‘America First’ is no more, but can president-elect Biden fix the US reputation abroad?



Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Gorana Grgic, University of Sydney

Throughout the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency, Joe Biden spent significant time reassuring American allies around the world that Trump’s America is not “who we are” and pledging “we’ll be back”.

Now that he’s the president-elect, those who were most worried about another four years of “America First” foreign policy are no doubt breathing a sigh of relief.

Much has been written about a Biden presidency being focused on restoration, or as David Graham of The Atlantic put it,

returning the United States to its rightful place before (as he sees it) the current president came onto the scene and trashed the joint.

Then-Vice President Biden meeting Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2013.
LINTAO ZHANG / POOL /EPA

The old world order doesn’t exist anymore

This idea has revolved around restoring the post-1945 liberal international order – a term subject to a lot of academic contention. The US played a central role in creating and leading the order around key institutions such as the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organisation, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the like.

However, there is now no shortage of evidence that many of these institutions have come under extreme strain in recent years and have been unable respond to the challenges of the 21st century geopolitics.

For one, the US no longer wields the relative economic power or influence it had in the middle of last century. There are also increasingly vocal critics in the US — led by Trump — who question America’s foreign commitments.

Trump questioned the US commitment to NATO and expressed affinity for Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Hau Dinh/AP

Moreover, nations themselves are no longer the only important actors in the international system. Terror groups like the Islamic State now have the ability to threaten global security, while corporations like Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Facebook have such economic power, their combined revenue would qualify them for the G20.

Equally, the so-called liberal international order was built on the idea that a growing number of democracies would be willing to work within institutions like the UN, IMF and WTO and act in ways that would make everyone in the system better off.

Clearly, that has not been the case for the past 15 years as democracies around the world slowly eroded, from European Union states like Hungary and Poland to Brazil to the US.




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Biden wins – experts on what it means for race relations, US foreign policy and the Supreme Court


Biden can’t fix everything at once

Trump’s 2016 election seemed to have been the final nail in the coffin for the idea of a truly liberal international order with the US as a benevolent leader.

From his first days in office, Trump was on a mission to roll back US commitments to myriad organisations, deals and relationships around the world. Most significantly, this included questioning commitments to its closest allies in Europe, Asia and elsewhere that had been unwavering for generations.

Trump damaged some of America’s strongest alliances in Europe.
Francisco Seco/AP

Biden takes over at a precarious time. The world is more unstable than it has been in decades and the US image has been severely damaged by the actions and rhetoric of his predecessor.

There is no naivety on Biden’s part that he will be able to fix everything that was broken along the way. After all, many of these challenges predated Trump and are merely a reflection of a changing world.

Furthermore, Biden will have many pressing domestic issues that will demand his immediate attention — first and foremost addressing the greatest public health and economic crisis in a century.

We are also likely to see growing pressure for Biden to pursue a more progressive climate policy and a better-managed industrial policy, though he’ll be greatly constrained in what he can do if the Republicans maintain control of the Senate.

All of this will limit both his bandwidth and appetite for an overly ambitious foreign policy agenda.




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Rejoining the world, with managed expectations

Given this, Biden’s presidency should be approached with managed expectations. Unlike President Barack Obama, he did not campaign on lofty promises of change. He ran on being the opposite of Trump and, as such, being better able to understand the intricacies of foreign policy.

This will mean a swift return to multilateralism and rejoining the deals and organisations Trump abandoned, from the Paris climate agreement and Iran nuclear deal to the the World Trade Organisation and World Health Organisation.

Given these moves by Trump required no congressional input, Biden will be able to return to Obama-era policies in a relatively straightforward fashion through executive action.

However, this didn’t produce the expected “blue wave” and national repudiation of Trumpism, so it remains to be seen whether friends and foes alike can be convinced the past four years were an aberration. In essence, how good can America’s word be moving forward?

Biden’s campaign put a great emphasis on strengthening America’s existing alliances and forging new ones to maintain what he frequently refers to as “a free world”.

This will involve a substantial change from the way Trump managed US alliances, nurturing relationships with authoritarian leaders in the Middle East, for example, and some of the least liberal eastern European states.

This shift will benefit America’s traditional allies in western Europe the most. However, these countries are more determined than ever to stop depending on the whims of the Electoral College to decide their security. Instead, they are strengthening their own defence capabilities.

‘America First’ finished second

Lastly, on the greatest geopolitical question of our time, there is no doubt the US will continue its competition with China in the coming years, no matter who is president.

Yet, there are still plenty of questions around how Biden will handle this relationship. His campaign adopted a much more hawkish stance toward China compared to the Obama administration, which reflects a growing bipartisan consensus the US must get tougher with Beijing.




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At the same time, there is significant debate about how far his administration should push Beijing on issues ranging from technological competition to human rights, particularly given Biden has said the US needs to find a way to cooperate with China on other pressing issues, such as climate change, global health and arms control.

America might be coming back under Biden, but this is not the same world or the same country it once was. So, while the restoration of the US will be challenging, one thing is certain: “America First” finished second.The Conversation

Gorana Grgic, Lecturer in US Politics and Foreign Policy, US Studies Centre, University of Sydney

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

Biden wins – experts on what it means for race relations, US foreign policy and the Supreme Court



President-elect Biden promises a new White House agenda and style.
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Brian J Purnell, Bowdoin College; Morgan Marietta, University of Massachusetts Lowell, and Neta C. Crawford, Boston University

The American public has had its say and for the first time in a generation denied a sitting president a second term.

President Donald Trump’s tenure lasted just four years, but in that time he dragged policy on an array of key issues in a dramatic new direction.

Joe Biden’s victory, confirmed by the Associated Press late morning on Nov. 7, presents an opportunity to reset the White House agenda and put it on a different course.

Three scholars discuss what a Biden presidency may have in store in three key areas: race, the Supreme Court and foreign policy.

Racism, policing and Black Lives Matter protests

Brian Purnell, Bowdoin College

The next four years under a Biden administration will likely see improvements in racial justice. But to many, it will be a low bar to clear: President Donald Trump downplayed racist violence, egged on right-wing extremists and described Black Lives Matter as a “symbol of hate” during his four-year tenure.

Indeed, according to polls, most Americans agree that race relations have deteriorated under Trump.

Still, Biden is in some ways an unlikely president to advance a progressive racial agenda. In the 1970s, he opposed busing plans and stymied school desegregation efforts in Delaware, his home state. And in the mid-1990s he championed a federal crime bill that made incarceration rates for Black people worse. He bungled the hearings that brought Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court by allowing Republican senators to dismiss Anita Hill’s damning testimony of Thomas’ sexual harassment and by failing to allow other Black women to testify.

But that was then.

During the 2020 campaign, President-elect Biden consistently spoke about problems stemming from systemic racism. Many voters will be hoping that his actions over the next four years must match his campaign words.

One area that the Biden administration will surely address is policing and racial justice. The Justice Department can bring accountability to police reform by returning to practices the Obama administration put in place to monitor and reform police departments, such as the use of consent degrees. More difficult reforms require redressing how mass incarceration caused widespread voter disenfranchisement in Black American and Latino communities.

