Yes, we need a global coronavirus inquiry, but not for petty political point-scoring



Rey Moon/Shutterstock

Paul Komesaroff, Monash University; Ian Kerridge, University of Sydney, and Ross Upshur, University of Toronto

The US government’s call for an international inquiry into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic has a clear political motive: to shift the blame for its own failure to respond effectively to the epidemic within its own borders.

The finger-pointing by the Trump administration, and by US allies including Australia, has prompted China to refuse to cooperate.

This is unfortunate, because it is in everyone’s interest to work together, not to question China’s handling of the crisis but to discover the factors that cause new infections so we can avert future disasters.




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Murky origins: why China will never welcome a global inquiry into the source of COVID-19


We need to understand how SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, came into existence, and to look at how and when we might have been able to impede its progress.

This means examining the origins of the virus and the biological and environmental factors that allowed it to become so dangerous. To achieve this, an international, collaborative scientific investigation free from recriminations and narrow political agendas is needed.

What we know so far

Extensive scientific data have shown that SARS-CoV-2 was not deliberately engineered and there was no conspiracy to create an epidemic. It did not originate in or escape from a laboratory, in Wuhan or anywhere. The first human cases of COVID-19 did not come from the Wuhan wet market but from elsewhere in China, possibly outside Hubei province altogether.

In fact, the disease did not “originate” in a market at all, although an important spreading event linked to the Wuhan market did occur that brought it to the attention of Chinese public health authorities.

SARS-CoV-2 almost certainly descended from an animal virus that underwent a series of mutations that made it dangerous to humans. The path to humans probably involved intermediate animal hosts, although which animals remains uncertain.

So here is the most likely sequence of events: a coronavirus in a bat found its way into one or more other animal hosts, possibly including a pangolin or some kind of cat, somewhere in southern China. At that time, the virus could not infect or cause noticeable disease in humans, or else the animals infected had little contact with humans. Over an unknown period of time (possibly decades) the virus mutated in a way that made it highly dangerous and eventually, by chance, a human became infected, probably in about the second week of November 2019.

The new virus was quickly passed on to other people and found its way to Hubei province. On December 10, an infected individual visited the crowded market in Wuhan and was responsible for infecting 21 other people. Over the following two weeks, enough people became sick to alert doctors and public health officials, leading to an announcement on December 31 warning the world of the dangerous new disease. The market was closed the following day and vigorous efforts were made to identify and isolate contacts.

Three weeks later it was clear these measures could not contain the epidemic, and on January 23 Chinese authorities took the brave and unprecedented step of locking down the entire city. This controlled the spread of the virus in China, but it was too late to stop the spread internationally, because by that time the virus was already present in Taiwan, South Korea, Europe and the United States.

What we don’t know yet

What we now have to find out is what happened in the months or years leading up to November 2019 and whether, in retrospect, anything could have been done to prevent the disaster.

It is crucial we understand the evolution of this virus because, as with all human diseases that emerge from animals, it will have occurred as a result of both random biological events and responses to environmental pressures. The virus had to mutate, the original wild animal had to be exposed to other species, and the virus had to spread within that species and undergo further mutations. The animal had to come into close contact with a human who, at the right moment, has to contract the new infection.




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Despite the low probability of each individual step, in recent decades a long list of viruses has negotiated this entire pathway, including HIV, SARS, MERS, Ebola, Nipah, Lassa, Zika, Hendra, various types of influenza, and now SARS-CoV-2. This suggests new factors are increasing the chances of exposure, adaptation, infection and spread.

It is likely these factors include population growth, agricultural expansion, the loss of natural wild animal habitat, the loss of traditional food sources, and changing relationships between animal species and between animals and humans. Deforestation and climate change further exacerbate this process, as does increased movement of human populations, through domestic and international travel. The international illegal wildlife trade, inappropriate use of drugs and insecticides, and reluctance of governments to work together make matters even worse.

Knowing exactly how these factors affect the genetics and evolution of viruses will help us find ways to thwart them. We could develop a coordinated early warning system to identify and track potentially dangerous pathogens, and monitor interactions between species that could transmit them. We could preserve native habitats and reduce the pressure on wild animals to enter human habitats in search of food. We could strategically cull animals that act as reservoirs for dangerous viruses.

