretation of the concept, which has been well-documented in the lead-up to the summit.

Tellingly, there is no mention of “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation” (CVID) in the statement text, which is a clear departure from long-standing US policy.

There are a couple of ways this could be interpreted. On the one hand, it is possible that Trump lived up to the pre-summit fears of some domestic critics and gave away too much for too little in the negotiation. From this perspective, the master negotiator Trump was played by Kim into signing off on the North Korean position, through which Kim gets international legitimacy and domestic prestige from attending the summit without having to make any concessions.

On the other hand, Trump’s omission of CVID could be a calibrated strategy accompanied by a clearly articulated and wide-ranging engagement strategy, scaffolded around a formal peace treaty. If so, it could prove to be the circuit-breaker that opens the pathway toward the aforementioned “new US-DPRK relations” and the collective management of North Korea as a nuclear power.

Either way, this will become clearer if and when follow-up negotiations take place. Either way, there are factions of the international political spectrum who will be unhappy with the outcome.

It is significant that article three pays homage to the Panmunjom Agreement, which may be the key to understanding how the US-South Korea-DPRK engagement triangle may unfold.

The Panmunjom Agreement, for all its ambiguity, does have an articulation of economic and security confidence-building measures, based on a shared vision for a permanent Korean Peninsula peace regime.

If we assume a calibrated strategy in deferring to the Panmunjom Agreement, the US-DPRK joint statement may indicate the bulk of the heavy lifting with regard to confidence-building measures will be handled as an inter-Korean affair, with Trump’s apparent non-aggression promise providing space for engagement initiatives to evolve.

Where to now?

My take-home message from the omission of CVID from the joint statement is confirmation that North Korea under Kim Jong-un is never going to willingly denuclearise.

In “working toward complete denuclearisation,” North Korea may agree to a nuclear weapons and ballistic missile testing moratorium, decommission obsolete nuclear facilities, or even promise to freeze production of new nuclear weapons, without ever having to compromise its nuclear weapons capability.




Read more:
If a US-North Korea summit does happen, we’ll have Moon Jae-in to thank for it


We should not be surprised if one or both parties back-pedals from the joint statement at some stage. Seasoned North Korea watchers will be expecting North Korea to backtrack from the joint statement to extract concessions, or add new conditions to their continued commitment to the “new US-DPRK relations,” as we have seen several times previously.

We are also likely to see Trump sustain considerable political heat domestically for his perceived capitulation on CVID and for omitting human rights from the discussion, as well as from the Japanese government for selling out their security interests.

This pressure may be sufficient to prompt a recalibration of the US interpretation of the joint statement. Backpedalling from either side will change the position of the other and blow the whole engagement process out of the water.

The ConversationThe final paragraph of the joint statement commits US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with an as yet unidentified high level North Korean official. It will be at these meetings and beyond where the “new US-DPRK relations” will start to take shape.

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

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

Farmers and services industry the winners under the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal


Giovanni Di Lieto, Monash University

The revived trade agreement, now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), has finally made it across the line. It’s a considerable win for Australian farmers and service providers, in a trading area worth about A$90 billion.

The 11 remaining countries from the initial Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement finally agreed to go ahead with the deal without the US, at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The deal reduces the scope for controversial investor-state dispute settlements, where foreign investors can bypass national courts and sue governments for compensation for harming their investments. It introduces stronger safeguards to protect the governments’ right to regulate in the public interest and prevent unwarranted claims.




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Australia’s tenuous place in the new global economy


Despite earlier union fears of the impact for Australian workers, the CPTPP does not regulate the movement of workers. It only has minor changes to domestic labour rights and practices.

The new agreement is more of an umbrella framework for separate yet coordinated bilateral deals. In fact, Australia’s Trade Minister Steven Ciobo said:

The agreement will deliver 18 new free trade agreements between the CPTPP parties. For Australia that means new trade agreements with Canada and Mexico and greater market access to Japan, Chile, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.

It means a speedier process for reducing import barriers on key Australian products, such as beef, lamb, seafood, cheese, wine and cotton wool.