“My administration will incentivize states to automatically restore voting rights for individuals convicted of felonies once they have served their sentences,” Biden told The Washington Post.

The killing of George Floyd earlier this year reinvigorated talk of addressing systemic racial discrimination through fundamental changes in how police departments hold officers accountable for misconduct and excessive force. It is unclear how far President-elect Biden will walk down this road. But evoking the words of the late civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis, he at least suggested at the Democratic National Convention that America was ready to do the hard work of “rooting out systemic racism.”

A portrait of George Floyd is seen during a Black Lives Matter protest on June 17, 2020 in the Manhattan borough of New York City.
After George Floyd’s death, how far will Biden go to address systemic racism?
Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

Biden can help address how Americans think about and deal with unexamined racial biases through reversing the previous administration’s executive order banning anti-racism training and workshops. In so doing, Biden can build on psychological research on bias to make American workplaces, schools and government agencies equitable, just places.

Making progress fighting systemic racism will be a slow, uphill battle. A more immediate benefit to communities of color could come through Biden’s COVID-19 pandemic response – the Trump administration’s failure to stanch the spread of the coronavirus has led to deaths and economic consequences that have disproportionately fallen on racial and ethnic minorities.

On matters of race relations in the U.S., most Americans would agree that the era of Trump saw the picture worsen. The good news for Biden as president is there is nowhere to go but up.

The Supreme Court

Morgan Marietta, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Despite the fact that American voters have given Democrats control of the presidency, the conservative Supreme Court will continue to rule on the nature and extent of constitutional rights.

These liberties are considered by the court to be “beyond the reach of majorities,” meaning they are intended to be immune from the changing beliefs of the electorate.

However, appointees of Democrats and Republicans tend to have very different views on which rights the Constitution protects and which are left to majority rule.

The dominant judicial philosophy of the conservative majority – originalism – sees rights as powerful but limited. The protection of rights recognized explicitly by the Constitution, such as the freedoms of religion, speech and press and the freedom to bear arms, will likely grow stronger over the next four years. But the protection of expansive rights that the court has found in the phrase “due process of law” in the 14th Amendment, including privacy or reproductive rights, may well contract.

The Biden administration will probably not agree with the court’s future rulings on voting rights, gay rights, religious rights or the rights of noncitizens. Ditto for any rulings on abortion, guns, the death penalty and immigration. But there is little President-elect Biden can do to control the independent judiciary.

Unhappy with what a strong conservative majority on the court may do – including possibly overturning the Affordable Care Act – many Democrats have advocated radical approaches to altering what the court looks like and how it operates, though Biden himself has not stated a clear position.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett talks with Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas during her ceremonial swearing-in ceremony to be U.S. Supreme Court.
How will President-elect Biden respond to the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court?
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Suggested options include term limits, adding a retirement age, stripping the jurisdiction of the court for specific federal legislation, or increasing the size of the court. This strategy is known historically as court packing.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg opposed expanding the court, telling NPR in 2019 that “if anything would make the court look partisan, it would be … one side saying, ‘When we’re in power, we’re going to enlarge the number of judges, so we would have more people who would vote the way we want them to.’”

The Constitution does not establish the number of justices on the court, instead leaving that to Congress. The number has been set at nine since the 1800s, but Congress could pass a law expanding the number of justices to 11 or 13, creating two or four new seats.

However, this requires agreement by both houses of Congress.

The GOP seems likely to maintain a narrow control of the Senate. A 50/50 split is possible, but that won’t be clear until January when Georgia holds two runoff elections. Any of the proposed reforms of the court will be difficult, if not impossible, to pass under a divided Congress.

This leaves the Biden administration hoping for retirements that would gradually shift the ideological balance of the court.

One of the most likely may be Justice Clarence Thomas, who is 72 and the longest-serving member of the current court. Samuel Alito is 70 and Chief Justice John Roberts is 65. In other professions, that may sound like people soon to retire, but at the Supreme Court that is less likely. With the other three conservative justices in their 40s or 50s, the Biden administration may be fully at odds with the court for some time to come.

Foreign policy and defense

Neta Crawford, Boston University

President-elect Biden has signaled he will do three things to reset the U.S.‘s foreign policy.

First, Biden will change the tone of U.S. foreign relations. The Democratic Party platform called its section on military foreign policy “renewing American leadership” and emphasized diplomacy as a “tool of first resort.”

Biden seems to sincerely believe in diplomacy and is intent on repairing relations with U.S. allies that have been damaged over the last four years. Conversely, while Trump was, some say, too friendly with Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling him a “terrific person,” Biden will likely take a harder line with Russia, at least rhetorically.

This change in tone will also likely include rejoining some of the treaties and international agreements that the United States abandoned under the Trump administration. The most important of these include the Paris Climate Agreement, which the U.S. officially withdrew from on Nov. 4, and restoring funding to the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

If the U.S. is to extend the New START nuclear weapons treaty, the arms control deal with Russia due to expire in February, the incoming Biden administration would likely have to work with the outgoing administration on an extension. Biden has also signaled a willingness to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal jettisoned by Trump, if and when the Iranians return to the limits on nuclear infrastructure imposed by the agreement.

Second, in contrast to the large increases in military spending under Trump, President-elect Biden may make modest cuts in the U.S. military budget. Although he has said that cuts are not “inevitable” under his presidency, Biden has hinted at a smaller military presence overseas and is likely to change some priorities at the Pentagon by, for instance, emphasizing high-tech weapons. If the Senate – which must ratify any treaties – flips to Democrats’ control, the Biden administration may take more ambitious steps in nuclear arms control by pursuing deeper cuts with Russia and ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

US soldiers arrive at the site of a car bomb attack that targeted a NATO coalition convoy in Kabul on September 24, 2017.
Could Biden be the president who finally pulls all US troops out of Afghanistan?
Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images

Third, the Biden administration will likely continue some Bush, Obama and Trump foreign policy priorities. Specifically, while a Biden administration will seek to end the war in Afghanistan, the administration will keep a focus on defeating the Islamic State and al-Qaida. Biden has said that he would reduce the current 5,200 U.S. forces in Afghanistan to 1,500-2,000 troops operating in the region in a counterterrorism role. The Biden administration is likely to continue the massive nuclear weapons modernization and air and naval equipment modernization programs begun under the Obama administration and accelerated and expanded under Trump, if only because they are popular with members of Congress who see the jobs they provide in their states.

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And like the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations, the Biden administration will prioritize the economic and military threats it believes are posed by China. But, consistent with its emphasis on diplomacy, the Biden administration will likely also work more to constrain China through diplomatic engagement and by working with U.S. allies in the region.The Conversation

Brian J Purnell, Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History, Bowdoin College; Morgan Marietta, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Lowell, and Neta C. Crawford, Professor of Political Science and Department Chair, Boston University

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

Partner or customer? Why China is Scott Morrison’s biggest foreign policy test



Scott Morrison is relatively inexperienced on foreign policy, but he’s certain to be tested by China in his first full term in office.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Euan Graham, La Trobe University

The 2019 federal election, unlike previous campaigns, did not feature a dedicated debate on foreign affairs or defence. The conventional cynicism – that there are no votes in foreign policy – does not adequately explain this. It seems Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor leader Bill Shorten reached a shabby consensus that foreign and security policy questions were uniformly too hot to handle.