We could precisely target infection control procedures such as health monitoring and quarantine. We could work together to develop diagnostic tests, new drugs and vaccines. We could develop globally coordinated rapid response plans for when new outbreaks arise.




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This process will only work if undertaken with openness, trust, and an acknowledgement that it is in the entire world’s best interest. It will only work if we accept that viruses are not national problems or sovereign responsibilities, but global challenges.

COVID-19 should be a wake-up call that petty recriminations, ideological rivalries and short-sighted political ambitions must be set aside. The countries of the world must encourage China and the United States to raise their sights to the greater challenge and help conduct the investigation we need to avert future disaster.

It is urgent, because the next pandemic may already be incubating somewhere in the world at this very moment.The Conversation

Paul Komesaroff, Professor of Medicine, Monash University; Ian Kerridge, Professor of Bioethics & Medicine, Sydney Health Ethics, Haematologist/BMT Physician, Royal North Shore Hospital and Director, Praxis Australia, University of Sydney, and Ross Upshur, Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto

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

COVID-19 increases risk to international students’ mental health. Australia urgently needs to step up



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Hannah Soong, University of South Australia

The Victorian and ACT governments in recent days released support packages for international students facing hardship due to COVID-19.

Victoria has committed A$45 million under which international students could be eligible for relief payments of up to $1,100, co-contributed by Victorian universities. The ACT has committed A$450,000 to support vulnerable people on temporary visas and international students without income due to COVID-19.

The Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia all have varying amounts of help available for international students – whether it be one-off payments, free mental health support or help with food and shelter.

These moves by the states are in stark contrast to the federal government. International students, most of whom are on temporary visas, have been excluded from the goverment’s A$130 billion stimulus package. And Prime Minister Scott Morrison said international students unable to support themselves could return to their home countries.

Such comments can put a sizeable dent in Australia’s international education reputation. The way Australia supports international students studying here now may cement its global reputation as a country of choice to study.

Recent reports show Australia’s competitors for international students – Britain, New Zealand, Canada and Ireland – have offered support to those in hardship. This includes access to government welfare and flexibility on visas.




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Even before this pandemic, international students were exposed to several unique hardships. These are compounded by COVID-19.

Not only are they stranded in a foreign country unable or unsure about going home, many have no or little support from family or close friends in Australia.

It is therefore critical for Australian universities to act collectively, swiftly and decisively to provide a model of care for international students’ well-being. And it’s important for the Prime Minister to show he understands their unique vulnerabilities.

How international students are vulnerable

There is a perception that the majority of Chinese international students come from wealthy households. But a study of 652 Chinese students revealed significant differences in both demographics and backgrounds, as well as sources of funding for their studies.

While the majority (67%) had their studies funded by parents, 17% funded them through personal savings. The majority of self-financed students experienced added emotional and psychological challenges during their studies overseas.

Chinese students make up the majority (around 40%) of international students in Australia, but tens of thousands also come from other Asian countries including India, Nepal, Vietnam and Pakistan.

About half of international students, who are private renters, rely on work to pay rent. Like many, they too have lost their jobs in the COVID-19 pandemic – but they are not eligible for JobKeeper wage subsidies.

On March 30, Scott Morrison announced the National Cabinet had agreed to put in place a six-month moratorium on evictions.

This helps but is only one part of the rental issue for international students. Many international students enrolled in Australia for study, are unable to return to their homeland. Nor are they allowed to break their leases early without penalty.

The spread of this coronavirus has unfortunately also accelerated racist sentiments against Asian Australians and international students from Asia. In February, a student who had returned from visiting family in Malaysia found she had been evicted from her rental, as her landlord assumed she had travelled to China for Chinese New Year.




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The protracted uncertainty of not knowing if students can pursue or complete their studies or continue to pay their rent can significantly affect their mental health.

A recent report found due to culture, language and academic barriers international students are at a higher risk of mental ill-health than domestic students.

In 2019, the Victorian Coroners Prevention Unit found 27 international students died by suicide between 2009 and 2015 in the state. But the coroner said this was likely to be an underestimation.

After the Victorian Coroner’s finding, the state government appointed Orygen Youth Health to undertake research to formulate a model of care that looks at mental health support and services for international students.

What can Australia do?