It also promises less competition for Australian services exports, encouraging other governments to look to use Australian services and reducing the regulations of state-owned enterprises.




Read more:
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is back: experts respond


Australia now also has new bilateral trade deals with Canada and Mexico as part and parcel of the new agreement. This could be worth a lot to the Australian economy if it were to fill commercial gaps created by potential trade battles within North America and between the US and China.

What’s in and out of the new agreement

The new CPTPP rose from the ashes of the old agreement because of the inclusion of a list of 20 suspended provisions on matters that were of interest for the US. These would be revived in the event of a US comeback.

These suspended provisions involved substantial changes in areas like investment, public procurement, intellectual property rights and transparency. With the freezing of further copyright restrictions and the provisions on investor-state dispute settlements, these suspensions appear to re-balance the agreement in favour of Australian governments and consumers.

In fact, the scope of investor-state dispute settlements are narrower in the CPTPP, because foreign private companies who enter into an investment contract with the Australian government will not be able to use it if there is a dispute about that contract. The broader safeguards in the agreement make sure that the Australian government cannot be sued for measures related to public education, health and other social services.




Read more:
Why developing countries are dumping investment treaties


The one part of the agreement relating to the temporary entry for business people is rather limited in scope and does not have the potential to impact on low-skilled or struggling categories of Australian workers. In fact, it only commits Australia to providing temporary entry (from three months, up to two years) of only five generic categories of CPTPP workers. These include occupations like installers and servicers, intra-corporate transferees, independent executives, and contractual service suppliers.

The above categories squarely match the shortages in the Australian labour market, according to the Lists of Eligible Skilled Occupation of the Home Affairs Department.

Bits of the original agreement are still included in the CPTPP such as tariffs schedules that slash custom duties on 95% of trade in goods. But this was the easy part of the deal.

Before the deal is signed

The new agreement will be formally signed in Chile on March 8 2018, and will enter into force as soon as at least six members ratify it. This will probably happen later in the year or in early 2019.

The geopolitical symbolism of this timing is poignant. The CPTPP is coming out just as Donald Trump raises the temperature in the China trade battle by introducing new tariffs. It also runs alongside China’s attempts to finalise a much bigger regional trade agreement, the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

Even though substantially the CPTPP is only a TPP-lite at best, it still puts considerable pressure on the US to come out of Trump’s protectionist corner.

It spells out the geopolitical consequences of the US trade policy switch, namely that the Asia Pacific countries are willing to either form a more independent bloc or align more closely with Chinese interests.

The ConversationWill this be enough to convince the Trump administration to reverse its course on global trade? At present, this seems highly unlikely. To bet on the second marriage of the US with transpacific multilateral trade would be a triumph of hope over experience.

Giovanni Di Lieto, Lecturer, Bachelor of International Business, Monash Business School, Monash University

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

Nepal: Latest Persecution News


The link below is to an article concerning an agreement to provide land for Christian burials in Nepal.

For more visit:
http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctliveblog/archives/2013/04/nepal-agrees-to-find-places-for-christians-to-bury-their-dead.html

Latest Persecution News – 12 June 2012


Victims of Explosion in Israel Lament Plea Agreement

The following article reports on the latest news of persecution in Israel, where an extremist Jew is facing charges following the bombing of a pastor’s home.

http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/israel/article_1571127.html

 

The articles linked to above are by Compass Direct News and  relate to persecution of Christians around the world. Please keep in mind that the definition of ‘Christian’ used by Compass Direct News is inclusive of some that would not be included in a definition of Christian that I would use or would be used by other Reformed Christians. The articles do however present an indication of persecution being faced by Christians around the world.

Church in China to Risk Worshipping in Park


Evicted from one site and denied others, unregistered congregation resorts to open air.

LOS ANGELES, April 7 (CDN) — One of the largest unregistered Protestant churches in Beijing plans to risk arrest by worshipping in the open air this Sunday (April 10) after eviction from the restaurant where they have met for the past year.