Foreign affairs is in fact among the most important challenges facing the Morrison government. The simple reason: the status quo that has served Australia so well in the past couple of decades is fast coming to an end.

Australia has uniquely avoided recession among the developed economies because it has surfed a once-in-a-generation wave of Chinese demand for commodities. Australia’s security has also been assured through its longstanding alliance with the US, while its military commitments have been kept largely at arm’s length in the Middle East and Afghanistan.




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However, as Asia-Pacific scholar Nick Bisley has commented, Australia now finds itself caught between two different forms of revisionism: the strategic revisionism of Xi Jinping’s China and the economic revisionism of Donald Trump’s United States.

Trump’s trade wars and protectionist policies are likely to be a continuing point of friction with Australia, which remains heavily reliant on Asian markets (not only China) for trade.

But China is the most important external challenge Australia faces. It’s so all-encompassing that it transcends traditional foreign, trade and defence policy silos, and includes a significant domestic dimension in terms of political interference, as well.

Even though Morrison has already served the better part of a year in office, it’s hard to be sure of his convictions on China. With his mandate secured, he now has both the opportunity and obligation to show his true colours.

Caught between a rock and a hard place

In theory, the Coalition’s election victory should mean continuity in foreign policy, as signalled by Morrison’s decision to retain Marise Payne as foreign minister.

When China was – belatedly – raised during the campaign, Morrison repeated a well-worn mantra about not having to “pick sides” between the United States and China. The former he characterised as Australia’s “friend”, labelling China as a “customer”. While this description no doubt raised eyebrows in Beijing, Morrison was arguing Canberra could “stand by” both.

The Morrison administration has generally sought to position Australia somewhere in between its chief ally and its chief customer. His reticence thus far to make waves with the country’s number one customer may be borne of a desire to maintain Canberra’s room for manoeuvre as a middle power, though this is getting steadily harder.

Australia could find itself in an awkward position if the rift between China and the US deepens.
Roman Pilipey/EPA

If the prime minister truly believes Australia can play an intermediary role, few in Canberra’s foreign policy and defence circles would agree. To do so would only expose Australia to heightened risk, precipitating the kind of invidious strategic choices that Morrison wishes to avoid.

It also plays into the Chinese Communist Party’s objective of sowing discord between the US and its Pacific allies.




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If Morrison is privately more attuned to the strategic risks China poses – and after nine months of intelligence briefings he should be – then he has a duty to prepare the public for the likelihood of tougher times ahead. Should Australia-China relations take a darker turn, it may prove difficult for the government to persuade the public to back a significant adjustment in national security policy, including increased defence spending.

Moreover, there are risks to publicly framing US-China strategic competition as a destabilising factor for Australia’s security. Australians could judge the prospect of entrapment in a confrontational US policy towards China as potentially more threatening to Australia’s security than Beijing’s deliberate challenge to the “rules-based order” in the region.

This could undermine public support for Australia’s alliance with the US, which remains the bedrock of our security.

Stepping up in the Pacific

The Pacific is where the strategic interests of China and Australia clash most directly. Morrison’s most important security policy decision thus far, announced at last year’s APEC summit, was to establish a joint naval base with the US and Papua New Guinea at Lombrum on Manus Island. This was partly aimed at denying the location to China, as well as establishing a forward ADF presence in the Pacific.

It is also notable that Morrison will visit the Solomon Islands on his first post-election overseas trip. China is inevitably part of the subtext here, as Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare is reported to be swaying towards switching allegiances from Taiwan to Beijing – yet another sign of China’s growing influence in the region.

Of course, there is more than geopolitics to the Pacific region and Morrison must be careful to demonstrate empathy and humility, given Australia’s patchy engagement with the region and the Coalition’s ambivalence on climate change – a major grievance for most Pacific nations.

Morrison’s appointment of Alex Hawke as both minister of international development and Pacific and assistant defence minister provides easy ammunition to critics, who will charge that the government’s Pacific “step up” is narrowly conceived through a geopolitical lens.

But Morrison appears to take the step up seriously, and a commitment to reversing the relative decline in Australia’s influence in its immediate neighbourhood (note: not “backyard”). A volatile political situation in PNG further demands a close watch on the Pacific.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has made Australia nervous by courting Pacific leaders like PNG’s Peter O’Neill.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Other key alliances to shore up

Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, Morrison has fallen on his feet now that friendly incumbents in Indonesia and India – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Prime Minister Narendra Modi – were also returned in recent elections, making it easier for continuity to be maintained.

Morrison was quick off the mark to congratulate Jokowi on Twitter, who promptly replied that Australia is one of Indonesia’s “greatest allies.”

By pulling off an unlikely election victory, Morrison is in the fortunate position of being the first prime minister for some time who is not looking immediately over his or her shoulder for political assassins within their party.

Morrison also has more bandwidth to devote to foreign issues than any leader since Kevin Rudd. He is disadvantaged, however, by his relative inexperience and the thinness of his front bench. That places a special burden on whoever will be advising Morrison on international security – a role sure to take on greater importance in his administration – to provide the counsel he needs and to wrangle the bureaucracy into line. For there will be no shortage of challenges ahead.The Conversation

Euan Graham, Executive Director, La Trobe Asia, La Trobe University

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

Foreign policy should play a bigger role in Australian elections. This is why it probably won’t



File 20190418 28084 33talh.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Before Australia elects a new PM to manage the country’s foreign relations, it’s vital to have a bigger debate on foreign policy, so voters know how each candidate would lead.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Matt McDonald, The University of Queensland

Australians don’t tend to vote on foreign policy in federal elections. This makes perfect sense: there is, for the most part, a tradition of bipartisanship on foreign policy and usually few key points of difference between the major parties.

The idea is that foreign policy should somehow be above politics and the politicking that typically characterises election campaigns.

Research on the Australian government’s policy agendas also suggests a limited and generally declining prominence of foreign policy in elections. In a 2010 study, for instance, researchers analysed governor-general and prime minister election speeches from 1945-2008. It found that foreign policy played an increasingly marginal role in both.




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There are, of course, exceptions. In both the 1969 and 1972 elections, the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War became a major campaign issue, with Gough Whitlam campaigning to end conscription and bring Australian troops home. Whitlam’s message helped Labor sweep to power in 1972 for the first time in 23 years.

Foreign policy featured featured again in the 2001 and 2004 in election debates. In 2001, John Howard’s incumbent Coalition government emphasised its willingness to take a tougher stance on asylum and terrorism than the opposition, helping return it to power.

And in 2004, Labor promised the withdrawal of Australian troops from the war in Iraq, while Howard (who was re-elected) argued this would only help fuel terrorism in the region.

Yet even in these “foreign policy” elections – when asylum seekers, terrorism and Iraq loomed large over the campaigns – health and education were still identified as most important issues for voters.

Without anything resembling a similar international crisis now, can we realistically expect a significant role for foreign policy in the 2019 election?