Australia can lead the way by developing a model of care that is responsive to the needs of affected COVID-19 international students. It should be informed by policies and programs that prevent international students feeling a worsening sense of entrapment, or being boxed-in by their circumstances.

The Australian government must work closely with both international students and universities to formulate practical support designed to mitigate the drivers of mental distress. Support and assistance can be informed by our national mental health policy settings, and aim to ensure the widest possible range of proven interventions that promote well-being, and reduce mental distress and vulnerability




Read more:
‘I’m an international student in Australia. How do I tell my parents the pressure they put on me is too much?’


Financial support to ease pressure must be paralleled with culturally competent and easily accessible mental-health support. How Australia, as a society, responds and supports international students during the pandemic and its aftermath will be a defining moment for Australian international education.

In view of strengthening Australia as a trusted and reputable international education destination for current and future international students, COVID-19 provides us an opportunity to live out our depth of empathy, as an egalitarian and cosmopolitan society.The Conversation

Hannah Soong, Senior Lecturer and Socio-cultural researcher, UniSA Education Futures, University of South Australia

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

Explainer: what are Australia’s obligations to cruise ships off its coast under international law?



Joel Carrett/AAP

Natalie Klein, UNSW

The spectre of large ships with people desperate to come ashore is not a new sight in Australia.

In 2001, the MV Tampa infamously sought to enter Australian waters off Christmas Island to discharge more than 400 asylum seekers who had been rescued by the Norwegian vessel.

It is estimated that 15,000 crew members are now stranded on 18 cruise ships floating around Australia, with mounting concerns that coronavirus will take hold and spread.

The circumstances for each ship may vary, but the fundamental rules of international law remain the same.

Passengers from the cruise ship MS Artania en route to their charter flight from Perth back to Germany last week.
Richard Wainwright/AAP

Duty to render assistance

For those at sea, there is a duty for masters of vessels to render assistance to those in distress. States must fulfill this obligation, too.

Australia could be seen as fulfilling this responsibility with its plan to send doctors to the cruise ships to evaluate sick crew members. An at-sea boarding is challenging, though, and requires the consent and cooperation of those on board.

When the vessel itself is in distress, the international law of the sea allows for it to enter a port of refuge.




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Though countries exercise sovereignty over their ports and are entitled to control which vessels enter, an exception exists under customary international law to allow ships in distress to dock.

This is what happened in 2001 when the master of the Tampa issued a distress call to warrant his entry to Christmas Island.

But what counts as distress? Essentially, it is when there is a clear threat to the safety of those aboard the ship.

Traditionally, this related to situations when a vessel had a broken mast, damaged sails or malfunctioning engines or other mechanical failures requiring repair. A vessel could enter into port and seek the repairs needed before continuing on its journey.

The Tampa’s distress, however, was caused by the fact it was carrying an excess number of people who required more food, water and medical attention than the vessel was equipped to provide.

International law protections for crews

What about a cruise liner with a crew of 1,000 who live in close quarters and are exposed to the coronavirus? A situation of distress could well arise on these ships, as well.

International law has minimum requirements for the crew operating a ship. At the moment, it would seem the crew on a cruise liner would be divided between those who are essential for the running of a vessel and those whose jobs are to look after the passengers.

A situation of distress would be more easily established when the crew responsible for the actual running of the vessel are unwell and unable to perform tasks essential for the safety of the ship.




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The crew members also have core rights that are set out in the Maritime Labour Convention, which came into force in 2013. It sets the working and living standards for crews working on ships internationally.

Under this convention, seafarers who are in need of immediate medical care are to be given access to medical facilities on shore. Australia is bound by this obligation for vessels located in its territorial waters, regardless of whether those ships are foreign-registered.

Australia has implemented the convention under its own Navigation Act and, most particularly, the Marine Order 11.

That order requires the owners of vessels

put in place measures for the health protection, medical care and essential dental care for seafarers on board.

This obligation extends to ensuring that

seafarers have health protection and medical care as comparable as possible to that available to workers on shore, including prompt access to: (i) necessary medicines, medical equipment and facilities for diagnosis and treatment; and (ii) medical information and expertise.

This order applies to Australian vessels. The question is whether the same rules apply to a foreign-registered vessel.

The Ruby Princess, for example, is registered to the Bahamas. The Bahamas is bound by the Maritime Labour Convention, which sets out similar requirements to those in Australia’s Marine Order.