The owner of the Old Story Club restaurant issued repeated requests for the Shouwang Church to find another worship venue, and authorities have pressured other prospective landlords to close their facilities to the 1,000-member congregation, sources said. Unwilling to subject themselves to the controls and restrictions of the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the congregation has held three services each Sunday in the restaurant for more than a year.

Church members have said they are not opposed to the government and are not politically active, but they fear authorities could find their open-air worship threatening.

“Normal” (state-sanctioned) religious assembly outdoors is legal in China, and even unregistered church activity is usually tolerated if no more than 50 people gather, especially if the people are related and can cite the gathering as a family get-together, said a source in China who requested anonymity. Although the congregation technically risks arrest as an unregistered church, the primary danger is being viewed as politically active, the source said.

“For a larger group of Christians to meet in any ‘unregistered’ location led by an ‘unregistered’ leader is illegal,” he said. “The sensitivity of meeting in a park is not being illegal, but being so highly visible. Being ‘visible’ ends up giving an impression of being a political ‘protest.’”

The congregation believes China’s Department of Religious Affairs has overstepped its jurisdiction in issuing regulations limiting unregistered church activity, according to a statement church leaders issued this week.

“Out of respect for both the Chinese Constitution [whose Article 36 stipulates freedom of worship] and Christian conscience, we cannot actively endorse and submit to the regulations which bid us to cease all Sunday worship activities outside of [the] ‘Three-Self Patriotic Movement’ – the only state-sanctioned church,” according to the statement. “Of course, we still must follow the teachings of the Bible, which is for everyone to submit to and respect the governing authorities. We are willing to submit to the regulations with passivity and all the while shoulder all the consequences which . . . continuing to worship outside of what is sanctioned by these regulations will bring us.”

The church decided to resort to open-air worship after a prospective landlord backed out of a contractual agreement to allow the congregation to meet at the Xihua Business Hotel, the church said in its statement.

“They had signed another rental contract with another property facility and announced during the March 22 service that they were to move in two weeks,” the source said. “In spite of the fact that they had signed a formal contract, the new landlord suddenly called them on March 22 and refused to let them use the facility.”

The landlord offered various excuses for reneging on the contract, according to church leaders, and that disappointment came after 15 months of trying to obtain the key to another property the church had purchased.

“The space in Daheng New Epoch Technology building, which the church had spent over 27.5 million RMB [US$4.2 million] to purchase, has failed to hand the key over to the church for the past year and three months because of government intervention,” the church said in its statement. “For the past year, our church has not had a settled meeting place.”

Beginning as a house church in 1993, the Shouwang Church has been evicted from several rented locations. It also met outside after its last displacement in 2009. The congregation does not believe its calling is to split up into smaller units.

“For the past several years the church has been given a vision from God to be ‘the city on a hill,’” the source said. “Especially since 2009, when they officially began the church building purchase, they have been trying to become a more officially established status. At this point, they feel that they have not completed the journey in obedience to God.”

The number of Protestant house church Christians is estimated at between 45 and 60 million, according to Yu Jianrong, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Rural Development Institute. Yu and others have concluded that house churches are a positive influence on society, but the government is wary of such influence.

Yu estimated another 18 to 30 million people attend government-approved churches – potentially putting the number of Christians higher than that of Communist Party members, which number around 74 million.

The government-commissioned study by Yu and associates suggested that officials should seek to integrate house churches and no longer regard them as enemies of the state. The study employed a combination of interviews, field surveys and policy reviews to gather information on house churches in several provinces from October 2007 to November 2008.

Yu’s team found that most house or “family” churches fit into one of three broad categories: traditional house churches, open house churches or urban emerging churches. Traditional house churches were generally smaller, family-based churches, meeting in relative secrecy. Though not a Christian himself, Yu attended some of these meetings and noted that the focus was not on democracy or human rights but rather on spiritual life and community.

The “open” house churches were less secretive and had more members, sometimes advertising their services and holding public gatherings, he found. Urban emerging churches functioned openly but independently of TSPM churches. In some provinces such as Wenzhou, these churches had constructed their own buildings and operated without interference from local officials.