Australia’s key foreign policy challenges

Clearly, Australia faces important foreign policy challenges that warrant a significant national debate. As Susan Harris Rimmer noted in her foreign policy outlook for 2019, this is a particularly volatile time for Australia’s foreign relations.

Of the many pressing challenges facing the country, managing the relationship with China will be profoundly difficult. For starters, our most important trading partner has demonstrated a willingness to destabilise regional security through its actions in the South China Sea. It has also moved into Australia’s traditional sphere of influence in the South Pacific and attempted to influence Australian politics through donations, lobbying and even cyber-incursions.

Beijing has also demonstrated a willingness to retaliate when Canberra has challenged it. The passage of Australia’s new foreign interference law, for instance, triggered warnings to Chinese students studying in Australia and new restrictions on Australian coal exports to China.




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Australia’s relationship with China has been made more difficult by the loss of certainty around the US alliance under President Donald Trump. For Australia, it’s hard to tell whether the bigger challenge is a continued trend away from US global leadership or a potential shift to a more activist US foreign policy as Trump attempts to establish a legacy.

Australia also faces uncertainties in its relations with Indonesia and India following elections in both countries. The feasibility of its so-called “Pacific Pivot” and the ongoing spectre of terrorism continue to be challenging. Yet, despite the importance of all of these foreign policy issues, all signs still point to an election focused overwhelmingly on domestic issues.

On most of these issues, including Australia’s approach to China and the US alliance, we have not seen significant points of difference between the parties thus far. The parties need to spend more time discussing foreign affairs so voters understand what their strategies will be, particularly when it comes to our most important economic partner and our most important security partner.

One foreign policy-related flashpoint: climate change

To the extent that international issues have featured prominently in prior elections, they have often been viewed through the lens of domestic politics.

Climate change and asylum have become perennial issues in recent Australian elections, for instance. But climate change debates have regularly focused on energy prices, while asylum debates have often focused on the defence of Australian values and the Australian way of life.

On asylum, Labor has emphasised its consistency with existing Coalition government policies – both remain opposed to transferring asylum seekers from offshore processing centres to Australia.




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Climate change has already emerged as one of the key issues of this year’s campaign, with both parties taking aim at one another’s promises on everything from renewable energy targets to electric vehicles.

Of course, all dimensions of climate policy have implications beyond Australia. Yet on climate diplomacy specifically, it’s Australia’s engagement with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its climate reduction targets that are most prominent. Here, the opposition has committed to a more significant target of emissions reductions under the Paris Agreement – 45% by 2030 – than the Coalition’s 26-28%. The Coalition also plans to use carryover credits from the generous Kyoto Protocol allowance for Australia, a position ruled out by the opposition.

For the Coalition, the focus is again related to domestic concerns: how much Labor’s ambitious plans will cost Australians. Given the broader climate debate so far and the perceived success of past climate scare campaigns – especially against the carbon tax in 2013 – a full-frontal Coalition attack on Labor’s climate policies is not just possible, it’s arguably likely.

As the election looms, then, there may be a small role for foreign policy and Australian action on transnational issues after all. Chances are, though, it won’t be the wide-ranging foreign policy debate we should be having.The Conversation

Matt McDonald, Associate Professor of International Relations, The University of Queensland

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

In his first major foreign policy test, Morrison needs to stick to the script



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After a positive start, Morrison’s relations with his Indonesian counterpart, Joko Widodo, cooled off after he suggested moving the Australian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Susan Harris Rimmer, Griffith University

Attending a global leaders summit might look easy – all interesting shirts, family-style photos and unusual handshakes – but these occasions can prove extremely difficult for leaders who focus solely on domestic politics or brand new leaders with uncertain electoral prospects.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is both.

Morrison faces a busy week of foreign policy tests in his first big moment on the global stage. He first travels to Singapore for the ASEAN and East Asia Summit, then hosts Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s historic visit to Darwin before jetting off for the APEC Summit in Papua New Guinea on the weekend. This power week will be followed by the G20 Leaders Summit in Buenos Aires at the end of month.

This week, Morrison will have his first meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, US Vice President Mike Pence and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in addition to new (but not so new) Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.




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So what can we expect from Morrison’s debut summit season and in particular his meetings with Xi?

Pundits have been speculating whether Morrison might try to use the August leadership spill and appointment of new Foreign Minister Marise Payne as a way of pressing the reset button on relations with China.

Payne’s recent visit to Beijing was viewed by both parties as a success, so Morrison should have a more pleasant meeting with Xi than former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull might have.

Payne’s visit to China was the first by an Australian foreign minister since Julie Bishop’s trip in 2016.
Thomas Peter/EPA

But Morrison’s first months in office show a leader who speaks without due care to the reactions of foreign governments – floating the idea of shifting the Australian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is the most glaring example – and a leader with little political capital to spare.

He needs to stick to the script this week.

Danger signs

Morrison has already courted controversy on foreign policy in a short period of time. He skipped the UN General Assembly in September. He also missed the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru, forcing Payne to reassure Pacific neighbours that he wasn’t “snubbing” them.

Morrison did go straight to Jakarta in his first overseas trip as leader to meet with President Joko Widodo and sign the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with Indonesia.

But he was then accused of playing “straight from Trump’s songbook” when he mused about moving Australia’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem without consulting diplomats or generals beforehand. It was widely seen as a crude attempt to win the Jewish vote in the Wentworth by-election.

One downfall of Australian leaders is they can sometimes look parochial and small-town while on the big stage. For example, then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott made a cringeworthy speech to G20 leaders in Brisbane in 2014 about GP co-payments and stopping the boats. Opposition leader Bill Shorten described it as “weird and graceless”.

In his case, Morrison failed to realise the negative reception his embassy musings would receive in Indonesia. Now, his meetings with Widodo are likely to be frosty, with no plans to sign the free-trade agreement by the end of the year.

Morrison’s meetings with Xi, Putin and Modi

In his recent headland speech, Morrison seemed to adopt a Malcolm Turnbull-style line on taking a middle path with the US and China, noting that a confrontation between the two powers:

risks unimagined damage to economic growth and the global order. Damage where no-one benefits. Lose-lose.

Nevertheless, the speech was strong on values, many of which China does not share.

It is also not clear how Xi will view the recent Pacific push from Morrison, though he seemed to offer the possibility for partnership in the region.

Morrison’s meeting with Putin at the East Asia Summit will likewise be interesting to watch. This is Putin’s first time at the summit, but by no means his first rodeo. His presence is perhaps indicative of Russia’s intention to pivot more attention towards the Indo-Pacific region, taking advantage of Trump’s absence.




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Russia is a rising military power in the Asia-Pacific, and Australia needs to take it seriously


In yet another foreign policy stumble, Abbott once famously vowed to “shirtfront” Putin over the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. Putin enjoys such displays of toxic masculinity; hopefully, Morrison can restrain himself.

Australia wants to enhance its partnership with India, so we should see Morrison make a beeline for Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the ASEAN meeting, hoping for one of Modi’s signature hugs.