However, the vessel owners do not have full responsibility for the well-being of crews on board. The Maritime Labour Convention makes clear that Australia is duty-bound to offer medical care to crew on ships in its territorial waters.




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The convention does not indicate who has primary responsibility to provide medical assistance in cases like these, but the shipowner does have financial liability under the treaty to defray the expenses of such treatment. What matters is the crew receives the necessary medical care.

For Australia, there is still a balance of rights to be achieved. Under international law, a state might refuse access to its ports for a ship that poses a serious and unacceptable safety, environmental, health or security threat to it. A pandemic would no doubt count in this regard.

Port states have the right to protect their local populations in different ways, consistent with international health regulations put forth by the World Health Organisation and with the International Ship and Port Facility Code.

Yet, the safety of persons on board must be assured, as well.The Conversation

Natalie Klein, Professor, UNSW

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

The coronavirus outbreak is the biggest crisis ever to hit international education


Christopher Ziguras, RMIT University and Ly Tran, Deakin University

The coronavirus outbreak may be the biggest disruption to international student flows in history.

There are more than 100,000 students stuck in China who had intended to study in Australia this year. As each day passes, it becomes more unlikely they will arrive in time for the start of the academic year.

Of course international affairs are bound to sometimes interfere with the more than 5.3 million students studying outside their home country, all over the world.

After the September 11 attacks in 2001, the United States closed its borders temporarily and tightened student visa restrictions, particularly for students from the Middle East. Thousands were forced to choose different study destinations in the following years.

In 2018, Saudi Arabia’s government instructed all its citizens studying in Canada to return home, in protest at the Canadian foreign minister’s call to release women’s rights activists held in Saudi jails.

A significant proportion of the 12,000 or so Saudi students in Canada left to continue their studies elsewhere, before the Saudi government quietly softened its stance.

So we have seen calamities before, but never on this scale. There are a few reasons for this.

Why this is worse than before

The current temporary migration of students from China to Australia represents one of the largest education flows the world has ever seen. Federal education department data show there were more than 212,000 Chinese international students in Australia by the end of 2019.


Screenshot/Department of Education

This accounts for 28% of Australia’s total international student population. Globally, there are only two study routes that involve larger numbers of students. The world’s largest student flow is from China to the United States and the second largest is from India to the US.

It’s also difficult to imagine a worse time for this epidemic to happen for students heading to the southern hemisphere than January to February, at the end of our long summer break.

Many Chinese students had returned home for the summer and others were preparing to start their studies at the end of February.

By comparison, the SARS epidemic in 2003 didn’t significantly dent international student enrolments in Australia because it peaked around April-May 2003, well after students had started the academic year.




Read more:
We need to make sure the international student boom is sustainable


Ending in July that year, the SARS outbreak infected fewer than half the number of people than have already contracted coronavirus. Even during the SARS outbreak Australia didn’t implement bans on those travelling from affected countries.

What will the impact be?

This crisis hits hard for many Chinese students, an integral component of our campus communities. It not only causes disruptions to their study, accommodation, part-time employment and life plans, but also their mental well-being.

A humane, supportive and respectful response from the university communities is vital at this stage.

Australia has never experienced such a sudden drop in student numbers.

The reduced enrolments will have profound impacts on class sizes and the teaching workforce, particularly at masters level in universities with the highest proportions of students from China. Around 46% of Chinese students are studying a postgraduate masters by coursework. If classes are too small, universities will have to cancel them.

And the effects don’t end there. Tourism, accommodation providers, restaurants and retailers who cater to international students will be hit hard too.

Chinese students contributed A$12 billion to the Australian economy in 2019, so whatever happens from this point, the financial impact will be significant. The cost of the drop in enrolments in semester one may well amount to several billion dollars.

The newly-formed Global Reputation Taskforce by Australia’s Council for International Education has commissioned some rapid response research to promote more informed discussion about the implications and impacts of the crisis.




Read more:
What attracts Chinese students to Aussie universities?


If the epidemic is contained quickly, some of the 100,000 students stuck in China will be able to start their studies in semester one, and the rest could delay until mid-year. But there might still be longer-term effects.

Australia has a world-class higher education system and the world is closely watching how we manage this crisis as it unfolds.