While some house churches actively seek registration with authorities to avoid arrests and harassment, they would like the option of registering outside the government-approved TSPM structure, as they disagree with TSPM beliefs and controls. Many unregistered evangelical Protestant groups refuse to register with TSPM due to theological differences, fear of adverse consequences if they reveal names and addresses of church leaders or members or fear that it will control sermon content.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

Christians Decry Malaysia’s Detention of Bible Books


After stopping 5,100 Bibles in 2009, authorities withhold 30,000 Malay-language copies.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, March 14 (CDN) — The detaining of 30,000 copies of the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs in the Malay language at Malaysia’s Kuching Port has “greatly disillusioned” the nation’s Christian community.

The books, imported from Indonesia by the local branch of Gideons International for distribution in schools, churches and longhouses in Betong, Saratok and other Christian areas in Sarawak state, have been detained at the Kuching Port since January.

Authorities told an unnamed officer of the importer on Jan. 12 that he could not distribute the books in Sarawak state, on the island of Borneo, since they “contained words which are also found in the Quran,” according to online news agency Malaysiakini. The officer was ordered to transport the books to the Home Ministry’s office for storage.

Last week, when the same officer enquired of the Home Ministry officials on the status of the Malay Bibles, authorities said they had yet to receive instructions on the matter.

This is not the first time government authorities have detained Malay-language Bibles, and Bishop Ng Moon Hing, chairman of Christian Federation of Malaysia, decried the action.

“The CFM is greatly disillusioned, fed-up and angered by the repeated detention of Bibles written in our national language,” Ng said. “It would appear as if the authorities are waging a continuous, surreptitious and systematic program against Christians in Malaysia to deny them access to the Bible in [Malay].”

An earlier consignment of 5,100 copies of the Good News Bible in Malay, imported by the Bible Society of Malaysia, was detained in Port Klang in March 2009. Together with this latest seizure, the total number of Bibles seized and remaining in possession of the Home Ministry amounts to 35,100 copies.

The CFM, representing a majority of Christians in Malaysia, released a statement on March 10 asserting, “All attempts to import the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia [Malay], i.e. the Alkitab, whether through Port Klang or the Port of Kuching, have been thwarted” since March 2009.

Prior to March 2009, there had been several such incidents, and “each time, tedious steps had to be taken to secure their release,” according to the CFM.

A significant 64 percent of Malaysian Christians are indigenous people from Sabah and Sarawak states who use the Malay language in their daily life. Christian leaders say having Bibles in the Malay language is crucial to the practice of their Christian faith.

Christians make up more than 9 percent of Malaysia’s nearly 28 million people, according to Operation World.

This latest Bible book seizure has irked Christians and drawn criticisms from politicians spanning both sides of the political divide.

The Sarawak Ministers Fellowship issued a statement registering its “strong protest,” describing the detention of the books as “unconstitutional” and in violation of the 18-point agreement for Sarawak in the formation of Malaysia.

Representing the opposition political party, People’s Justice Party (Sarawak Parti Keadilan Rakyat) Chief Baru Bian described the withholding as “religious harassment” and “a blatant disregard of our constitutional right as Christians in Malaysia.”

Chua Soi Lek, president of the Malaysian Chinese Association, a political party within the ruling coalition National Front, proposed that Malay Bibles be allowed to be printed locally. The deputy chief minister of Sarawak, Dr. George Chan, expressed the state government’s willingness to publish the Malay Bible locally.

Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein was quoted in The Star newspaper today as saying, “The issue … is being resolved amicably with the parties concerned,” though how this was taking place was not apparent. The home minister has reportedly said the books had been withheld pending an appeal over the use of the word “Allah” in The Herald catholic newspaper.

Secretary-General of Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement Mohamad Raimi Abdul Rahim has called for the government to enforce the ban on use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims nationwide, including in Sabah and Sarawak.

In a controversial court ruling on Dec. 31, 2009, Judge Lau Bee Lan had allowed The Herald to use the word “Allah” for God in the Malay section of its multilingual newspaper. The Home Ministry filed an appeal against the decision on Jan. 4, 2010, but to date there is no indication as to when the case will be heard.

Report from Compass Direct News