Before meeting Modi, Morrison will hopefully have carefully read the India Economic Strategy to 2035, authored by the former high commissioner to India and head of DFAT, Peter Varghese.

Modi got a hug of his own from Abbott during his high-profile visit to Australia in 2014.
Tracey Nearmy/AAP

Our Pacific family

Last week, Morrison made perhaps his most important foreign policy speech – a major strategic announcement on the Pacific. He said Australia would open five new embassies and launch an infrastructure bank in the region to the tune of A$2 billion, and declared the Pacific “our patch”:

This is our part of the world. This is where we have special responsibilities. We always have, we always will. We have their back, and they have ours. We are more than partners by choice. We are connected as members of a Pacific family.

The announcement came after he signed a deal for a joint naval base in Papua New Guinea. Both this and the infrastructure bank were seen as ways of countering Chinese influence in the Pacific, but Morrison did refrain from using any anti-China rhetoric.




Read more:
For Pacific Island nations, rising sea levels are a bigger security concern than rising Chinese influence


This is noteworthy. Tess Newton Cain has pointed out that Australia often misses the right tone of respect and partnership in its announcements to the region.

But despite this new push for Pacific engagement, Australia is still seen as weak on climate policy – a hugely important issue to Pacific leaders. This could result in difficult conversations for Morrison at APEC, as PNG has invited many Pacific nations to attend for the first time.

Sit down, be humble

Even if Morrison puts his best foot forward to overcome his poor start on foreign policy, he will still have difficulty standing out in the crowd.

Even leaders require some political capital to stand out in those big rooms.

The churn in Australian prime ministers means that some foreign leaders may not consider it worth the time or energy to build a relationship of personal trust with Morrison if they view him more like a caretaker. Former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had spent 10 years building up this diplomatic trust and stability in her various roles, but that was severed abruptly.

My advice to Morrison? Stay humble and listen. Read the briefs, listen to the diplomats and do everything Payne and DFAT Secretary Frances Adamson say to do, to the letter.The Conversation

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

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

Morrison and Shorten reveal their positions on key foreign policy questions


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While their foreign policy approaches may seem very similar, there were some significant differences.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

It might be tempting to characterise back-to-back foreign policy speeches delivered by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten as the work of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

In other words, policy prescriptions advanced by the two on challenges facing Australia in one of the most difficult foreign policy environments since the end of the Vietnam War may seem very similar.

But there are differences. These are significant and in a political sense are to be welcomed, because it is important that debate be had on how to manage these challenges.




Read more:
With Bishop gone, Morrison and Payne face significant challenges on foreign policy


What should be given ample scope is the question of Australia’s positioning vis-à-vis its cornerstone security ally, the United States, and its principal trading partner, China.

Engagement in that debate should be separated from the left-right shibboleths of whether those engaged are pro- or anti-American. Tempting though it might be for one side of politics to dust off the old wedge issue of fealty to the alliance, we need to move beyond that sterile discussion.

The foreign policy speeches delivered by Shorten and Morrison just days apart both addressed the issue of the triangular relationship between Canberra, Washington and Beijing. Both trod carefully.

In Morrison’s case, he did not seek to provide a new template for such a three-cornered relationship. Rather, he emphasised the enduring importance of the alliance and the desirability of the US remaining engaged in the Indo-Pacific.

The alliance with the United States is a choice we make about how best to pursue our security interests.

And US economic engagement is as essential to regional stability and prosperity as its security capabilities and network of alliances … A strong America – centrally engaged in the affairs of our region – is critical to Australia’s national interests.

Morrison did, however, acknowledge risks for Australia when he said it was “important that US-China relations do not become defined by confrontation”.

The period ahead will, at times, be testing but I am confident of our ability to navigate it. And once again our values and beliefs will guide us.

Morrison’s speech was heavy on “values” as a guide to Australian policy under his administration. In this regard, he might have been echoing earlier statements by Labor’s foreign policy spokeswoman, Penny Wong, who has pursued a “values” theme in her foreign policy speeches over the past several years.

Morrison and Shorten revealed different approaches to the US-Australia alliance.
AAP/EPA/David Maxwell

Shorten, on the other hand, provided more grist beyond a “values” statement about Australian priorities under a Labor administration. In the process, he edged cautiously towards a posture of greater independence from an America under Donald Trump and future presidents bound by an “America first” mindset.

Australia’s interests will obviously be different from those of the United State in some areas; our national focus is different, our relationships with our close neighbours are different, our economies have different structures.

And indeed differences in perspective and opinion are one of the many valuable qualities we bring to our alliance with the United States.

The Labor Party opposed the second Iraq war – and in view of the consequences, we were more responsible allies for doing so…

We can – and will – express any differences within the enduring framework of our close relationship.

Many Australians, including a plethora of Labor supporters, will be hoping a transactional and opportunistic Shorten lives up to this declaration.

His reference to Labor’s opposition to the Iraq war oversimplifies the party’s position, in fact.

Commendably, then leader Simon Crean decreed Labor would not support Australia’s involvement without a United Nations-sanctioned process. But there were those in the party, including then foreign policy spokesman Kevin Rudd and former leader Kim Beazley, who were squeamish about this position.

Shorten himself was not yet in parliament.

The Iraq experience, in which Crean courageously asserted an independent position on the rush to war in Iraq, should be regarded by its latter-day leaders as a template for relations with Washington.

In some respects, it proved to be Crean’s finest hour. The Iraq invasion contributed to the destabilisation of the entire Middle East. It has involved expenditures of trillions of dollars, and counting, by the US and its allies.

Among various negative consequences of the march of folly in Iraq is the emboldening of Iran and its increased ability to assert itself more widely in its region. This is a story that has far from played itself out.

Both Morrison and Shorten dwelled, as might be expected, on relations with China. Shorten was both bolder and more nuanced.

The next Labor government will not deal with China purely through the prism of worst-case assumptions about its long-term ambitions.

Pre-emptively framing China as a strategic threat isn’t a sufficient response to its role and increasing influence in our region…

We will deal with China on the basis of the actions it takes – and in our own national interests.

Shorten was both bolder and more nuanced in discussing Australia’s relationship with China.
AAP/EPA/Thomas Peter/Pool

Morrison was more matter-of-fact. This no doubt reflects to a degree that he is feeling his way in his early days as prime minister.

Australia has also a vitally important relationship with China … We are committed to deepening our comprehensive strategic partnership with China.

Of course, China is not alone in being a force of change in our world.

But China is a country that is most changing the balance of power, sometimes in ways that challenge important US interests.

Inevitably, in the period ahead, we will be navigating a higher degree of US-China strategic competition.

What can be said about the Shorten and Morrison world views is that the former’s thinking has developed further than the latter’s, as might be expected given that the Labor leader has been in the job for five years, and Morrison just a few months.

However, it is also possible to detect doctrinal differences that point to a shift in Australian foreign policy under a Shorten-led government to one where Australia seeks to enlarge its room for manoeuvre in a region undergoing wrenching change.

Inevitably, this is leading to a change in tone. Whether this also results in a repositioning of Australian policy remains to be seen.




Read more:
Turnbull pushes the ‘reset’ button with China, but will it be enough?