Prospective students in China will be particularly focused on Australia’s response as they weigh future study options.

The world is watching

Such a fast-moving crisis presents a range of challenges for those in universities, colleges (such as English language schools) and schools who are trying to communicate with thousands of worried students who can’t enter the country.

Australian universities are scrambling to consider a wide range of responses. These include:

  • delivering courses online
  • providing intensive courses and summer or winter courses
  • arrangements around semester commencement
  • fee refund and deferral
  • provision of clear and updated information
  • support structures for starting and continuing Chinese students, including extended academic and welfare support, counselling, special helplines, and coronavirus-specific information guidelines
  • support with visa issues, accommodation and employment arrangements.

A coordinated approach involving different stakeholders who are providing different supports for Chinese students is an urgent priority. This includes education providers, government, city councils, international student associations, student groups and professional organisations.




Read more:
Coronavirus fears can trigger anti-Chinese prejudice. Here’s how schools can help


This outbreak further raises awareness within the international education sector of the need for risk management and crisis response strategies to ensure sustainability.

Most importantly, we need to ensure we remain focused on the human consequences of this tragedy first. Headlines focusing on lost revenues at a time like this are offensive to international students and everyone involved in international education.The Conversation

Christopher Ziguras, Professor of Global Studies, RMIT University and Ly Tran, ARC Future Fellow, Deakin 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.




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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.




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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.

Australia expels two Russian spies as part of international push against Russia



File 20180326 188598 18t4lc9.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the Russians had to leave within a week “for actions inconsistent with their status”.
AAP/Joel Carrett

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Australian government is expelling two Russian spies as part of a broad international retaliatory action against the nerve agent attack on the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Britain earlier this month.

The diplomats have been “identified as undeclared intelligence officers”, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement on Tuesday morning. “Undeclared intelligence agents” are spies.

More than 20 Western countries, including the US, EU countries and Canada, are expelling more than 100 Russians, in a dramatic escalation of the push against Russia. British Prime Minister Theresa May told the UK parliament this was “the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history”.

Turnbull and Bishop said the Russians had to leave within a week “for actions inconsistent with their status”.

“This decision reflects the shocking nature of the attack – the first offensive use of chemical weapons in Europe since World War II, involving a highly lethal substance in a populated area, endangering countless other members of the community,” they said in a statement.

“It takes into account advice from the UK government that the substance used on 4 March was a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. Such an attack cannot be tolerated by any sovereign nation.

“We strongly support the call on Russia to disclose the full extent of its chemical weapons program in accordance with international law.

“This attack is part of a pattern of reckless and deliberate conduct by the Russian state that constitutes a growing threat to international security, global non-proliferation rules against the use of chemical weapons, the rights of other sovereign nations and the international rules-based order that underpins them,” the statement said.

Turnbull briefed Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who immediately backed the action.

“I have spoken to the security agencies. I am very supportive of this measure,” Shorten told reporters.

“These are undeclared agents and so therefore it is inappropriate that they be in Australia.”

Asked whether he believed it was beyond doubt that the Russians were involved in the nerve agent attack, Shorten said “our security agencies have that view and therefore I think this is a proportionate action today”.

Sergei and Yulia Skripal remain in a critical condition.

Update:

The Russian embassy issued a statement saying: “It is astonishing how easily the allies of Great Britain follow it blindly contrary to the norms of civilised bilateral dialogue and international relations, and against the common sense. The modern world is not in a stage when it is possible to dictate anything to anybody, regardless of the nostalgia for past grandeur in certain capitals.”

The statement said that “neither the Russian side, attempt on which citizens’ life was made, nor other states possess impartial exhaustive information about the ‘Skripal case’”.

“Such flagrant and primitive campaigns as the ‘Skripal case’ that are crudely orchestrated by London, could only trigger further erosion of international relations architecture on which peace and security in the whole world during the post-war period were rested.”

Further update

The ConversationRussia’s ambassador in Canberra Grigory Logvinov dodged the question of whether the Russians expelled are spies. “No ambassador would give you an answer, and actually ask your authorities how they could judge who is a special agent or not. Within my embassy, there are only career diplomats,” he told the ABC.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Trump-Turnbull call: trading people like pawns undermines the goals of international co-operation



File 20170805 2386 1c7mqui

AAP/Eoin Blackwell

Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle and Jason von Meding, University of Newcastle

What is the point of international co-operation in matters of shared concern? According to the UN Charter, its founding member nations were determined to achieve overarching societal progress based on human rights.