In Morrison’s case, it is less likely a Coalition would seek to put much distance between itself and Washington.

Where Morrison and Shorten converge is in their approaches to Australia’s engagement in the southwest Pacific in response to Beijing’s overtures to Pacific island states.

Both have pledged to step up Australia’s involvement. In his speech, Morrison noted Australia would build a naval base on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

Given that Australia has long been the metropolitan power in the southwest Pacific, it could be said that pledges of engagement by both sides are belated.

But it might be also be observed that it’s better late than never.The Conversation

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

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

With Bishop gone, Morrison and Payne face significant challenges on foreign policy



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Morrison will need to rely heavily on the experience of his new foreign minister, Marise Payne, and deputy leader, Josh Frydenberg.
Andrew Taylor/AAP

Susan Harris Rimmer, Griffith University

With all the focus this week on new Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s domestic challenges, less attention has been paid to the international impact of the leadership change and any new directions for Australian foreign policy.

Morrison’s foreign policy credentials are slim and his interest in foreign policy is low, not rating even a mention in his first speech to the nation as PM.

As immigration minister, Morrison presided over the “stop the boats” policy that was so unpopular with Australia’s neighbours and negotiated the disastrous and expensive Cambodia asylum deal. He may also be perceived by Muslim-majority nations as unfriendly to Muslims after the 2011 shadow cabinet leak that he urged his party to capitalise on the electorate’s growing concerns about immigration and Muslims in Australia.




Read more:
Julie Bishop goes to backbench, Marise Payne becomes new foreign minister


It is therefore a good idea indeed that Morrison will make his first trip overseas as prime minister this week to Jakarta to hasten the Australia and Indonesia free-trade agreement and shore up one of our country’s most crucial relationships.

There are other big trips he’ll need to make quick decisions about. Morrison has already decided not to attend the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru next week, sending his new foreign minister, Marise Payne, instead.

After that, there’s the UN General Assembly in New York (24 Sept), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Papua New Guinea (12 Nov), the East Asia Summit in Singapore (14 Nov) and the G20 summit in Buenos Aires (30 Nov). An Australian PM would usually attend all of these, although the Coalition has often sent the foreign minister to the UN.

New leader, same foreign policy outlook

In many ways, Morrison’s foreign policy positions are unlikely to be different from Malcolm Turnbull’s. He will likely be perceived as friendly to the US and unfriendly to China on foreign investment, but a realist and pro-free trade. Morrison made a dramatic intervention in 2016 to block Chinese companies from bidding for the NSW electricity distributor, Ausgrid, on national security grounds.

As acting home affairs minister last week, Morrison also announced the government’s decision to effectively ban Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE from participating in Australia’s new 5G mobile phone networks. In reality, though, the Turnbull reset on the China relationship is likely to continue, as guided by the Foreign Policy White Paper.




Read more:
Julie Bishop shows the boys how it’s done


The leadership change was not predicated on policy disagreements, with the exception of different ideologies on climate change. The change was rather more personality-driven, a question of style. But style – and leaders – matter in diplomacy.

Many foreign policy experts have been distraught by the damage done to Australia’s international reputation by such disruptive spills, and how external messaging on good governance will be undermined.

Julie Bishop had a contentious relationship with China at times, but was largely seen as a stable presence in foreign affairs.
Rouelle Umali/EPA

The big loss here is Julie Bishop, who has been a point of stability and continuity for Australia’s international partners since 2009, when she became shadow foreign minister. The sudden, inexplicable loss of both Turnbull and Bishop will be hard for our allies (and most Australians) to understand.

Bishop will be remembered for her path-breaking role as the first female foreign minister and first female secretary of DFAT. Her legacy also includes the New Colombo Plan, her push for e-diplomacy and her passionate quest for justice for the victims of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.

She did face criticism – as did the Coalition more broadly – for the inability or unwillingness to defend the aid budget from deep cuts, an asylum seeker policy that affected our international reputation, and an unwillingness to speak out on human rights, such as against Myanmar’s leaders.

Morrison’s support team

Bishop’s loss is ameliorated by two factors – the appointment of Payne and the influence of Josh Frydenberg in the leadership team.

Frydenberg, the new deputy Liberal leader and treasurer, has a strong interest and inclination for foreign policy, having worked for former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. He was very active in the Brisbane G20 Summit in 2014. He is even a published author on the liberal tradition in Australian foreign policy.

Frydenberg’s maiden speech contained a particularly beautiful narrative about how his family suffered during the Holocaust in Europe and later emigrated to Australia.

Like so many other immigrants to our great shores, all of my grandparents came here with nothing. … The welcome my family received and the opportunities and freedom they enjoyed is for me the essence of what makes Australia great.

Josh Frydenberg at his swearing-in last week.
Lukas Coch/AAP

The G20 Summit in Argentina in November is the best opportunity for Morrison and Frydenberg to shine in the international sphere. Given his newly-elevated platform at the summit, Morrison may have to moderate his constant criticism of “the new romantics of protectionism” and dislike of the World Trade Organisation. Morrison and Frydenberg should also pay heed to the difficult negotiations around the Australia-EU free-trade agreement.




Read more:
2017 Foreign Policy White Paper finally acknowledges world power is shifting


Payne’s appointment as foreign minister is also seen as a positive, as is Simon Birmingham’s elevation to trade minister. Both are hardworking, reasonable politicians from the moderate wing of the Liberal party who can manage stakeholders well. Hopefully, they will have time before the next election to bring their own style to the positions.

Mark Coulton remains assistant minister for trade, tourism and investment. He has yet to make much impact since being appointed in March, but has a welcome focus on Papua New Guinea, host of APEC.

Anne Ruston has been appointed assistant minister for international development and the Pacific. She has voted in the past against increases in foreign aid and has limited experience in the region. She should follow the example of Richard Marles, who did exemplary work in this portfolio, garnering respect in the Pacific. This role could become more difficult with Morrison deciding not to attend the Pacific Islands Forum.

Morrison should rely on Payne and Birmingham to manage Australia’s foreign policy and pay special attention to rebuilding our reputation for good governance. There is hard work to be done, and little time to do it.The Conversation

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

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

View from The Hill: China challenge is the issue of the moment in Australian foreign policy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Two contributions made in separate forums in Parliament House on Tuesday captured the sharp cross-currents in the China-Australia relationship.

At the Australia China Business Council’s “Networking Day”, Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye reiterated that China “never interferes in the internal affairs of other countries”, let alone engaged in “the so-called infiltration of other countries”.

The ambassador delivered little-disguised criticism of Australia. To dispel “the clouds” over bilateral relations, “the two countries need to have more interactions and inclusiveness, with less bias and bigotry… less cold war mentality”.

Over in the Coalition party room Liberal senator David Fawcett, chairman of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, also had a forthright message, urging the cabinet to put security concerns at the forefront in considering the Chinese company Huawei’s push for a slice of the action in the 5G network build.

The government’s attitude to China’s protestations that it doesn’t interfere is one of, “it would say that”. Its view of claims by non-state companies such as Huawei that they have no connections with the Chinese regime is much the same.

For both sides of politics, the China policy challenge is to strike the right balance in a bilateral relationship now infused with Australian suspicion and openly-expressed Chinese irritation.

If Labor wins the election Penny Wong, now shadow foreign minister, will be shouldering much of that responsibility.

In her speech at the business forum, Wong criticised the Turnbull government’s management of the relationship and said “a more considered, disciplined and consistent approach is required”.

So how would a Labor government handle things? Wong outlined six “operating principles” that it would use:

  • A clear understanding and articulation of Australia’s national interests, which included the country’s security and prosperity, regional stability and constructive internationalism.

  • Acceptance that we live in a disrupted world.

  • Acceptance of China “as it is, not as others might perceive China to be or as China itself might represent itself”.

  • Acknowledgement of how important and beneficial China’s emergence as a major economic power has been to Australia and the world.

  • Pursuit of an integrated approach to the many strands of the relationship.

  • A commitment to working constructively with China and others in a regional framework.

Australia and China were very different culturally, politically and socially, Wong said.

“The important objective is to prevent differences from becoming disagreements, as far as possible. And when disagreements do occur, they must be managed with intelligence and tact,” she said.

“To the extent possible, Labor will work towards ensuring that our political relationship works on the same basis as our economic relationship – respect and trust based on dialogue and understanding. Respect and trust don’t just happen. They have to be built and maintained, and that’s what we intend to do”.

Of course it is easier to say how things should be managed than to manage the often tricky realities.

In his address to the forum, Malcolm Turnbull did not dig down deeply to those realities. He kept his references to differences to the easier, less sensitive ones. “Sometimes you’ll get issues at a fairly granular level,” he said, and referred to the problem with imports of Australian wine. “We went to work to ensure that that could be resolved and indeed so it was”.

Turnbull also suggested the reality wasn’t always as it was portrayed. “Sometimes in the media there is always going to be an emphasis on differences, on conflict, on problems”.

It was a superficial speech – which can be defended on the grounds that it can create more trouble than it is worth to be too blunt in public about the actual problems. Also, Turnbull regarded it as a business occasion rather than one for a more formal foreign policy presentation.

The crack at the media was, however, a cheap and not very honest shot. The media is often simply saying publicly and directly what the government is saying privately or more obliquely. It’s notable that Andrew Hastie, Liberal chair of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee, recently put on record (under privilege) allegations against business figure Chau Chuk Wing, partly on the grounds of giving some backing to media outlets that are being sued over stories about him.

On other fronts this week, Huawei has been lobbying MPs to try to convince them it is as transparent as it claims, while Hastie’s committee is preparing its report on the legislation – which the government wants passed next week – for a register of agents of foreign governments and other foreign political interests.

The Australia-China relationship involves walls and whispers, as well as all the rhetoric about trust and respect.

Meanwhile the Lowy Institute’s annual poll, Understanding Australian Attitudes to the World, released Wednesday, suggests ordinary Australians are less galvanised by the China debate than the decision-makers.

“Australians remain remarkably sanguine about foreign interference in Australia’s political processes following the furore over Chinese-linked donations to Australian political parties, politicians, and institutions. Foreign interference remains a low-order threat in the minds of Australians, who are almost equally concerned about US influence as Chinese influence,” Lowy’s executive director Michael Fullilove writes in his introduction to the poll, done in March with a sample of 1200.

“Foreign interference in Australian politics” was seen as a “critical threat” by 41% – behind terrorism (66%), North Korea’s nuclear program (66%), climate change (58%), cyber attacks from other countries (57%), the prospect of a severe downturn in the global economy (50%), and the Trump presidency (42%).

Although the debate has been all about China, the poll found what concerns there were appear to be focused on foreign influence generally, rather than specifically Chinese influence. Asked about influence from both China and the US in Australia’s political processes, 63% expressed concern about China and 58% concern about the US.

In other findings relating to China

  • 72% said the Australian government was “allowing too much investment from China”. In 2014, the figure was 56%.

  • 46% believed it was likely “China will become a military threat to Australia in the next 20 years”.

  • But 82% said China was more of an economic partner to Australia than a military threat to it.

  • 81% believed it was “possible for Australia to have a good relationship with China and a good relationship with the United States at the same time”.

The ConversationIn their attitudes to China, the Australian public may be alert but they’re not alarmed.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Response to rumours of a Chinese military base in Vanuatu speak volumes about Australian foreign policy



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Reports that China plans to build a military base in Vanuatu seem to have little substance at this stage.
EPA/Jerome Favre

Michael O’Keefe, La Trobe University

Rumour has it that Vanuatu has agreed to a Chinese request to establish a military base. The substance of this rumour is highly speculative at the least and disingenuous at most. Regardless of the truth, the fact that it raises alarm about the threat of Chinese military expansionism speaks volumes about Australian foreign policy, particularly toward the Pacific.

On Monday, Fairfax Media reported that “China had approached Vanuatu” about setting up a “permanent military presence” – in other words, a base.

The article went on to speculate about the dramatic strategic importance of the “globally significant move that could see the rising superpower sail warships on Australia’s doorstep”. Furthermore, this Chinese base “would … upend the long standing strategic balance in the region” and would likely be followed by bases elsewhere.




Read more:
When it comes to China’s influence on Australia, beware of sweeping statements and conflated ideas


Multiple international media outlets have syndicated the story. Much of the coverage alluded to military threats and a shift in the strategic balance. The language is reminiscent of Cold War bipolarity: “their” gain is “our” loss.

On face value, this sounds like a serious geostrategic issue for Australia. But on close examination, the threat is more apparent than real. An indication of which is that nowhere are Chinese or Vanuatuan interests in provoking this form of strategic competition explained.

From the beginning, every assertion was countered by one of the primary players. Multiple representatives of the Vanuatu government have been at pains to deny the story. For instance, Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu was quoted as saying:

No-one in the Vanuatu Government has ever talked about a Chinese military base in Vanuatu of any sort.

As the story spiralled out of control, he then told SBS News it was “fake news” concocted by a Fairfax Media journalist.

Multiple Chinese government sources have denied the story and also described it as “fake news”. China also has assured the Australian government that the story has no validity.

In the original article, it was noted that talks between China and Vanuatu were only “preliminary discussions” and that “no formal proposals had been put to Vanuatu’s government.” So given these caveats, and the comprehensive denials, this raises some serious questions about why this rumour was newsworthy in the first place.

So where did it come from? Presumably Fairfax Media would only have acted if the information was from a highly placed Australian government source that could be verified. Presumably this unnamed source has leaked sensitive intelligence, but it is curious that no Australian Federal Police investigation has been announced.

This has been the past practice from the Turnbull government in relation to national security leaks, and there is no sign the government is at all concerned about this leak.

In contrast, it has used this rumour for megaphone diplomacy against both Vanuatu and China. For example, after accepting the Chinese government’s denial, the prime minister said:

We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific island countries and neighbours of ours.

And it was the latter rather than the former statement that was covered by many media outlets.

This is very telling. Canberra is clearly sending signals to Beijing and Port Vila that it maintains significant strategic interests in the region (and is a message not lost on other Pacific capitals).