Excerpt from the UN Charter.

The international legal system of the UN era continues to attempt, with mixed success, to promote these goals.

Within intricately connected global systems that produce ever-more complex problems, a framework for international co-operation is essential. The international legal system, however imperfect, must be maintained as a bulwark against the wholesale pursuit of domestic political interests.

Yet our belief in the efficacy of this system is challenged when the stark reality of international power relations is laid bare. It seems the more insight we have into what happens behind the scenes, the harder it becomes to convince the sceptical that international law has either legal or normative power.

On Friday, The Washington Post published a leaked transcript of a now-infamous phone call between the then newly elected US president, Donald Trump, and Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

The shocking conversation reveals that the deal for the US to accept some of those asylum seekers currently detained offshore – a key feature of the Australian government’s effort to close its offshore detention centre on Manus Island – imposes no obligation on the US beyond “going through the process”. According to Turnbull:

… the agreement … does not require you to take 2,000 people. It does not require you to take any.

Trump made it abundantly clear that he did not see either the US national interest or his personal popularity being served by upholding the agreement:

… boy that will make us look awfully bad. Here I am calling for a ban where I am not letting anybody in and we take 2,000 people. Really it looks like 2,000 people that Australia does not want and I do not blame you by the way, but the United States has become like a dumping ground.


Further reading: Five quotes from the Turnbull-Trump call show the folly of Australia’s refugee policy


Trading lives in a ‘refugee swap’

The deal between Australia and the US remains mired in confusion almost a year on. Australia committed to resettling some Central American refugees currently in Costa Rica, as part of a US-led program.

Soon after, Turnbull announced an agreement with the Obama administration that would see the US resettle perhaps 1,250 refugees currently detained on Manus Island and Nauru.

The transcript confirms that Trump was resistant to inheriting what he described as a “rotten deal”:

I hate taking these people. I guarantee you they are bad. That is why they are in prison right now.

Turnbull sought to reassure Trump he could sell the agreement to the US public as consistent with his campaign promise to tighten immigration controls.

Turnbull emphasised his and Trump’s shared identity as businessmen and represented the “deal” as a business transaction that ought to be upheld, at least formally:

Please, if we can agree to stick to the deal, you have complete discretion in terms of a security assessment. The numbers are not 2,000 but 1,250 to start. Basically, we are taking people from the previous administration that they were very keen on getting out of the United States. We will take more. We will take anyone that you want us to take. The only people that we do not take are people who come by boat. So we would rather take a not very attractive guy that help you out then to take a Noble [sic] Peace Prize winner that comes by boat. That is the point.

Despite Trump’s reluctance, US immigration officials have conducted some screening interviews with refugees on Manus Island. However, these were suspended mid-run and the officials withdrew to the US, once it was announced that the US’ annual humanitarian refugee quota had already been fulfilled.

Those detained have been told that interviews will resume and that resettlement in the US is still on the table. However, whether the Trump administration ever had any serious intention to be party to a resettlement solution is now in doubt, as is Turnbull’s commitment to anything more than a domestic political win.

On Manus Island, the leaked transcripts arrived amid heightened tensions. Protests have been ongoing since Tuesday, when water and power services were withdrawn in the largest compound. Local police, detention centre guards and reportedly the Australian Federal Police are attempting to remove those deemed “prisoners” by Trump – something that Turnbull, perhaps tellingly, did not dispute.

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This latest insight into the international game of trading unwanted human beings compounds the frustration and sense of injustice that those trapped in Australia’s offshore detention system are experiencing.

Proof that Australia fails to see the humanity of refugees

Turnbull’s position appears to be that the people detained on Manus Island and Nauru are “good” and deserving of protection somewhere, but that his domestic political environment demands they must be treated like criminals.

In the call, Turnbull repeatedly refers to the people imprisoned on Manus Island and Nauru as “economic refugees”. This pernicious framing is consistent with government messaging about “boat people” and “queue jumpers”.

In reality, no refugees are accepted on economic grounds under Australia’s rules. It is disingenuous of Turnbull to make such an inference about those detained in offshore detention, considering that almost 90% of those on Manus Island have been assessed as bona-fide refugees by both Australia and the UNHCR.