This concern is not new as Australia practised strategic denial in the South Pacific against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. More recently, speculation about Fiji’s relations with China and Russia was raised. But megaphone diplomacy with Fiji has proven unsuccessful in the past.

This approach simply rehashes colonial tropes about Pacific Island Nations being economically unsustainable, corrupt, and easily influenced by great powers. This is reinforced by China’s alleged influence borne from budget support, and capital and aid flows into the Pacific.

What these colonial stereotypes fail to acknowledge is that the foreign policies of Pacific Island countries have matured. Vanuatu is a committed member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), eschewing formal military alliances and entanglements with great powers. The lesson of Fiji’s strong stance against Australian sanctions is that it too has created an independent foreign policy. Neither country will be easily influenced by foreign powers, including Australia.




Read more:
Why do we keep turning a blind eye to Chinese political interference?


Returning to the “truth”. It is true that China’s influence in the region has grown dramatically in recent years, especially during the sanctions years from 2006 to 2014, when Canberra attempted to isolate Fiji.

It is also true that military diplomacy is a key element of China’s foreign policy approach (to the Pacific as in Africa). A final truth is that Vanuatu has a high level of debt dependence on China and is a major beneficiary of Chinese aid. However, this does not mean that Vanuatu is being influenced into accepting a Chinese military base.

At some stage, Vanuatu might very well sign an agreement that allows transit and refuelling of Chinese vessels, as is commonplace in international relations. As Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop told Radio National: “these sorts of visits are normal for many neighbours around the world.”

The ConversationIf so, then all we have learned from this episode is that old colonial habits die hard, and the chances of dispassionately dealing with the geo-strategic rise of China are narrowing.

Michael O’Keefe, Senior Lecturer of International Relations, La Trobe University

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

Foreign Policy White Paper finally acknowledges world power is shifting



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China’s rise in power has changed Australia’s foreign policy outlook.
Reuters/pool

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper released today cannot be accused of understatement.

Navigating the decade ahead will be hard, because as China’s power grows, our region is changing in ways without precedent in Australia’s modern history.

That’s the point. What we are witnessing is “without precedent” in Australian post-second world war history, during the various tremors that have unsettled the region from Korea to Vietnam and beyond.

Despite all of that, there has been nothing in our experience like China’s rise in all its dimensions.

The changing of the guard?

The much-used word “disruption” hardly does justice to the impact a modern China is having on age-old assumptions about a regional power balance in which US military superiority would prevail, come what may.

Starting with the above declaration, the white paper – a year in the making and more than a decade since the last such effort – does a reasonable job in laying out Australia’s choices in a new and challenging environment.

In this regard, we are spared an impression that policymakers are seeking to cling to the old order in which the US was paramount and suggestions to the contrary smacked of agnosticism about American power and influence – even an incipient anti-Americanism.

Those days – described in a 2003 white paper that underestimated the velocity of China’s rise and sought to adhere to age-old certainties about US paramountcy – are over.

Here’s the 2017 white paper on the end of the age of certainty for Australian foreign policy:

Powerful drivers are converging in a way that is reshaping the international order and challenging Australia’s interests. The United States has been the dominant power in our region throughout Australia’s post-World War II history. Today, China is challenging America’s position.

There is nothing profound in the above observation. It’s simply a statement of fact.

What is clear is that policymakers in Canberra are hedging their bets. They cannot be sure the US will remain invested in a wider security role in the Indo-Pacific, and one that will be long-lasting.

This prompts observations like the following:

The government recognises there is great debate and uncertainty in the United States about the costs and benefits of its leadership of the international system.

US alliance remains strong

However, for the foreseeable future the US will remain the “bedrock” of Australia’s security.

Interestingly, Labor’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Penny Wong, addressed alliance issues on the eve of the white paper’s release.

In an important speech, at a moment when Labor itself is debating how to frame its adherence to the alliance, Wong was at pains to encourage a sense of realism about what America might – or might not – be prepared to do in the event that Australia’s security was challenged.

She spoke at length about mutual obligations under the ANZUS Treaty that are misinterpreted as a blanket requirement for the US to come to Australia’s assistance in extremis. Put simply, what is required under Articles III and IV of the ANZUS Treaty is a commitment to consult.

In the final analysis, the 2017 white paper cannot be read separately from the 2016 Defence White Paper. This laid down a reinvigorated commitment to Australia’s ability to assert power in the Indo-Pacific via a significant investment in its maritime capabilities.

Leaving aside whether you agree with spending upwards of A$50 billion on 12 new French-sourced submarines rather than less expensive alternatives that could have been bought off the shelf, the defence paper foreshadowed an Australian foreign policy that recognised a more challenging environment, and thus the need for a more robust approach.

In this regard, the foreign policy paper speaks of “shifting power balances” in an era of “greater rivalry”, and calls on the US to remain “strongly engaged in the economic and security affairs of the region to help shape its institutions and norms”.

The paper also acknowledges challenges inherent in Australia’s policy of maintaining a balance between its alliance relationship and its management of relations with China if both the US and China cannot be persuaded their own interests would be served by preserving regional harmony. The paper adds that “this is not assured”.

In the decades ahead we expect further contestation over ideas and influence, directly affecting Australia. It is imperative that Australia prepare for the long term.“

Our place in the region

The white paper’s emphasis on the need to bolster regional friendships and alliances is a clear reference to moves by the Turnbull government to resuscitate a quadrilateral security dialogue with the US, Japan and India. The Rudd government shelved this on the grounds that it would appear to be a grouping whose aim was to contain China.

In its latest incarnation, the “Quad”, as it is known, clearly has a hedging purpose. But whether it develops past an agreement to consult and perhaps conduct joint military-to-military exchanges will depend on circumstance.

In other words, China’s regional assertiveness will dictate the extent to which Australia and its like-minded partners collaborate in seeking to balance China’s inexorable rise.

The Quad’s critics regard it as an unhelpful diversion, unnecessarily antagonistic to China. Its supporters see it as a prudent step to bring together functioning democracies intent on preserving regional security.

What would seem to be more productive would be a consensus involving the US, China, Russia, the ASEAN countries, Australia and New Zealand in an East Asia Summit agreement on regional security arrangements, much like the Helsinki Accords.

An encouraging aspect of the unclassified version of the white paper (a classified version will use starker language) is that within the constraints of bureaucratic language it provides a fairly direct challenge to China to live up to its commitment to a rules-based order.

So it encourages China to “exercise its power in a way that enhances stability, reinforces international law and respects the interests of smaller countries”.

This implies that China’s recent behaviour does not meet this standard.

Finally, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Australia’s policymakers have more or less come to the view – reluctantly – that US leadership in Asia is on a downward trajectory, and there is little point in pretending otherwise. The question is how fast, and to what extent will China continue to assert itself.

In his introduction, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sets the tone for the next phase of Australian policy in a way that recognises these realities. “Australia,” he writes, “must be sovereign not reliant.”

The ConversationIf that’s not an acknowledgement of a disrupted security environment in which power relationships are shifting, I’m not sure what is. The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper makes progress in coming to terms with that reality.

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

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