Turnbull’s indifference to human suffering is chilling, surprising even Trump:

We should do that too. You are worse than I am.

When two of the most powerful men in the world conspire to inflict further harm on some of the world’s most vulnerable to satisfy domestic agendas, we truly need to question whether the goals of the international community as constituted in the UN are being upheld by our elected officials.

Dehumanising refugees and treating them as the problem avoids any serious consideration of why people are displaced. This is where the international community should be working together.

The ConversationAdopting a punitive approach to those seeking protection not only goes against international law, but it is an insult to those that uphold Australia and the US as leading beacons for human rights and freedom.

Amy Maguire, Senior Lecturer in International Law and Human Rights, University of Newcastle and Jason von Meding, Senior Lecturer in Disaster Risk Reduction, University of Newcastle

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

Counter-terrorism measures permanently reduce international trade: new study


Chris Doucouliagos, Deakin University and Cong S. Pham, Deakin University

Enhanced counter-terrorism measures help to protect lives, but unfortunately also reduce trade, our study shows. The costs of increased security measures are also not shared equally. While some costs are passed onto consumers, exporters and importers often bear the higher costs.

Since 2000, there have been more than 72,000 terrorist acts causing nearly 170,000 deaths. In our study we analysed the impact of terrorism on trade in over 160 countries from 1976 to 2014.

The effects of terrorism in one country spill over across national borders to reduce the trade of other nations. On average, each terrorist incident reduces trade by about US$6.4 million for each trading partner. The effect is also long lived; a terrorist attack can reduce trade over the next five years.

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How security measures change trade

One way counter-terrorism reduces trade is through time delays. Some security and counter-terrorism measures cause longer delays at airports, ports and borders and thereby increase the time it takes to trade.

Food products are particularly vulnerable to shipping delays and the disruption of supply chains that arise from tighter border controls. Trading delays can be very costly. One study shows trade is reduced by more than 1% for each additional day it’s delayed.

Counter-terrorism measures also increase charges and transport costs. Transport costs in particular are critical for trade.

Terrorism has led to higher security surcharges at ports and airports and higher insurance premiums. Requirements for businesses to report suspicious transactions cause delays, also increasing trading costs.

After the September 11 attacks in the US, many nations applied stricter counter-terrorism measures to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism. These measures add to the cost of importing and exporting.

Some of the individual cost components may be relatively small. For example, anti-money-laundering compliance costs in Australia are pretty insignificant. Nonetheless, all these delays and charges add up.

As the OECD points out, doing nothing about terrorism is not an option. Preventive security measures are indispensable to secure trade, infrastructure and lives.

However, some counter-terrorism measures are effectively non-tariff barriers that do more to protect specific industries than to protect people. That is, some security measures have a similar effect to tariffs, in that they divert trade from lower cost overseas producers, to higher cost domestic producers.

And some measures are ineffective. For example, a key objective of counter-terrorism policies to control money-laundering is to choke off external funding for terrorists. However, some terrorist groups, most notably insurgents in Iraq and ISIS, are largely self-financed.

Our results also show that terrorism has a greater adverse effect on trade in sub-Saharan Africa in particular. This region is particularly vulnerable to terrorism due to governance problems such as corruption. Ironically, this region is especially in need of the benefits of trade to improve governance and institutions.

Our study also shows terrorism reduces trade by diverting government attention from trade liberalisation and reform. Promoting trade is an even more difficult task in an era of accelerated terrorism.

Trade itself can help counter terrorism

Trade spillover effects created by terrorism highlight the importance of co-ordinating counter-terrorism measures between countries. However, this also requires greater co-ordination between policies.

Trade can play an important role in curtailing terrorism by bringing nations closer and fuelling economic prosperity and development. Combined with other economic policies and strategies, greater co-ordination between security and trade policies can increase safeguards while lowering trade barriers. It can also offset the higher trade costs that result from extra security measures.

The ConversationBy reducing trade, counter-terrorism policies inadvertently drive a wedge between nations and make nations poorer. Making countries poorer in turn makes it harder to combat terrorism.

Chris Doucouliagos, Professor of Economics, Department of Economics, Deakin Business School and Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University and Cong S. Pham, Senior Lecturer in Economics, Deakin University

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